Music-wise Joyride was the first real life-changing experience for me and I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who felt the same when first heard either the title song or the complete record. It’s been 30 years now since we joined the joyride and became magic friends. The little girl who in 1991 was sitting persistently in front of MTV to catch the video certainly wouldn’t have thought that 30 years later she would ask the guy in the world’s best power pop duo about this album. I hope you’ll enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed doing this interview with Mr. G.
Patrícia Peres: – Hej Per! Your best selling record, „Joyride” is celebrating its 30th anniversary today! Congratulations! It’s a very important album both in your career and in Roxers’ life. How do you feel about this anniversary? Have you already popped champagne?
Per Gessle: – Hello Patricia. And thanks. No champagne yet, still on cappuccino time here!!!
Yea, well… there are so many record anniversaries going on all the time. But of course „Joyride” is special. It’s a very important album for us from every angle. Together with Warner I’m planning a beautiful box set for release later this year.
PP: – After the success of „Look Sharp!”, how much did you feel the pressure to make something bigger and better? How did it effect your songwriting?
PG: – Oh, I was always triggered by success. You have to remember we came from nowhere (spelled S-W-E-D-E-N) so we didn’t take ANYTHING for granted. The more success we got the better songs I wrote. It felt like that anyway. It was the same for Marie. The bigger she became, the better performances she made, both in the studio and on stage. It’s all about self confidence.
However, looking back and checking the drawers, I don’t really understand how I found the time to do all this writing and to record so many demos. We were travelling the world constantly! But I guess I was fairly young, highly motivated and loved to be in this wonderful Roxette balloon with Marie. No rest for the wicked.
PP: – Because of the Gulf War, you had to postpone the album release. What were your thoughts on this?
PG: – Yea, it was delayed a month or so. Maybe six weeks. I don’t know if that mattered, I don’t think so. The basic reason for Joyride’s success was the timing. It’s always the most important thing. The music we made turned out to be the perfect soundtrack to 1991 for some reason.
PP: – The album sleeve became very colourful, it has definitely more colours than the first 2 Roxette album covers. Did you also feel that your music got more colourful?
PG: – We always wanted Roxette to be a colourful band. Personally I wanted us primarily to be more pop than rock. Power pop. Pop with an edge. That was always a constant discussion between Marie, Clarence and myself. What was Roxette all about? For me it was easy. But all of us came from different musical backgrounds so the answer wasn’t easy for everyone.
When I wrote the „Joyride” album my ambition was to write only songs that were strong enough to become hit singles. I didn’t really succeed, but that was my master plan.
PP: – On the edge of the sleeve it’s written „Don’t bore us – get to the chorus”. Did you take this phrase as a guiding line during songwriting?
PG: – Hahaha, yes I did. It was something our US manager Herbie Herbert once said and I loved it and thought it made sense in our particular corner of this crazy music biz.
PP: – Different formats played an important role here. 3 tracks were not released on the original LP, but on the CD version. Were you happy for the appearance of CD format in general and in this case?
PG: – No, I never liked the CD format. I like album sleeves. They are bigger and you can present the music and the idea behind the record in a proper way. It’s a piece of art and you should treat it like that. You can’t really do that with a CD.
PP: – How long did you play with the title „Joyride”? Is there a scientific reason behind going for it without the „r” in the end that was still there in the first demo’s title?
PG: – It was called „Joyrider” to begin with. I think all of us felt „Join the joyride” was an excellent slogan for what we were doing at the time. So I guess there were probably a few hours when the song was called „Join the joyride” as well. But, following the Don’t Bore Us-mantra… we made it simple and snappy. „Joyride” it was!
PP: – How should we imagine the day you wrote „Joyride” and „Spending My Time”? You enter the room where your piano is, you see Åsa’s note there and…?
PG: – I have only vague memories of it but I’ve checked my files and it looks like I was at home in our apartment in Halmstad and started the day writing „Spending My Time” on the piano, creating the verse and the instrumental melody in the outro (which was actually written as an intro).
I think the main part of the chorus came from something MP had written. He used to present snippets he had made and sometimes I used them in my writing process. He came by for an hour or two as well.
Then I changed to acoustic guitar and wrote „Joyride” after finding Åsa’s note. It all happened very quickly. I finished writing „Joyride” the day after.
Both lyrics were written basically at the same time as the music. I changed some words along the way but not that many. It must have been a sunny weekend. May 19-20, 1990.
PP: – Were there different whistle melodies or was it this tune from the very beginning?
PG: – It was the same melody from the beginning. I got the idea to whistle from Monty Python’s „Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”.
PP: – Is „Joyride” a perfect pop song in your book?
PG: – It’s one of my best anyway. I’m not 100% satisfied with the production though. I think it’s a little thick and meaty and the song could go a little faster. Also, I don’t sing it very well, but that was the best I could do at the time. I always feel relieved when the middle-eight comes in and Marie starts to sing… I take you on a skyride… she sounds so much better.
PP: – You have four US No. 1’s! That’s huge! When „Joyride” reached the top, did you feel the same excitement as with the first three No.1’s?
PG: – Yes, I did. It was unbelievable. I was in Paris that day with Åsa, Clarence and Anna, his girlfriend at the time. We all went to La Coupole in the evening to celebrate. I remember staying at the Raphael Hotel. Åsa woke up in the middle of night seeing a ghost (it wasn’t me!) so we moved out. That’s Paris for you! Hahaha, I should write a book!
PP: – „Ghosts of Paris”, would be a bestseller! Haha. Your career was soaring in the US and one would have thought that nothing could go wrong. Then shit happened with EMI. Do you think if „Spending My Time” had been released much earlier, maybe even as the lead single, it could have also reached a No. 1 spot on the Billboard?
PG: – I think the new 1992-regime at EMI USA, led by Charles Koppelman, definitely weakened us in that market. The „new” EMI showed no interest in us whatsoever and certainly didn’t know what to do with two foreigners speaking a strange language even though we’ve had so much success in their country. So they basically just let everything slide.
With the support from the people at the „old” EMI I’m pretty sure „Spending My Time” would have been a Top 5 single. It was climbing fast on the Billboard Hot 100 when the take-over at EMI took place. Then it just stopped.
The whole marketing campaign set up for the „Joyride” album in the US was supposed to peak with „Spending My Time” being released in the winter/spring of 1992. It was regarded as „the big one” on the album. The natural follow-up to „Listen To Your Heart” and „It Must Have Been Love”.
PP: – You wrote the lyrics to „Watercolours In The Rain” several years before „Joyride” was in sight. What project did you write it for originally?
PG: – I don’t know. I wrote so much all the time. Poems, lyrics, phrases. I always liked that title, it makes your imagination tick. As you know, there’s a Swedish song with the same title I wrote back in 1982 (for Gyllene Tider), „Som regn på en akvarell”. Maybe I should have another go in French?
PP: – „Aquarelles sous la pluie”? Hm. It’s the only song Marie wrote the music to. Back then how motivated was she to maybe write more for Roxette?
PG: – Roxette’s fundamental idea was me being the main writer and Marie being the main singer. Marie never really wrote Top 40 songs in those days and Roxette’s only chance initially to go abroad was via „hit records”.
Over the years Marie presented a little bit more material for Roxette, but at this particular time she focused primarily on her Swedish stuff. The main reason was probably that she felt she couldn’t express herself lyrically that well in English.
Also, generally speaking, she didn’t write as much as I did. When we had time off I spent basically every day in the studio, writing and demoing new songs. I was ALWAYS working!
Marie needed much more space outside of Roxette than I did. We were different.
PP: – Music to „Hotblooded” you co-wrote with Marie. It was one of the last demos recorded for „Joyride”. Was it written together to make a difference vs. other songs on the album?
PG: – No, „Hotblooded” was written in January 1990 when Marie came down to the westcoast for a couple of days. We wrote and demoed „Hotblooded” and „Watercolours In The Rain” during those sessions.
PP: – You’re so right! The date of the „Bag Of Trix” demo fooled me, but even in the previous interview I did with you you mentioned that there is an earlier demo of „Hotblooded” with guitars + bass + drums.
PG: – For „Hotblooded” Marie wanted something really simple and sexy to sing so we used basically just one chord in the verse. Marie improvised a bluesy melody to a lyric that I had and it sounded really cool. I think I wrote that Jimmy Page-style guitar riff on the spot, but it was definitely MP who played it on the demo. Too tricky for me.
Later in January and early February Marie, Clarence and Anders joined MP and me at the T&A temple to start the real production of the album. The first song we cut was „(Do You Get) Excited?”. I remember that clearly because the electricity in the studio went down. A total blackout. Tiny village.
We had so many songs floating around the „Joyride” album at the time. Anders and Clarence programmed, for instance, a version of „Shelter From The Storm” („Segla på ett moln”) for Marie to sing. We even demoed two old Gyllene Tider-songs; „Run Run Run” and „Another Place, Another Time”. But we had better stuff coming.
PP: – „Knockin’ On Every Door” started out as „Rocket” in 1987. How can you keep distance from your songs to be able to rewrite them to an extent that even Clarence wouldn’t realize it’s the same song?
PG: – Hahaha, he’s pretty easy to fool! Nah, he’s a tough one. I really loved „Rocket” when it was written, but I had a hard time convincing Clarence and Marie to use it for „Look Sharp!”. So I re-did it (= put a shuffle-beat to it + wrote new lyrics). I think Clarence started to like it when Jonas played that guitar riff in the studio. It was a monster hook!
PP: – Why did you decide to remix „Soul Deep” and include it on „Joyride” instead of a totally new song from the many you had written for this album?
PG: – Because it was Marie’s big showstopper live and we were heading for a huge world tour! It was an amazing song to play in concert, Marie loved it. So did the crowd.
PP: – One can never know when it comes to you: is there any song on the album that has a Swedish lyric too? Except for „Soul Deep”, of course.
PG: – No. Sorry. All custom made.
PP: – I think „Small Talk” is the song you talked about the least. Any confessions that have to be heard?
PG: – All of us felt it was a little bit too similar to „Dressed For Success” stylewise. But not as good. I think it found its place on the album because we needed uptempo songs to get the right balance.
PP: – We are lucky to have „The Making of Joyride” docu where we can follow the process of recordings through „The Big L.”. It’s the only single that wasn’t released in the US. Why wasn’t it considered?
PG: – Because EMI USA wasn’t interested in us anymore.
PP: – „Perfect Day” is a difficult song vocally. Is there a demo that you sing?
PG: – No, thank God! I have a T&A-demo with Marie singing made in August 1990. Haven’t you heard it? MP plays hillbilly accordion!
PP: – The demo you released on „Bag Of Trix” is definitely a fab one. Regarding „Perfect Day”, Marie said it was a song she had dreamed about. Do you remember her first reactions to it?
PG: – She adored it immediately and I knew she would. It’s a tough one to sing and she loved that challenge. She didn’t even use her falsetto voice on the recording. She sang it „au naturel”. Outstanding!
PP: – Once this song was in sight, it kicked away „Queen Of Rain” from its album closer position on „Joyride”. Then there were songs you gave easily away to other artists (e.g. „The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye), while you didn’t give „Queen Of Rain” to anyone even if they asked for it. How did you decide which ones could go and which ones to keep?
PG: – Since I’ve always been an artist as well as a songwriter I’ve obviously saved the best material for my own projects. It’s a big difference compared to being solely a professional songwriter. Then you’re a „hired gun” and have to compromise a bit more to please „the customer”. My priorities have always been Roxette, GT and my solo career. And Mono Mind and The Lonely Boys, of course.
Laura Branigan got hold of both „The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye” and „Queen Of Rain”. I can’t remember how. She wanted to record both of them, but Marie wanted us to keep „Queen Of Rain” for Roxette. So we did.
Phil Ramone produced Laura Branigan at the time. He liked my songwriting and I was really flattered that someone like him took interest in my work. He produced, as you probably know, superb records by Paul Simon and Billy Joel and did some amazing stuff over a long period of time.
PP: – „Church Of Your Heart” was suggested to be a single by the American record company. Did it make sense to release a single that was not on the original album (LP), only on the CD version?
PG: – No, we never understood that. It was a leftover from the LP. Clarence hated it. Jonas loved it, though. I thought it was kinda nice, but I don’t think Marie liked it very much. It wasn’t really her cup of tea. It was more me pretending to be Halmstad’s Tom Petty.
PP: – You wrote so many songs for „Joyride” that it could have easily been a double album. Weren’t you thinking about it back in the days?
PG: – No, we were in the Top 40 game. No double albums allowed. Thank you very much.
PP: – You had quite produced demos, knowing exactly how you wanted the songs to sound. Still if we watch „The Making of Joyride”, we can see there was creativity on the sessions and changes were added here and there, even if the final songs sound quite like your demos. How did that work with the team?
PG: – Well, the more comfortable I felt in the studio the more advanced demos I made together with MP. But the whole Roxette thing was a collaboration and a teamwork and I was always very open to that.
If Jonas presented a guitar sound or a riff we took it seriously, listened closely and had an opinion. The same went for everyone. Marie changed some of the melodies sometimes, Clarence sneaked in a new chord here and there. Or a different modulation. Maybe Anders changed the beat or the tempo to a song. I loved that. It all made the songs better and created that glimmering Roxette Universe.
PP: – Which of your lyrics on „Joyride” do you think is the best still today?
PG: – I don’t know. „Spending My Time” is pretty good. „Excited” is OK. „Joyride” is a good idea.
PP: – Which song was the trickiest to write?
PG: – There were no big hickups with these songs. You start with an idea and go from there. If you get stuck you throw it away and start something new.
I’m a pretty restless person, so I don’t like to spend weeks and weeks on a song. It has to grab my attention very quickly and keep it there until it’s finished. It’s always been like that.
PP: – Which song title do you find the most exciting on „Joyride” and which one you wouldn’t use as a title today?
PG: – Hahaha, I’ve always been a sucker for good song titles!! I actually think all of them are pretty good. The title is often the very first impression you get from a song, so it’s important that it grabs your attention and makes you curious.
PP: – Which song on „Joyride” has the best chorus / best verse / best melody that you are the most proud of?
PG: – Oh no Patricia, so very tricky questions this time! Joyride’s got a great chorus, but so does „Fading Like A Flower”. I still love the chorus in „Perfect Day”. It’s really beautiful. I like most of „Things Will Never Be The Same”. „Excited” stands out because of all the modulations. It opens up new doors all the time. I like „The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye” (great title!), but I don’t know if that counts!
PP: – What’s your best rhyme on „Joyride”?
PG: – Well, „lady” and „baby” in „Joyride” isn’t that good, is it?
PP: – Haha! 4 songs from „Joyride” were later released in Spanish too. Do you remember which of them Marie liked the most to sing in Spanish? And which is your favourite?
PG: – Marie loved to sing „Un dia sin ti” („Spending My Time”). It was HER song. Even in Spanish!
PP: – Actually, it was 30 years ago when you changed my life forever for the first time. After we got access to satellite TV and I first saw the „Joyride” video and heard the song on MTV, I became an instant Roxer at the age of 11. Once a Joyrider, always a Joyrider. How do you see MTV’s role in Roxette’s career?
PG: – MTV was very important for Roxette. The videos made us come alive and become real persons to so many people. It was a new tool, very fresh and we loved it. We spent enormous amounts of money creating all those clips. It was a very exciting era in pop music. Anything was possible.
PP: – You had 6 videos shot for songs off „Joyride”. Which one did you find the most challenging to shoot and which was the most fun?
PG: – „Joyride” was fun, it felt like everyone was waiting for it! The hype around that song was huge even before people had heard it. It was certainly a thrill to go to the desert shooting the video. Even though the Ferrari Dino was fake!
„Fading Like A Flower” was a beautiful one paying homage to Stockholm. We had a great time freezing in the cold. Guess we were used to that.
„Spending My Time” was also nice, sensitive and intimate. Fit the song perfectly.
„Excited” was wonderful. It was entirely Marie’s show. Outstanding and really beautiful. It was supposed to be a single but never happened.
„The Big L” was hilarious and totally over the top. Big crazy production staged in Stockholm.
„Church Of Your Heart” I can’t remember. Was I involved?
PP: – Well, if it’s not you boogieing around that Sydney church, I don’t know who that guy is. Haha. Marie loved acting, so shooting for her must have been a fab experience. How about you?
PG: – Oh, I liked it as well! The first big ones, „The Look” and „Dressed For Success” were amazing to be part of. It felt like we had landed on Mars. Buying clothes at Trash & Vaudeville in New York City late 80’s was definitely science fiction.
PP: – Did you get scripts in advance for the videos? Were there different scripts vs. the end results in any of the videos’ case?
PG: – No, not really. We had meetings discussing the general idea, the direction, the location, the budget and so on.
PP: – Getting back to MTV, you won the International Viewers Choice Awards with „Joyride” in 1991. How did it feel to win this award for the second time?
PG: – Amazing, of course. To get an award based on the exquisite taste of the audience is always the finest achievement.
PP: – Which video did you like the most in the sense of standing out from the mass of music videos at the time?
PG: – Of all our videos „Crash! Boom! Bang!” felt very innovative at the time. I still think it looks great. And „The Look” is really cool. Always loved that one.
PP: – „Things Will Never Be The Same” has always been an amazing song, but after Marie left us, it has a different meaning to all of us. If you did a video to the song back in the days, how would it have been?
PG: – Who knows? I can’t answer that.
PP: – „Join The Joyride!” was your first ever world tour. How did you prepare for it and how was the rehearsal period with the band?
PG: – Everyone was really triggered by the success. We knew we were gonna play big arenas, maybe even moving to stadiums later on. It’s easy to work when you’re on a roll.
PP: – Of course you already had great hits, but the Roxette catalogue back then wasn’t as big as today. How did you decide what to include in the setlist?
PG: – First of all, we wanted to please the fans playing the songs they wanted to hear. Then we wanted to show the world what a great band we were. People, and media in particular, didn’t expect that from a Top 40-act.
Jonas was amazing. That’s why we did those long intros and solos on „Soul Deep” and „Cry”. Clarence and Anders were world class players. Pelle solid as a rock as well as Vicki and Staffan. I was the weakest musician in this gang, but I did my best to put my fingers on the right frets. Like always, I spent most of my time „directing”, changing the setlist, suggesting different visual things etc.
PP: – Songs on tour sounded more like the album versions back then. How was it with the arrangements? Would it have been too early to change it live (e.g. do an acoustic version of „Spending My Time”)?
PG: – We had a very distinct sound on the records and we tried to duplicate that live as well. It was hard to do sometimes. Some songs had pre-recorded tracks, like the bass sequencer on „The Look” and „Dressed For Success”, but we tried as much as possible to avoid technology. We didn’t really need it since everyone (not counting myself…) were superb musicians.
PP: – You were supposed to start your tour in the US, but because of the Gulf War the American part was postponed and became reality only in 1992. Do you think Roxette’s American history would have been different if you could have started touring there already in 1991?
PG: – We will never know. Doesn’t matter now. Things turned out amazing the way they did.
PP: – I think you have a definite main act character, but was it ever an option to be the support act to a big American band to make Roxette more known among US people?
PG: – No. We never did any support act gigs. It’s always gonna be a compromise, so we never bothered.
PP: – You experienced a kind of hysteria with Gyllene Tider in Sweden earlier, but how different was the worldwide hype of fans around Roxette those days?
PG: – The same but much bigger. I was ten years younger when the GT frenzy started. I think that experience helped me focus on the most important thing for me in Roxette, which was the songwriting and the guiding.
PP: – Already back then the age group of the crowd at your concerts was very wide from kids to grandparents. What do you think made all generations interested in hearing you live?
PG: – I don’t know. It just happened. What we did appealed to a lot of different people for some reason.
PP: – Marie definitely stole the show on tour. She was an amazing perfomer and perfectly owned the stage and the crowd too. How did you feel about it?
PG: – It was never an issue. I was used to be the front figure in Gyllene Tider, but most of the songs in Roxette were sung by Marie, so it came natural that she stepped up and became the leader on stage. She did an amazing job. I think those hours performing was what she loved the most.
PP: – Even if pyrotechnics were used, as a backdrop you only had some playing with the lights and screening some words. Was that minimalism on purpose or was it rather budget-related?
PG: – Oh, I thought we had a big production even back in 1991!
PP: – You didn’t have a big guitar pick holder on your stand like you have nowadays. How did you manage with only a few picks during a whole show?
PG: – The big guitar pick holder wasn’t invented in those days! I think I had my picks gaffa-taped close to the lukewarm water beside my amp.
PP: – Marie also got a guitar on „The Look” and „Joyride”. Did she use your picks or did she have her own?
PG: – Can’t remember. She probably stole mine. Everyone did.
PP: – Both you and Marie wrote songs during the tour. Yours were rather bright, while Marie wrote the darkest album of hers to date. How do you look back on this busy touring period from a songwriter’s point of view?
PG: – I think I enjoyed the touring part more than Marie. It’s sooooo much more than just the two hours you spend on stage. We were different people. In the end of the day that’s what made Roxette special.
PP: – Back in the days there was no iPhone and sound recording apps. What device did you use to record your song ideas while on tour?
PG: – Oh I had my gadgets. My favorite one was a dictation machine that made me feel like a Hollywood-lawyer. Still have it. Two tapes still exist with sketches and rough demos on them.
PP: – You know how to tease! Haha. Now 30 years later what advice would you have for yourselves in the „Joyride” era?
PG: – Looking back I’m pretty pleased with the whole ride. It was a remarkable thing to be part of. I feel truly blessed to have experienced it. I know Marie felt the same.
PP: – As a last question, you talked about a 30th anniversary „Joyride” release and we can see from your updates that you are digging deep in your drawers again. Could you share some more details with us? What can we expect? And of course: when?
PG: – We have a few ideas to stimulate your eyes and ears. I guess the boxes will be out early autumn. 4 LP’s and 3 CD’s. Including unreleased stuff, demos and a fab booklet with lots of hidden secrets and shameless hairstyles revealed. I hope we can release some unseen footage as well. Maybe some of the old videos in HQ? And a „Joyride” live album would be nice. There’s no set date yet. But hey, who’s in a hurry?
PP: – We’ll give it a warm welcome anytime! Thank you so much for your time, Per! Congrats once again on the anniversary and please, let it be a BIG FAT box!
PG: – Fat is my middle name!