For this interview with Per, as always, I had prepared quite some questions that I sent to him before the debut album release of PG Roxette. As you all know, there are several parallel projects going on now, so it’s probably even more of a busy period for him than it usually is. He promised to try to get back to me before the release date, but than he came up with the idea, what if we do a Zoom meeting. Ojoj. I always preferred writing to talking when it comes to me, but you don’t say no, when such an opportunity arises.
We set the date, 26th October and planned a 30-40-minute-long meeting. We went on talking for almost 1.5 hours. It was a long chat, full of insights, so I decided to share it in two parts. Just like our meeting happened in two parts. Read this article until the end to see why.
I enjoyed listening to him so much that at 1 or 2 points I was even a bit distracted, then I suddenly realized that hey, I have to ask the next question. I’m so not used to this. Haha.
After the usual online meeting phrases – “Can you see me? Can you hear me?” – and Per explaining he is “so thrilled every time this works”, we discuss he has been doing radio all afternoon. Swedish radio, so I’ll have some “work” to do, to translate it. Haha. [Already done.] I get to know that it was on Mix Megapol with Lotta Bromé. Tomorrow [Thursday] is a day for German media, so Per says there is a lot of blah blah blah going on now.
Patrícia Peres: – Congratulations on 2 sold out shows for Gyllene Tider!
Per Gessle: – Yeah! Thank you! It’s fun. It’s pretty scary to release these tickets, because we never release tickets this early before. But it’s a new ball game now. Everyone is releasing tickets and there is so much competition going on, so you have to be ahead of everything. October isn’t the typical Gyllene Tider month. You know, we always feel like when we should start present something, it should be in the spring, when people are anticipating the summer. Now we’re going into the darkness here.
PP: – But there is always light coming after that and there are already 2 sold out shows!
PG: – Yeah, I think we made good decisions. We didn’t charge too much money for the tickets and we have children’s tickets.
PP: – Fans are very happy with the ticket prices.
PG: – And I think that’s good too, because we’re going into recession and I know lots of artists who charge so much money and they don’t sell any tickets because people don’t have the money anymore.
PP: – In Hungary you can’t buy tickets that cheap. Any concerts I bought tickets for were much more expensive than GT tickets. And we are far from Sweden.
Here I thank Per for offering this online meeting option. He could have just said that he doesn’t have the time or is not interested. He says it’s fine, he just thought that it would take a lot of time for him now to answer all my questions in written form and he thought maybe if I get all the info from the “Per Gessle Talks P-UD!” recordings, then I don’t have to ask some of those questions. Haha. I tell him the more info he gives me, the more questions I have. He laughs.
PP: – By the way, it’s a very good idea to release these talks, because it’s really fun and cool for all the fans to hear YOU talking about this project and the songs.
PG: – Yeah, I started doing that when I released the “Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig” album. Then I noticed there is so many streams. I don’t know why people want to hear…
PP: – Haha. It’s a rhetorical question, right?
PG: – There are also videos in which I talk. They are not the same as what’s on Spotify. So maybe I tell the opposite in the videos and there is contradiction.
PP: – Haha. OK. Well… I just wanted to ask you about the name PG Roxette, of course. You talked a lot about it, why you chose it, but I would like to know if this project has ever been planned under your own name. You probably decided it earlier, but the first time we could hear about PG Roxette was when the Metallica cover happened.
PG: – There have been many options. One option was to use the Roxette name, but then I felt like I should sort of make a point that it’s not really the old Roxette. It’s an extension or a new chapter of Roxette. So I had to make a quick decision when the Metallica thing happened, because they were going to release that song. So I decided to go with PG Roxette and then the rest of it followed naturally, so to speak. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but the Roxette name is such a strong brand anyway, so it’s good to have that in there.
PP: – Absolutely. I agree.
PG: – It’s the same thing as what I was just talking to this journalist on the radio about the Mono Mind thing. Mono Mind was great when nobody knew it was me, but then as soon as people know it’s me, it becomes just another project. And with a fake voice, sort of. So… I think it’s a good thing and I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future. We’ll see. The original plan for PG Roxette was to do a tour, because I wanted to play the Roxette songs. But then Pelle died, so we couldn’t tour. And then the corona thing happened, so everything got delayed and delayed. So I said let’s do this album instead and use these players, Jonas, Helena and Dea. I didn’t really get that power of Helena and Dea combined until I did the Metallica song and then I realized that they sounded so amazing together. So Dea came down to Christoffer’s studio and overdubbed what Helena already had done. That’s how we basically created these voices.
PP: – Ah, OK. I thought that you originally wrote the songs for three voices.
PG: – No. It was just a sound that I wanted, so Helena and Dea only worked together in the studio at the same time on the Metallica song. Otherwise they worked separately. Most of Helena’s vocals were recorded in Halmstad at the T&A studio and then Dea came down to Skåne to Christoffer’s studio.
PP: – It’s very interesting, because you mentioned how their voices are working together, but it’s really hard to make a distinction whether it’s only Helena or it’s Dea and Helena together.
PG: – Hard to do. On certain tracks, like “Watch Me Come Undone” or “You Hurt The One You Love The Most” I tried to put them on separate sides, so you can hear Dea on one side and Helena on the other side. So you can sort of follow what they are doing. I just let them sing whatever they wanted and direct them a little bit. Then when we mixed the album, we just got through all the channels, cut the phrases and put them here and there.
PP: – You dedicated “Pop-Up Dynamo!” to Marie. I think most of us fans expected it, but reading these two words “For Marie” was really heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time. What does this dedication mean to you?
PG: – Well, if Marie would have been around and in good shape, we would have continued to work together. She couldn’t really sing anymore when we did the “Good Karma” album. It was a really tough album to make. Of course, when I continue the Roxette legacy, even though she’s not here, she’s there anyway. Maybe you can’t hear her, but she is part of it anyway. So it felt natural to do that. Just because she’s gone, it doesn’t mean that she’s forgotten. That’s the way it is.
PP: – Regarding this link between “Look Sharp!” and “Joyride”, we, fans were very surprised, because when you said that it’s a link, we thought OK, but Marie is not there anymore, so can it be a real link? And then you said it’s a sister album to them and then the other day you said in an interview that it’s a cousin. I think cousin is the closest relation to those two albums, because it has this ’80s and ’90s vibe to it, but it’s different. It’s not how Roxette really sounded back in the ’80s and ’90s.
PG: – I think that maybe it’s me who hasn’t really been clear about it. I haven’t explained it properly. I mean it’s not like a sibling to “Look Sharp!” and “Joyride” in that sense that it sounds the same, it’s just that it’s that kind of sounds and that kind of way. You can hear so much classic Clarence keyboards in there, which is very much the old Roxette style, but I didn’t want to do an album that sounded like 1989. It has to sound 2022. It has to sound modern. This is probably the closest you can get without being too retro. I didn’t want to make it like a retro album, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to sound like a Mono Mind record with real voices. Maybe some people think that it sounds more like “Good Karma” than “Joyride”. I don’t know.
PP: – It sounds a bit like “Good Karma”, it sounds a bit like “Crash! Boom! Bang!”, it sounds a bit like “Look Sharp!”, a bit like “Joyride”, so it’s a mix of everything.
PG: – Yeah and that’s obviously because it’s my songs and it’s my style of writing and that shines through in everything. It’s always very difficult to describe music in words, you know. It sounds like this or it sounds like that. The attitude we had when we started producing was that we should do something like a sibling to “Joyride” and “Look Sharp!” and don’t do too many overdubs. If you listen to “Dressed For Success” or “Sleeping Single” or even “The Look”… I heard “The Look” today in my headphones when I was at the radio station. There are hardly any instruments there, there are only like a bass synth, an overdub bass, some guitars and a pad here and there and then voices and drum machine and that’s it. It’s very ’80s. “Watch Me Come Undone” is sort of the same thing. It’s very ’80s, even though it sounds modern in a way. It’s the closest I could get.
PP: – Your demos in the “Look Sharp!” and “Joyride” era were quite produced. Now how should we imagine the demos for “Pop-Up Dynamo!”?
PG: – I made pretty produced demos. Hahaha.
PP: – Do they sound almost the same as the final songs?
PG: – Not really, because Clarence and Magnus, especially Magnus is really into the analog synthesizers and I have lots of them myself. You know, Jupiter 8, Jupiter 6 and Prophet 5 and all those synthesizers. So we used those, but when I made the demos, I didn’t use them at all. So it was Clarence and Magnus who created this ’80s sound. But eventually, I’m sure I would release the demos on a birthday. Hahaha.
PP: – Surprise, surprise! Haha.
PG: – These type of songs that are like pop songs, it’s really hard to present them on an acoustic guitar. I have to show Clarence and Magnus what I want with this song, which direction I wanted to go. So I have to make a demo, which sort of makes sense. The only song I didn’t have a demo for is the one I wrote with Giorgio Tuinfort.
PP: – You released “Look Sharp!” at the age of 30, now you are in your 60s. How was the uptempo PG back then and how he is now? How challenging was it to write such songs?
PG: – It’s always harder to write fast songs than slow songs. It’s the same with the new Gyllene Tider album. I think that album is the best album we’ve ever done, because there is so much energy in it and …
PP: – Sorry to interrupt, but when did you record it? We just heard the news that it’s already done. When did you record it? You were touring all the time! Haha.
PG: – Hahaha. We started recording it in November last year. You know we had to cancel touring then and so I didn’t tour before Christmas. When we got back on tour in April, the album was done.
PP: – Gosh! Wow!
PG: – We were also like “how the hell did we do this?”. Hahaha. We were very motivated and I was really motivated. Same with this album, “Pop-Up Dynamo!”. I just felt like I wanted to do Roxette. When you write a song for Roxette, it has to have a certain amount of sophistication in there. It’s pretty smart and advanced with all the modulations. As soon as Clarence is involved and you put the responsibility on his shoulders, it becomes like a fulfilled production thing, which is not the case with Gyllene Tider. Gyllene Tider is much more… [he is snapping his fingers] It’s five people trying to make sense. Half of the time we don’t make sense at all, but when we make sense, it sort of explodes. It’s so different writing an uptempo song for Roxette compared to Gyllene Tider. And I can’t really explain it. It’s just so different.
PP: – Very cool! I just hope that at the age of 90 you will still write uptempo songs. Haha. Earlier you said that you couldn’t really go back to that writing style, how you wrote songs in the ’80s and ’90s. Now how was it possible for you to go back to that way of thinking?
PG: – You know, so many things that I say can be interpreted in so many ways. For me it’s a big difference how I write today compared to when I was younger, but at the same time it’s exactly the same. It’s because it’s the same style, my roots are still the same and my musical ideals and what I like about music is the same. And I haven’t really changed them. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to my songwriting. So in that sense, nothing has changed. But, what has really happened is that time has gone by. I mean, I’m older now and the more you know, the more professional you get. Even though you might not necessarily notice it yourself, you tend to change because you become professional. And also you have written so many songs. It happens that I’m writing and bump into something that I feel sounds really interesting and then I think shit, I used this on “(Do You Get) Excited?” or I used this on “Fading Like A Flower” or I used it on “Honung och guld”. So of course it becomes more and more difficult, because you’ve done so many songs, you’ve written so many songs. I think it’s so rewarding when you write a really simple uptempo Gyllene Tider song and it works and it sounds great. It’s really hard to do now and it wasn’t hard to do when I was 20. Hahaha. It’s hard to do, but then it’s so rewarding to be able to do that. It’s the same with the PG Roxette album. In a way, it’s very fragile because it’s a debut album in a sense. It’s the first time I do a Roxette album without Marie, so there are things that I might change. If I’m going to do another album, it’s going to be different from this one, because I had to do this album first before I go into the next chapter. So in a way, it’s like an experiment to see how it sounds and how we could do things.
PP: – It might be a stupid question, because even your 30-40-year-old albums sound amazing today, but as an artist, did you think it might get “outdated” during those 2 years while you kept “Pop-Up Dynamo!” in the can? With an album lying around for such a long time, is there any temptation or “risk” of wanting to remake it or change anything after it’s ready, but not yet released? Did you change anything on this album since it was ready?
PG: – Yeah, I did. First of all, I think you have to make a decision early on that when the album is done, it’s done. Otherwise you’re going to change it all the time. But what I did was that I took away one uptempo song. It was 12 songs to begin with. And I did that because I thought the album didn’t need that. I’m going to release that song next year instead. Because it’s a really cool song. I think one of the side effects of my style of writing is that if you hear one song at a time and you listen to other artists in between, all these songs sort of make sense. If you listen to them altogether, they sort of disturb each other, because they are all very powerful in their own right. It was the same problem with “Joyride” and “Look Sharp!”. That’s why I put “Jezebel” on this album.
PP: – Yeah, I was going to ask you about the balance.
PG: – Yes. That song doesn’t fit the album at all, but that’s why it has to be there. And also that’s one of the reasons why I took away this uptempo track, because it got too many songs. You overdose on your stuff. But that’s something you learn.
PP: – Regarding the production, who had what role in it?
PG: – Well, like I said, I did the demos and the demos showed the direction. Then we talked about the direction and Clarence and Magnus did backing tracks and then they sent the tracks to me and I changed everything I didn’t like. Hahaha. Then I did the vocals basically on my own in the studio and Helena’s vocals as well with Mats in Halmstad. Then it went back to Magnus and Clarence to sort of organize everything. After you’ve done the vocals, you have to sort of adjust certain things. You feel like maybe you need something here or there. It’s a production thing. The last thing we did was to go to Christoffer’s studio and do some overdubs. Also, we did all the Jonas Isacsson stuff at the Sweetspot Studio in Harplinge early on. So he was involved really early on. Christoffer wasn’t that involved this time. We did of course Dea’s vocals with him and he did some overdubs, some guitar parts as well and he did this strange synthesizer, Ondes Martenot. Have you heard about that one?
PP: – Yeah, from you and I had to look it up to see what’s that.
PG: – They are really hard to get, those machines. And here you have to be sort of selected by this family to be able to buy it. And Christoffer was selected. He was the list for years! So he got it and it sounds like a little bird. It’s a synthesizer from the 1930s or so and it’s really complicated to play. You have a little ring and a string and you move your finger like this and it’s [here Per makes some Ondes Martenot noise while demonstrating how it works, haha]. Anyway, it’s a sound that sounds really special, and we put it as soon as we needed something instead of doing a string melody or something. We used this machine instead, because it’s special, it’s unique. Then of course I did three songs alone with Christoffer, including “Jezebel”. And the only one we used was “Jezebel”. I did another version of “Sunflower” with Chris, but that sounded terrible so I used my demo instead, which is what was released. And then we did another song, which was terrible, but I kept that song for the Gyllene Tider album, because it sounded much more GT than Roxette.
PP: – Hmm! Interesting! So you translated this song into Swedish?
PG: – Yeah, I translated it, so now there is this English and the Swedish Gyllene Tider version of it.
PP: – I hope we will get to hear both of them one day!
PG: – That will be coming up, I’m sure.
PP: – A couple of minutes ago you mentioned Jonas. I have to say we all thought that – because of him – there would be more guitars involved. How was your collaboration after so many years?
PG: – It was good and it was fun. Jonas is a great player. Actually, I felt like a little bit of what you’re saying. I felt like there was a little bit too little guitar. So that’s one of the reasons why I wrote and put “Headphones On” in there, because I wanted to get a proper guitar solo. It’s so unfashionable with a guitar solo these days. Working with him also on the Metallica song was great, because he is such a great player. I think it was mainly in Clarence’s and Magnus’s backing tracks that they didn’t really use that many guitars. Actually, “The Loneliest Girl In The World” had much more guitars at one stage, but we took away the guitars, because we kept the synthesizers instead.
PP: – Does it make any difference when you write a song on guitar or piano and then you make it as a synth production?
PG: – No, not really. I mean, you decide that when you make the demo. You feel what the song’s temperature is or whatever you want to call it. I think if you’re going to have a guitar riff that’s like in “Sleeping In My Car” or something like that, you have to write that when you write the song. Because it’s really hard to do it later. Let’s say you have a song like “The Loneliest Girl In The World” and you try to make a guitar riff in the intro. It doesn’t really make sense, because there is so many things going on anyway. And that’s exactly what happened with that particular song. But that’s a very good question. Generally speaking, I think we should have a little bit more guitars on this album. But next time! Hahaha.
PP: – It sounds much fun anway, but on the next album, maybe more guitars, yes.
PG: – There is so much guitar on the Gyllene Tider album, so you will be happy.
PP: – Yeah, sounds promising. I’ll be happy with that for sure. Haha. Was your Ensoniq ESQ-1 involved at any stage?
PG: – [He smiles.] No, but I found the Jupiter 6 and the Jupiter 8. I took down all my synthesizers to Christoffer’s studio a long time ago and he put them away in the attic or somewhere. I told him that I wanted them back for this recording, so I got all these synthesizers back and some of them were in terrible shape. The keys were stuck, stuff like that. They were fixed by some guy in Malmö. Eventually, they became like mint condition, so Magnus and Clarence used them a lot. Magnus, you know, he’s really into that kind of stuff, so it was Christmas Eve every day for him. Hahaha.
PP: – Three guys play the synth on the album: Magnus, Chris and Clarence. What is the difference between their style?
PG: – Well, Clarence of course is a keyboard player, so he can play properly. Magnus is more of a programmer and Magnus isn’t a very good piano player. Christoffer is in between. He can play anything, but he can’t really play piano like Clarence. So they have different roles. When it comes to Christoffer, he didn’t really program that much. He was more like the end station for this production. I think he got fed up programming when we did the Mono Mind album and the “Good Karma” album. It was too much for him. He doesn’t really like that anymore. Hahaha. We did the Mono Mind album before we did “Good Karma” and that was an amazing recording to do, because we really did something we hadn’t touched before productionwise. Then doing all these experiments with the computers and the voices. We learned so much from that and we took a lot of that knowledge into the production of “Good Karma”. But then “Good Karma” had other problems. That is Marie’s voice. So we had to work so hard to make her sound OK. In the original version of “Let Your Heart Dance With Me” she didn’t sound very good. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t put that on the album. Then many years later Ronny Lahti mixed that song and he could actually make Marie sound great on that. So she sounds amazing on the single I think. But she didn’t sound that good when we worked with her.
PP: – Was there any song originally written for Marie to sing? I mean one of these songs that are on “Pop-Up Dynamo!” now.
PG: – Hmmm. Let me think. No, I think all of these songs are new. Hmmm. No. They are new songs, all of them. The oldest song is “Jezebel”. I wrote that in 2017.
PP: – What project did you write it for?
PG: – I think it was after Nashville. I wrote a couple of acoustic songs that I recorded with Helena. And “Jezebel” is one of them. I recorded it with Christoffer on my own and I just felt that I needed something to break the radio-friendly pop songs on the album. Hahaha. When you make an album, it’s always like putting a puzzle together. As soon as you get a new song, it changes all the other songs.
PP: – Getting down to the songs, “Walking On Air” was the trigger track. You wrote it for “Top Gun: Maverick”. How should we imagine the request you got to write a song for the movie? Did you get the complete script of that one scene you wrote the song for?
PG: – I got an email saying that they were interested in a song for a particular scene and the scene was a couple of people dancing on the beach. So they wanted this like a summer vibe thing. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I think that there isn’t a scene like that in it.
PP: – I asked a friend of mine who watched it and he said that there is a beach scene but no one is dancing there.
PG: – Once in a while I get requests like that and normally I don’t really deal with it, but since this was such a big movie, I thought it could be worthwhile to do it. I just loved this song when I wrote it. This is a great song and that sort of triggered the whole idea that maybe I should do a Roxette album in that style. Then the idea of doing this “sibling” to “Joyride” and “Look Sharp!” came about. It was definitely the trigger track. As you know it, when I wrote it for the movie, it was only Helena singing it. Because I thought it made more sense. But then of course I changed it to myself.
Originally, the meeting would come to an end here, Zoom says it’s just 4 minutes left, but I still have some questions left and so I ask Per if he still has time. He says absolutely, we can go on, no worries. But I explain that the Zoom meeting will end anyway, so I will have to send another invitation, I assume. I usually do Zoom meetings with agency people who send me the invitations, so this time I only registered on Zoom for being able to schedule this meeting. Non-premium users can only have 40-minute meetings.
While I’m already at creating the new invitation, Per says he thinks all these apps are so complicated. Then he mentions “we have something called Teams here in Sweden”. Hallelujah! I laughed because that’s exactly the app we use at my company and I’m more familiar with that. Also, there is no time limit. It’s just that whenever there was an online media interview with Per, I saw he always used Zoom and also when he said we could meet online, he suggested Zoom. So I didn’t think about asking if Teams could also be fine for him. Haha. Whatever. He now suggests we can make a Teams thing instead if I prefer that. So I start creating a Teams invitation. While I’m at it, he starts scanning my shelves behind me and notices I have the “Akustiska kvällar” book there (among many other things). He says he is waiting for Anders Roos to send him footage from the studio, because he was there when they were recording the new album with Gyllene Tider. I find it promising. [If you check Gyllene Tider’s Facebook site, you can see that in the meantime he received the footage from Anders.]
The Teams invitation is sent and Per says he lets me go, he goes back to his mail and we start all over again. Ciao! Ciao!
END OF PART 1
Stills are from the Zoom meeting.
Click here for PART 2!