Frank Mischkowski from Sound & Recording (Germany) did an interview with Per Gessle about songwriting. Per gave some insights into the way he writes songs.
Frank informs that at the age of 10, Per Gessle’s record collection is said to have already included 100 vinyls, so his passion for music has been with him since he was a child. He learned English primarily by studying the lyrics of The Beatles, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie. He earned his first record deal with Gyllene Tider at the end of the 1970s.
When he founded Roxette in 1986 with Marie Fredriksson, who unfortunately died in 2019, he had no idea how successful the duo would become: “We joked: ‘Today Sweden, tomorrow the world.’ But what we meant was small performances in Amsterdam or Germany on TV. We were probably in the right place at the right time.”
Sound & Recording: What makes a really good song for you?
Per Gessle: This changes from generation to generation. I always say the point of pop music is to reflect its times. The music of the ’60s and ’70s was much more melody driven. Today you don’t start with the melody anymore. Listen to songs like Dedicated Follower Of Fashion or SOS, they are based on melodies. That’s where I come from.
S&R: You have written so many great songs. How do you come up with these strong, memorable lines?
PG: I’m interested in words and stories. And I’m always looking for phrases – “Hello, you fool, I love you”, “Come on, join the joyride”. The first impression you get of a song is often the title. You read the title and if it sounds good, your interest is awaken.
S&R: You write in both English and Swedish. Are there ideas that you can express more easily in one language than in the other?
PG: I write very personally. Of course not something like How Do You Do!, but songs like Queen Of Rain, Perfect Day or What’s She Like? are as personal as possible. It’s easier for me to dive deep into myself in Swedish, simply because it’s my native language. On the other hand, English is a very singable language. Swedish is a pretty difficult language to sing.
S&R: Do you find it easier to write for yourself or for other artists?
PG: I prefer writing songs for my own projects. In the early ’80s, when Gyllene Tider broke up and I had a few years before Roxette started, a lot of people wanted songs from me. Especially lyrics, but also music. I never felt comfortable with it. Someone always talks you into it. I prefer to write for my own projects where I’m the boss.
S&R: But then you wrote for Marie.
PG: When I started working with Marie, I was looking for a voice that could sing my songs much better than myself. We recently listened to a live Roxette thing from the ’90s that we’re working on. Marie’s singing skills were incredible. My main talent has always been finding these people. Clarence [Öfwerman, Roxette’s longtime producer] is also a good example for that. His influence on production and arrangements changed my worldview.
S&R: Can you give us some insight into the way you write a song?
PG: Let’s say I’m sitting at the piano and I come across something special. I then record it with my phone. I date it and put a note on it; “Piano Intro” for example. Then, six months or six years later, I might be looking for something like that. I go through my archive, hundreds of fragments that have been collected over the years. So maybe I have a great chorus, but I need something interesting for a verse or intro, then I go through these files and maybe something fits. It’s like a big puzzle.
S&R – a question to mixing engineer Stefan Boman
Stefan Boman is a mixing engineer at Atlantis Studios in Stockholm and counts artists from Ghost to Avicii among his references. In a complex process, Boman transferred Roxette’s work into the immersive audio format Dolby Atmos. To do this, the original tapes were digitized and the mixes were created from scratch in Dolby Atmos.
SB: The quick and easy solution would be an upmix, but if you want to create something that lasts and leaves an impression, you have to mix from scratch. And that’s what we did. We partially baked the tapes and then carefully digitized them, divided the tracks and then, in the first step, recreated the stereo mixes. I then spent a lot of time recreating the reverb chambers and effects – not exactly, but as close as possible and in an immersive format. The Roxette tracks were recorded excellently, it was a lot of fun translating them into a new format.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Read the original interview in German HERE!