Tomas Andersson Wij had Per Gessle as a premiere guest in his new podcast, Hundåren. Hundåren means years of hard work and difficult conditions. So the guys were talking about the tough periods in Per’s career. It’s not the first time Tomas did an interview with Mr. G. You could already read a great one in Per’s book, Texter, klotter & funderingar.
During this podcast recording, the guys are sitting in Per’s office in Stockholm. He bought it in the 90’s and for a while it was a complete recording studio. Per shows to Tomas where the mixing board was and tells there they recorded e.g. Belinda Carlisle’s Always Breaking My Heart. Then he realized he was too bad at technical stuff, so he was anyway in the hands of technicians and this way he didn’t need that mixing board. Now he plays the piano and his guitars there. Tomas says there is art on the walls: Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Joni Mitchell, Anton Corbijn. He adds Per’s wife sits in a room opposite Mr. G’s. Per tells Åsa is into design, she creates lamps and deals with pots and welds and sketches. They are not there at the same time too often. They live in the same building on Strandvägen, one floor under the office. They have a great view on Djurgården.
Tomas starts asking Per about 1983. By then they had 3 successful years with Gyllene Tider. They sold 170.000 copies of their debut album, 370.000 of Moderna Tider and 185.000 of Puls. There was a GT fever in Sweden during those years. Per says everything went so fast and it was a very intense period. They had long tours and they managed to surpass the sales of their debut album with Moderna Tider. När vi två blir en was released as a single in autumn 1980 and the album came out in spring 1981. Before recording the third album, they decided they should do something different. In autumn 1981 Anders Herrlin and Per left the country, they ended up in Westwood, Woodstock, USA. There they lived even at John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful for a couple of days. They came back and recorded the third album. It was a bit more grown-up, more mature with all the ballads on it. They went on the Sommartider tour in 1982 and it was a big success, but then the band members had to join the military service. Tomas tells he read Elvis Presley’s story that he also had to join the military service at the peak of his career. Per tells green didn’t suit him, so he escaped. Tomas asks how, but Per doesn’t want to share details. All he can tell is that there were 3 guys who didn’t want to do the military service, but all others in the band wanted to. So the 3 guys, including Per found a way to escape, which wasn’t too difficult at the time. Tomas asks if they simulated mental illness. Per says sort of.
Then Per started making his first solo album that came out in 1983. Per says it was a natural progress and it was cheered by Kjell Andersson at EMI, who signed Gyllene Tider earlier. He thought Per has a kind of singer songwriter quality that didn’t really come out on GT’s albums. Except in Honung och guld or in Flickan i en Cole Porter-sång maybe. It felt good for Per to write more lyric-based music. He always liked pop with a little country touch. He also wanted to get rid of his teenage voice, so he sang all tones and his voice became darker. Tomas asks Mr. G if he had a complex with his voice. Per says it wasn’t really a complex, but he thought his voice was very much associated with Gyllene Tider and was limited and that often blocked the songs as well. That was one thing why he wanted to start Roxette. He didn’t want to sing at all.
Tomas asks if Mr. G had the feeling that he wanted to get rid of the teenage idol Per. Per says he doesn’t know, he just needed to express himself differently. He loved playing pop songs with GT, but recording his solo album was different. He doesn’t say it was better, it was just different. Mr. G says people liked them, but they didn’t have good or strong reputation in the music business. In Stockholm they felt like outsiders, hillbillies. It was a bit like that with Roxette too in Sweden. Per sees it during all his life that it doesn’t matter how much success you achieve, you don’t really get the reputation in the music industry. But that’s not the case with the people you are working together with.
In 1983 the guys in GT didn’t know which way to go in music. They decided for making an English album, The Heartland Café. They tried to break through with it abroad. That was released in the US under the name Roxette in 1984. Teaser Japanese was the first single and they had an expensive video shot to it. The guys felt they couldn’t top what they had achieved in Sweden and they felt they should do something different. At the same time, digitalization and synth pop became popular, but the guys were still in the Tom Petty and the Heartbrakers mood. They started listening to a lot of synth pop music, mainly through Anders Herrlin, but it was difficult to merge with their music. One can hear there is a little synth trial on The Heartland Café and Per’s next solo album. None of them really had the capacity for synth music. They all came from another generation and they felt their sound was a bit too off, but at the same time, that was the GT sound. The Heartland Café was produced by Lasse Lindbom, who also produced the first three GT albums and he wasn’t too interested in the synth world. When you want to change something, you certainly have to change the producer, here to someone who is familiar with synth music, so it was a strange decision to keep Lasse as the producer.
Tomas says earlier GT had an ocean of people in the audience, then only 800-900 people in the crowd. How did that feel to be a frontman and see that? Per says he can’t really remember, but those were tough times. They were very young and when you’re young, it’s hard to feel if things go downhill. You are confused and desperate even if it’s still working. You are thinking about what to do and how to do it to be back on the right track again. That was their first tour that wasn’t sold out. They had Janne Bark with them as an extra guitarist and Marie Fredriksson and Ulrika Uhlin as backing vocalists. Back then Per thought it was a good decision to strengthen the band with Janne and the girls, later he thought it was totally stupid, because Gyllene Tider is them 5 and this way it became something totally different. They were probably inspired by Robbie Robertson joining Tom Petty. Tomas adds they wanted to play their English songs, but the crowd wanted to hear their Swedish hits. Per says back then they were quite convinced what they did was good. Those were tough times. Also, when you expand the band that’s a proof of not being sure about your thing.
Tomas says the guys were also convinced they should break through in the US. What happened that they didn’t manage? Per says they were thrilled to sell albums abroad and they were happy that EMI invested so much money in the Teaser Japanese video. They had a meeting at the hotel in Halmstad to discuss their plans about how to go on. Then during that dinner Anders said he didn’t want to continue with the band. The guys were shocked. Tomas asks what arguments Anders had. Per says he wanted to move to Stockholm, he got a job at a music store. He wanted to start a new life. So, he moved to Stockholm, worked at a music store and became a synth nerd. Some years later he was programming Roxette’s albums.
Tomas asks if there was tension, if Anders thought Per was the driving force and he should just do his own stuff. Per says everyone thought so. Per says he had a love and hate relationship with the band. He loves Gyllene Tider and he loves the guys and even now when they became older, it’s fantastic to play together or just talk. But when you are twenty something, there is always a lot of fight. Who should be standing in the front, one thinks this, the other thinks that. The one who shouts louder wins. It was Per who was singing and he wrote most of the music and all the lyrics and he was the most interested in the music business. Anders and Mats were more interested in technical stuff. Anders, Micke Syd and MP had a totally different quality in making music vs. Per and Göran. Göran was a quite OK keyboard guy, but Anders, Micke and Mats were fantastically talented musicians. That was a weird recipe that worked out incredibly fine.
Tomas asks if Per remembers how he wrote the to-do list before that meeting with the band. Mr. G says he remembers it well. It was even published in one of the GT books. There were things like ”we should do a Swedish album”, ”we should find a producer”. They talked about Tomas Ledin as producer, as well as Anders Glenmark. They still had the support from their record label. He thought to write more songs and make demos, but it didn’t happen. The last thing they recorded, Galning ended up on Per’s next solo album. That would have been a GT song on a new GT album.
When Per looks back on his career, he of course thinks about Gyllene Tider, but he thinks about Roxette above all and all the decisions they made. They brought Marie on tour and she was singing on Vandrar i ett sommarregn on TV and she was there on Per’s first solo album. It all led to Roxette. That’s the big picture.
Tomas gets back to 1984. Per still lived in Halmstad and Tomas is interested in how people looked at Per in Halmstad when GT started to fade. Per felt quite isolated there. When GT broke through in 1980 / 1981, there were so many bands in Halmstad. More than 100. Per didn’t have contact with anyone except Marie. Once there was a voting in Hallandsposten about the most popular band in Halmstad and another band won it, even if GT was the biggest. So he didn’t really feel the appreciation back then. At the age of 24-25 it’s a hard feeling to deal with. Tomas asks how it affected Per. He says it pulled him away even more from socializing. He didn’t go to the disco or to clubs, he rather met people at home.
Anne-Lie Rydé played Per’s song, Segla på ett moln in Halmstad in 1984. And when she said it was written by Per Gessle, there was booing in the crowd. Tomas asks whether it was because no one is a prophet in their own land or there was aggression because of the huge success Per had, coming from such a little town in Sweden. Per doesn’t know what they got really angry about. He says there are cute myths that people got so angry they ”closed” the ways with speed bumps in the surroundings where Per lived to make it more difficult for him to get home by car. He laughs. Per says all his life he spent a lot of time alone. When he was a kid, he didn’t have friends at school and he lived in his own bubble until the age of 16-17 when he met his friend, Peter. Peter played in a band where MP was the drummer. Then MP and Per became best friends. They started Gyllene Tider. Then everything went so fast. They had only 6 concerts when they became No. 1 with Flickorna på TV2. So between being an isolated zero and becoming Sweden’s biggest pop star it was appr. 5 years. Regarding the booing, Per says he didn’t feel it being destructive. He always felt he is good at what he is doing and that doesn’t mean he needed commercial success for that.
Tomas asks whether Per had a basic self-esteem or he doubted himself during the years after Gyllene Tider. Mr. G says he rather doubted what he should do. After his solo album in 1985 didn’t sell good (maybe 20.000 copies) he didn’t hear of his record label for almost a year. He wrote songs for a new album, but he didn’t have a record label behind him. Then he started writing songs for other artists. He got into contact with Torgny Söderberg and they wrote together Kärleken är evig, Lena Philipsson’s Melodifestivalen song in 1986. Then Per started writing songs for Lena and other bands from The Pinks to Shakin’ Fredrik. Tomas adds Per got orders from Bert Karlsson and his gang too. Per mentions Lili & Sussie, too. He says he felt that it’s not what he is good at, he is not a good team player in this sense. He can’t write a song that will come out differently vs. how he thinks it would be good. So he felt very uncomfortable in that situation. Per remembers he was sitting for hours over a verse for some Lena Philipsson song and one verse was worse than the other. He knew that it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
Tomas starts talking about Per’s first solo album. He says in GT lyrics there were a lot of references to people (e.g. Paul McCartney, Buddy Holly) and the lyrics were playful, while on his first solo album he went black and white on the cover and he looks serious there, he sings about autumn and deserted beach. Per felt he wanted to change the style, but he wasn’t sure he could do that. He felt it wasn’t really his ”language”, even if now when he looks back, he thinks Tända en sticka till has a very nice lyric. Back then it wasn’t really his thing. He wasn’t ready for being a singer songwriter. Tomas adds Per was also very young at the time. Per agrees and says he thought there were more adult people who should write and perform such songs. It felt strange to release such songs under the same record label as Ulf Lundell and have the same producer as him, with the same band he recorded with. Per wasn’t really comfortable with that. It was never a plan to continue doing that. The second solo album had that singer songwriter element, but that was more pop style. Then the third solo album was never recorded. It became Roxette’s first album after Per tarnslated the lyrics to English. He always felt he was better at making pop music, so his style, his spontaneous ”language” wasn’t really his first solo album. Tomas tells Per’s debut album sold 60.000 copies which is a fantastic number even today, but once he sold almost 400.000 copies from an album with GT a year before, it must have felt a steep fall for him. Mr. G says it was another type of music and another type of audience. He was very proud that it became a gold album, but he still didn’t feel really comfortable with the record itself. It was too early for him. It was more Kjell Andersson’s album who Per thinks felt very comfortable with the Lundell union. Tomas adds the album sounds very Lundell-ish. Per agrees and he says he liked that era of Lundell. It was magically good, he had his very own style back then. Tomas asks Per if he knows Lundell was sick of GT’s success. Per laughs and says he knows, but who wasn’t sick of that. He adds when he released his first solo album, it came out the same week as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance under the same record label and he felt totally excluded, because everyone was working on David Bowie. But that was David Bowie. Tomas tells Ulf Lundell released a compilation album with the title Innan jag anfölls av indianerna (Before I was attacked by the Indians). Per smiles and says rumor has it the Indians were Gyllene Tider. It was never confirmed, but that’s what they say.
Tomas tells Per wasn’t in a very good economic situation at the time. He earned appr. 1.000 crowns per week. Tomas is curious how it affected Per. Per laughs and says when you don’t do anything that doesn’t cost a thing. He lived cheaply and was driving a Golf. Tomas says one would think that all the hits they did with GT generated so much money they could live on. Per says they lived good on that for a while, but back then you didn’t earn too much money on concerts. It wasn’t about the bad contracts only, but the fact that there wasn’t too much money in that business. One toured to promote their album and you earned money on selling your album and from the copyright after radio plays. Tomas asks Per how he wanted to propose to his wife and if he was forced to ask for more money, for example to buy rings. Per laughs and says despite it all, it was a lovely period. Now looking back, it’s great to see how all the endings led to something good with all the coincidences and luck or a meeting with someone at the right time during Per’s career.
Tomas asks what the key happenings were at the time. In 1985 Per had a call from Benny Hedlund who established Alpha Records together with Sanji Tandan. Per met Benny at Café Opera and Benny told him they signed Pernilla Wahlgren, but that was a secret and he shouldn’t tell anyone. Pernilla just broke through and Benny asked Per to write her a song. Per came up with Svarta glas, a dance song inspired by Michael Jackson. Mr. G thought it became cool and he sent it to Benny, but he never got back to Per. The demo however reached the boss, Roffe Nygren at EMI. He liked it a lot and told Per he should translate it into English and record it with Marie, so they have the song they always talked about with Marie to do something together.
Tomas says Per and Marie had been friends since a long time, but Marie had her own successful solo career at the time. She was working together with Lasse Lindbom who produced the old GT albums. Tomas says Lasse didn’t think Marie should do anything together with Per. They guys laugh. It was a big thing that Marie wanted to sing with Mr. G. Tomas asks if Per looked at Marie as a star back then. Per says he thought Marie had all the qualities he didn’t have. She sang well, she wasn’t as good on stage as she became later, but she had all the qualities Per liked and so he was super happy that she wanted to sing on Neverending Love that was released in summer 1986. Lasse Lindbom and Kjell Andersson didn’t want to risk Marie’s solo career, so that’s why Marie and Per didn’t appear on the single cover, in case it would be a flop. But it became a huge hit, so they decided to record a whole album. Per translated the songs he wrote for his third solo album into English. The only song he wrote especially for Roxette’s debut album was Secrets That She Keeps and there was a song written by Marie, Voices. Roxette was a hobby project for quite a long time. Even then when they went on the Badrock tour with Björn Skifs in 1987.
Tomas asks Per if he did any solo gigs to promote his solo albums. Mr. G says he didn’t. However, he, Marie, Mats MP Persson and Lasse Lindbom had an acoustic hobby band that played in small clubs on the West coast. They played everything from Love The One You’re With through Marie’s Ännu doftar kärlek to Per’s Tända en sticka till and maybe some GT songs. Tomas asks why Per didn’t do any solo concerts. Mr. G says he probably thoght it wouldn’t be too big and he couldn’t have sold many tickets. Tomas says Per was not the kind of person who wanted to play at all costs. He wanted to reach some level. Per says nowadays it’s cool to play at all levels, but back in the days he thought each step he should take higher and higher. And it was hard to top Gyllene Tider, of course. Per didn’t want to play KB in Malmö, he wanted to play Scandinavium. When he was looking for his identity, he asked himself whether he was an artist or a songwriter. After Roxette happened, he realized there is a much better singer and a fantastic front figure and he can just support her, while he can still sing or come to the front as well. That was a much more comfortable role for his artistry those times. So it’s about finding yourself, who you are.
Tomas asks Per about how self-confident he was at the beginning of the 80’s. Per thinks he had quite weak self-confidence then. Gyllene Tider helped him in a way, but he was so young and he was looking for his identity. One thinks that someone’s personality comes through the lyrics at that young age. He always says that his lyrics are mostly fiction. It can start with a personal thing, but lead to something totally different in verse 2. Tomas asks whom Per talked to when he lost his self-confidence. Before Per met his wife, it was Janne Beime, his business man who has always been a great support to Mr. G. He always told Per he would succeed with this or that. And he was right. He became kind of a father substitute for Per. Mr. G’s father died in 1978 and Janne came into Per’s life in 1980. He is 15 years older than Per or so and helped him a lot. Not on the creative side, but e.g. when he bought Hotel Tylösand or in other businesses.
Tomas says Per’s father never saw Per’s success and that they broke through with GT. He asks Mr. G how it felt. Per tells he had a strange relationship with his father. There was a radio program in the 70’s, Bandet går. You could send in your own songs and they played them. If your songs were really good, you could get a half-an-hour program for your own, Bandet går vidare. They had this chance with Gyllene Tider, but before that, they were played maybe 3-4 times on Bandet går. One of the songs the radio played was En av dem där which was a kind of punk song. Per’s father heard it and he told Per he didn’t sing really well. That was him. But Per says his mother was very supportive. She bought Per’s first guitar in 1975 or 1976. It was a Bjärton that cost maybe 1.500-2.000 crowns. That was a lot of money for someone who couldn’t play the guitar. It sounded fantastic and was easy to tune. Its string height was good too, so he could avoid having bleeding fingertips. That was the time when Per started writing songs. He wrote e.g. När alla vännerna gått hem and Billy on that guitar. After high school, Per and his friend, Peter became troubadours employed by the city council. They got a contract for 3 months twice, so for 6 months they were playing at nursing homes for old people. It was scary, but great at the same time. Peter playd guitar and flute and Per played guitar and sang. There are a lot of stories. They got a schedule when to go where. One of the places was the long-term care at the hospital in Halmstad. They had never been there and when they got in, there was no one there. So they just entered a hall where there were two patients on the two sides so they put two chairs in the middle, sat down and started playing. Suddenly a nurse came in and wondered what they were doing there. Just then, one of the two guys woke up, it was a young guy who had an accident and had been in coma. So they woke him up with their song. Maybe they played something he recognized. Then many doctors came in and stood around the guy’s bed and the staff asked Per and Peter to get out. Then it turned out they shouldn’t have played there, there was something wrong in the schedule. So that was also a coincidence that they woke someone up from coma.
Another story is when at a lunch there were 6 old ladies and gentlemen sitting around the table, eating their soup. Per had a capo for the guitar. 96-year-old Eskil was sitting there and had it in his mouth. He had dipped it in the soup, because he probably thought it was cracking bread or something. Those were fun times. There is a photo that was published in Hallandsposten where Peter and Per are playing at a nursing home. On Per’s bachelor party, before he got married in 1993, they forced Per to go back to a nursing home to play Drömmen om Elin for the patients. That was much fun.
Per says the hardest thing is to play in front of only a few people. It’s easier to play at Ullevi or Scandinavium or Globen, because there you can ”hide” behind the huge production, there are a lot of tricks and techniques and lights, but you are sitting ”naked” in front of 5 people, so that was a good practice.