Interview with Per Gessle in Aftonbladet – “It’s a bit too much Per for my taste”

Anna & Hans Shimoda did an interview with Per for Aftonbladet. They talked about the Roxette revival – this time with Lena Philipsson by Per’s side, the great sadness after Marie Fredriksson and the tough journey of illness, the love for his wife Åsa and that he was the weak link in Gyllene Tider.

It is no exaggeration to say that 2024 is Per Gessle’s year. One of Sweden’s foremost pop singers releases a new album Sällskapssjuk, there will be a film about Gyllene Tider premiering this summer, and a musical about Roxette will be staged at Malmö Opera.

In addition, Gessle revealed just a month or so ago that he is reviving Roxette with Lena Philipsson at the microphone early next year.

It’s actually a bit too much Per for my taste. A moderate dosage would have been desirable, but I knew that when this year began. The film and the musical have been pushed forward all the time, and so they premiere two months apart, and that’s a bit unfortunate. Or it doesn’t matter, but you don’t know what you’re up to. Then we release a record at the same time and then comes this Roxette thing. So it’s four big things at the same time.

Aftonbladet asks Per to tell them about Sällskapssjuk, the upcoming album, which is his first Swedish album in seven years.

What I can say is that the recordings were finished last summer. So I’ve been doing other things in the studio that you guys don’t know about. I recorded “Sällskapssjuk” in autumn 2022 and spring 2023, so Lena and I worked together already then.

Anna and Hans are curious if it was clear already then that Lena would sing in Roxette.

No, it came a little later. But when we started working together, the token fell and I thought that Lena is not that bad.

Per and Lena are going on a world tour as Roxette next year. Aftonbladet wants to know whether Per felt it right away that Lena was the right choice or whether it developed with time.

Both. In recent years, I’ve been thinking about whether I should do anything with Roxette at all. My thinking has been how to manage Roxette’s legacy and song catalogue in the best way. After all, there are only two ways to go, either not to do it at all or to try to find a way so that it fits as well as possible. It was not an easy decision.

When I made “Sällskapssjuk” with Lena, I felt that she has all the qualities; a great front person with long experience and she comes from the same era as me. We also have a history together, I was involved in writing her breakthrough song “Kärleken är evig”. She is also a great singer, so I felt it was too good to be true.

Per tells how it went when he asked Lena:

I just took the courage and asked her. I thought she would fall off the chair and she almost did. The spontaneous reaction was how to shoulder Marie’s mantle. I explained that it’s not the idea, it’s rather about managing the Roxette songs. The only way for her to deal with it is to do it her own way.

Gyllene Tider will also be a film this summer. Aftonbladet is curious how it is for Per to see himself.

That is a good question. The first time I saw it I brought a tissue with me in case I started crying, but I didn’t at all. Me and director Per Simonsson agreed early on that he should try to create a “Life on Seacrow Island” [Swedish TV series – Vi på Saltkråkan] feeling, and by that I mean that you should feel sympathy and become friends with these five guys in the band, and you do.

If it has been emotional or nostalgic:

From the beginning I was not particularly positive that we should make a film at all. It’s actually about me growing up. It starts when I fill in the enlistment and ends in 1982 when “Sommartider” is released, so it’s not a tribute to Gyllene Tider’s 40-year journey, but it’s about growing up and starting a band in a small town and trying to get into Café Opera in wooden slippers.

It doesn’t feel like Per has any plans to settle down.

What does it mean? No, I think it’s super fun. I love working in the studio and playing. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t work. I’ve never really had a job, I’ve written music and played and that’s how it has worked.

To the question how he remembers the breakthrough of Gyllene Tider, Per replies:

It was super exciting, we were terrified. The first thing we did was “Måndagsbörsen” which was live TV and we were 20 years old. Everyone watched that show and you could notice it, because we broke through that night.

Aftonbladet asks Per how the celebrity life that came with it was.

What I liked was the romanticism of the pop world. I loved that everything was possible and allowed. Make-up on guys, high volume and the fuzz box at max. I have always loved it. Then there was also this idolatry and having fans. But in reality it was quite difficult. You could never be alone. People stole the laundry at my mother’s house in the garden. They stole number plates from my car, everything that was loose was stolen. We couldn’t go to a restaurant, so Anders and I moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 1981 for six weeks, because we couldn’t be at home. We escaped. On that trip we also ended up at Studio 54 in New York.

We could get in because Expressen’s Mats Olsson’s girlfriend was wearing a short-short leopard skirt, so she was let in. She said “I got these friends with me”. They looked at us and we got in, but we weren’t as tough as she was.

Anna and Hans are curious if it was deliberately provocative to stand out when Per wrote the lyrics of Flickorna på TV2.

Yes, I wanted the lyrics to stand out. All I wrote on the first record were quite odd lyrics, I wanted everything to be special like “(Dansar inte lika bra som) Sjömän” and “Ska vi älska, så ska vi älska till Buddy Holly”.

I was the weak link in Gyllene Tider. I was a pretty lousy guitarist and a half-arsed singer, but I wrote all the songs, while the others were fantastic musicians.

To the question if he really thinks he is a mediocre singer Per replies:

These days I sound pretty good, because now you can fix it on the computer. I belong to the category of singers who must have a certain type of material that I can handle. I’m no Tommy Körberg. I’ve always felt that my voice has limited my songwriting, that’s why I wanted to work with Marie. The idea of Roxette from my side was that I write the songs and Marie sings them. We all were surprised when we got our first hit, “The Look”, sung by me. Then the whole principle collapsed, but Marie recovered quite quickly.

The breakthrough with Roxette must have been absolutely amazing, Anna and Hans think.

Yes, it was crazy. We were lucky in a way, because I was 29 and Marie was 30 when we broke through. So we had quite a lot of experience, which was very nice. We had already made many mistakes here at home.

Per about his journey with Marie Fredriksson:

Oh my God. Our journey together began so early. Then she got sick in 2002 and was away for seven years. Then she appeared in 2009 when I did my first European tour and was in Amsterdam. I didn’t know she was coming, but she and her husband were. I asked her if we would do a song together, so she and I went on stage and did “Listen To Your Heart” acoustically. I’ve never seen so many people cry.

Per describes their relationship:

We were a bit like siblings. My relationship with Marie was similar to that with my sister and brother who have also sadly passed away.

When she eventually broke through with “Ännu doftar kärlek”, she was together with our producer Lasse Lindbom. When Marie then got an offer to make the first Roxette single “Neverending Love”, no one wanted it. The only one who really wanted to work with me was Marie herself. She told Lasse and the record company that “now I’m doing this with Per” and it became Sweden’s biggest hit in the summer of 1986.

Aftonbladet asks Per how it was when Marie passed away.

It was horrible of course, it became so concrete. But Marie got sick in 2002 and she passed away in 2019, that’s 17 years. I remember that after she got sick, we visited her in the hospital, but no one knew what it was about. She had her head shaved and had a bandage around her head. Then she came a few months later and sang a song called “På promenad genom stan”. She sounded just like usual, then she got sick again and had another operation. After that she lost half her sight, she couldn’t hear anything in one ear and it took away her short-term memory. So after that she went into this seven-year hiatus.

They toured again between 2010 and 2016, but then Marie quit.

When we were reunited, her doctor said she shouldn’t do it, but she wanted to. In 2016 we had a big tour booked and had sold 350,000 tickets. Then she called me out to Djursholm and explained that she couldn’t cope with it anymore. Then we had to cancel.

The reporters ask Per about Åsa. They read that they met at a nightclub in Halmstad.

Yes, it was a long time ago now, it was in October 1984. She had a guy with her who I thought was her boyfriend, but it turned out to be her brother.

It’s been 40 years. Anna and Hans are curious how they make love last that long.

We are quite similar, but also quite different. We are not in each other’s way. Åsa got a job within Roxette when we broke through, so she travelled with me during those hectic years, from 1988 to 1995, then we were never home. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was a smart decision.

Aftonbladet wants to know if Per has ever felt guilty towards his family.

Maybe not guilty, but I think I should have been more involved in my son’s schooling and attended parent-teacher meetings. But my life has never looked like that. I’ve always avoided that because if I go to a parent-teacher meeting, it’s all about me being there. It’s better and calmer for him if I stay away, but that’s my fate. It’s been an amazing journey, I’ve been doing this since I was 20 and now I’m 65. It’s amazing – and I’m not done yet.


Per Gessle about…

… a possible Gyllene Tider comeback

You should never say never. The former was the fourth comeback. [It was the fifth. Haha. /PP] But nothing is planned and I can’t see when it will happen. Now it’s Roxette that matters and we’ll see how long it lasts, maybe no one is interested in Roxette.

… how the hit song Joyride came about

My wife had left a note when she went out to town and she had written “Hej, din tok. Jag älskar dig”. I thought it was a nice phrase, so it became the chorus “Hello, you fool, I love you”. By the way, I wrote “Joyride” and “Spending My Time” the same afternoon.

… Pernilla Wahlgren turning down “Neverending Love”

When EMI wanted me to record it, I had to check it with Pernilla’s record company. It turned out that she had refused to record it, but they had given it to Niclas Wahlgren who had recorded it and was going to release it on his record. I said he wouldn’t get that, so there is a recording that never came out. Then we released it ourselves and it became our breakthrough song.

Photo by Andreas Bardell