Interview with Per Gessle by Wyborcza, Poland

Jarek Szubrycht from Wyborcza in Poland did a great interview with Per Gessle on the occasion of the Bag of Trix release.

He starts with asking Per about touring with Marie during the past few years. Jarek thinks it was sad to see that Marie, who was bursting with energy in the past had to sit during the concerts. On the other hand, it was touching and uplifting as well, that she didn’t give up. Mr. G says the last tours were a really tough experience. Per asked Marie many times, “Do you really want this? Should we really go?” Her answer was always the same. When Marie told she would be sitting from now on because she had problems with her leg, it was hard to believe for Per. She always ran around the stage and standing still was something unnatural for her. She said she would be sitting because she wanted to sing for the people, she wanted to see them. Per is convinced that the energy she got from the people at concerts and the love they showed for her helped her survive. She was sick for a long time and Mr. G thinks that if they hadn’t gone on the last two tours, she would have left earlier. All the doctors advised her against touring, but she didn’t listen. And if she wanted to go on tour, so did Per. It was all he could do for her, to be with her to the end.

Jarek asks Per if we will ever see Roxette on stage again, maybe with a new singer, or maybe with Marie’s hologram. Mr. G can’t imagine replacing Marie with another singer and he won’t do that. On the other hand, he would feel bad about never performing Roxette songs again. He considers touring with several female singers and tries to find a solution that works both on an emotional and musical level.

Jarek is curious why Marie and Per joined their forces while they both had separate careers. Mr. G tells they have been friends for years and they shared a dream to break through outside Sweden. Per knew that he could write songs, but he is not an outstanding singer, neither the best guitarist in the world. He believed that with the right voice he could do a lot. Marie, on the other hand, felt great on stage and sang perfectly, but she couldn’t take care of the repertoire herself. She needed Per’s songs. In their case, 1+1 made 3 and they were much better together than they were apart. Roxette’s debut album was a huge success in Sweden, but only in Sweden, so Marie’s label urged her to stop working together with Per and focus on her solo career. Marie was persistent enough and fought with them for Roxette’s survival. After achieving international success, they were unstoppable.

According to Jarek, Roxette is a pop band on the radio, but a rock band on stage. Per says Roxette’s strength was great concerts. They put together a really good band and Marie was not only a great singer but also a stage personality. And they put the emphasis on the strong guitar sound on stage.

Regarding Bag of Trix Per tells it’s not a greatest hits compilation. They have already released many such compilations and you don’t need another one. He was browsing Roxette’s archives and to his great surprise, he discovered a lot of recordings that he had forgotten about. Among them there are demos they recorded in a cramped basement in the southern part of Stockholm, still not sure how to divide the roles, how to choose the key, but already very curious how they will make music together. They felt that something special was happening. Per says he also has some great live recordings from the Joyride tour in Australia and he will definitely not keep them to himself.

The biggest surprise for Mr. G on Bag of Trix was Soul Deep. It was to be the first single when Joyride was released in the US and producer Tom Lord-Alge pulled the song more towards soul. In the end, Soul Deep never became a single and even Per himself is not sure that he had heard this version before. He was happy to discover it now.

The warmest memories related to any tracks on Bag of Trix is the Abbey Road Sessions. PG says he couldn’t stop smiling when he listened to it. When they released Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus! in 1995, their label organized a promo concert for them in London. The day before, BBC invited them to the Abbey Road Studios to play some acoustic songs for them. They couldn’t refuse because they were huge fans of The Beatles. Marie said they should do something from The Beatles and since she always loved Help!, they did that cover and it worked out fine. Marie’s voice did all the work here.

Jarek asks if these memories are painful for Per. Mr. G says it’s not painful anymore, but when he was digging in the archives, it happened that he felt melancholy. He tries to remember only the good times and think about the magic that worked in Roxette. They managed to do something amazing, they were really lucky. Thanks to Marie – as a singer, but also an extraordinary personality – Per’s songs became better than they were. It’s not easy, because every day something reminds Mr. G of Marie and he knows it will be like that for the rest of his life, so he has to get used to it somehow.

While Jarek was listening to the demos of Roxette’s great hits, he wondered what distinguishes a good song from a great one that millions of people would later consider their own. Per tells that every time you try to do it the best you can. You follow the music, combine the melody and the words. He thinks there is also temperature and color of each song. He can’t predict which song will make the masses happy and which will get lost, but sometimes in the studio he hears that a new song has something special about it. This was the case with The Look, for example. When they recorded it, they were just one of the many Swedish bands that would like to play a little overseas. But in the studio, when they played The Look to people, they saw that they reacted differently than usual, that this was a song that had that notorious X factor. With Joyride and Milk and Toast and Honey he felt that too. Such songs write themselves, Per thinks. He knows immediately where he is going and how to get there. It’s a special feeling because usually he has no idea what he wants and the music guides him. Sometimes he gets stuck and he knows it’s sometimes better to leave it then and do something else.

Jarek asks Per if he thinks a career like Roxette’s would be possible to achieve today. Mr. G thinks it’s possible, but unlikely. The labels work completely differently, album format is history, radio has changed too much and social media has appeared. Per says pop music has always been a mirror of its era and it is also today. Most mainstream productions are made on laptops, using the same software, so they all sound great, but it’s difficult to tell them apart. Once upon a time, there was no doubt about who recorded which song, you could tell it by the sound. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Computers made everything similar. But the same thing happened with our lives, this is the modern world. On top of that there is an overproduction of music. 40,000 new songs premiere on Spotify every day, which means that new bands hardly have a chance to be noticed by anyone.

Jarek thinks that kids absorb and remember everything, but the older generation already have their idols and are not too open to new ones. Per tells his son is 23 years old and listens to music non-stop, and so do his friends. But they have no idea what the artists are called or what the titles are. Music just comes and goes. When Per was their age and he managed to get money for a new album, not only did he listen to it all the time, but he also studied every detail of the cover, learned the lyrics by heart, he even knew the serial numbers of the albums. He bought releases by specific labels because he knew he could trust them that he would like everything they released. This world is long gone. Mr. G is sorry for that, but his son is not sorry because he doesn’t know what he has lost.

Jarek is curious about when they felt that Roxette’s success exceeds their expectations. Per says they dreamed of touring Europe. To go to Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium and play in a few clubs. They couldn’t imagine much else, even success in the UK didn’t seem possible to them. Meanwhile, the first country where they achieved success outside Sweden was the US. Nobody heard anything like that, nobody understood it. That’s why everyone in America decided they were single shots, that they made The Look, but that was it. Their second single in the US was Dressed For Success and the biggest radio network refused to play it. They decided that since they had already played one track of these Swedes, as a curiosity, they would not play a second one. That’s why Dressed For Success peaked only at No. 14 on the Billboard. Fortunately, the next single was Listen To Your Heart and then everyone gave up and was waiting for their next album with open arms.

Jarek mentions ABBA, Roxette, Europe, Max Martin, successful Swedes and is curious about how it’s done. What do Swedes know about popular music that Poles don’t? Per tells in the 80’s, when music became digital, everything changed. When he was recording his first album in 1979, all Swedish music sounded awful. His music too. Only ABBA was the exception, they always sounded fantastic. After the digital revolution, with the spread of synthesizers and music software, everything changed. Productions from Munich, Buenos Aires and Stockholm began to sound more or less the same as those from London. Swedes have always liked new technologies, so a whole generation of producers and songwriters who could use these tools quickly emerged. This, however, doesn’t explain the success of bands such as Roxette, Europe, The Cardigans or The Hives. So Per thinks maybe the point is that northern Europeans – not only Scandinavians, but also northern England or Scotland – have an innate talent for composing beautiful melodies.

Thanks a lot for the hint, Tomasz Wysocki!