Jan Gradvall in his podcast tries to find out what drives Per Gessle, what his secret is and what happens if you analyze Gessle’s songs in depth. Jan is trying to do it via analyzing ”Allt gick så fort”, which is one of Per’s most personal songs he has ever written and can be found on the new album, ”En vacker natt”.
Per says it’s the central song on the album. He tells he read an interview with David Crosby who told he had five guitars in his bedroom and that all of them were tuned differently. Per thought it’s cool. Mr. G experimented a lot with traditional tunings, but then he googled David Crosby’s tunings and found out there are a lot of variants and found one which was very odd. So Per tried some new tricks, playing his old chords in a new way, creating completely new sounds.
”Allt gick så fort” is very text-oriented. It starts with an accident Per witnessed during a visit to France. Per says it’s a song that kind of writes itself. It matures through a whole life and suddenly it feels ready to be written down.
Jan asks Per what he is singing about when it’s in the lyrics that he was 8 years old. Per says the lyrics tell a whole life in a way. The text starts with an unknown person, but then suddenly, you sing about yourself, when you are a child and then it’s about when you are 18 and in love for the first time. In between there is another person seeing the whole thing from another angle, in the middle of his life, in the middle of his career and realizes it all went so fast. Per says the song was written very fast, but the guitar tuning was tricky. Jan asks how exactly that tuning is done. Per says when he wrote the song he went to Halmstad, to MP’s studio to record a demo. It went very well with all that new tuning. Then he went to Nashville to record it properly, but he had no clue how he did that in Halmstad, so they had to use his demo.
The whole Nashville project was different to whatever Per has done before and it’s not like today’s pop music when everything is done on computers. Per wanted to try something new. It became a completely organic album. It’s not an album for everybody. It’s for a certain audience. Per thinks many can identify with it, but many will think it’s too slow or the violin is too whiny. But it doesn’t matter. For him it was important to make this record. He wanted the lyrics and his voice to be in focus. The fantastic musicians in Nashville added a lot to it, Dan Dugmore with his pedal steel playing or Stuart Duncan with his violin playing.
Jan finds the expression ”I sin icke dansande generation” (= in his non-dancing generation) fantastic and he asks Per how he came up with this. Per says when you are sitting and chatting you realize that your generation is a non-dancing one. He finds the rhymes and songwriting exciting.
Jan mentions there are many returning symbols in Per’s lyrics on the new album, like sea, beaches, nature. Per says he has always used symbols like flowers, sea, winds, things you associate with images when you are listening to a song. It somehow makes the listener be part of the song. They recognize the smell, the taste, the feeling.
Jan and Per talk about Per’s family, that he has lost his mom, brother and sister during the past 3 years. When his sister, Gunilla died, her son found a box of 25-30 old diapositives from 1965-66. Even Per appeared on some of them. Mr. G chose a pic of Gunilla, standing and singing probably in Tylösand, to be on the album cover. Per thinks the colour of the diapositive fits the album very well.
Per tells Jan that Anton Corbijn was in New Orleans, shooting Arcade Fire when Per was in Nashville and so Anton came over and took some fantastic pictures of Per. First Per thought one of those should be on the cover, but after her sister’s diapositives were found he changed his mind. This way it is more personal and even more unexpected. The second album ”En vacker dag” will have a 1965 pic of Per’s mom on the cover, with a picnic table just behind the family’s Volvo Amazon.
Jan asks Per if losing his relatives has affected Mr. G in a way that it can be heard on the album. Per says yes and no. It of course has affected him, but none of the songs are directly about this. ”Allt gick så fort” might sound like that a bit, but the rest of the songs were written last spring after Roxette stopped touring. Some of the songs were left-overs and were re-written, but most of them are newly written.
Jan and Per talk about an earlier interview from the Son of a Plumber times and Jan remembers Per told him that his father died when Gyllene Tider broke through and Per wrote ”När alla vännerna gått hem” after his dad died. Per says it’s true and of course what happens in your life has its effects on you. These two albums he has made now he couldn’t have done 10 or 15 years ago. You must have a certain experience, a certain security, a certain courage to be able to do it. You have to find your style, your language, your strength to be able to do it.
Jan tells Per he feels that when Per sings on this new album, he is more ”naked” and asks if it is conscious. Per says he wanted to put the lyrics in focus.
Jan says the album sounds in a way very much Nashville, but also very much Halmstad. Per was travelling around the world, but always came back to Halmstad. Per says the older you get the more you go back to your roots, where you come from. It’s like when sometimes he is sitting and checking songs on Spotify and sees billions of them and he goes back to listen to songs he likes from 1967. And yes, there is a Nashville sound on the album, but at the same time, it’s Per’s stlye.
Mr. G says he wanted an album that is text-oriented and very simple, acoustic. First they just thought they shouldn’t record it in Sweden. They thought about studios in England and France, then Nashville popped up and Per liked the idea of a fusion between Tennesse and Halland. A little country has always been there in Per’s solo music. Neil Young’s “Harvest” stlye. They had no plans at all when they left Sweden for Nashville. First Per played the acoustic guitar and sang a bit, then they asked the studio if they could help to find local musicians. There are two world famous pedal steel players, Dan Dugmore and Paul Franklin. Dan Dugmore is the one who plays the pedal steel on Per’s album. When he listened to Per’s songs he wrote down numbers instead of chords. How Dan played changed the songs. Since they wanted to save time, they recorded 3-4 takes and then edited them later while mixing.
The same day Dan Dugmore came to the studio, Stuart Duncan came too to play the violin. When Per heard him playing he said wow. Everything became better and better, like the intro to ”Småstadsprat”. Then they needed a harmonica player, so Mickey Raphael plays on 3-4 songs.
Jan asks what Per thinks why his melodies are so special that they are attractive even to those who can’t speak Swedish. Per thinks they are beautiful, that’s why the albums are titled “En vacker natt” and “En vacker dag” (“A beatiful night” and “A beautiful day”). At least that was his ambition. Jan asks where Per’s melodies come from. They come from the ‘60s, but also from the Swedish traditional music. Here Per talks about his adventures with his friend, Peter as troubadours who played at nursing homes for old people. Per played the guitar and sang, Peter also played the guitar and the flute. They played everything they could and it included a lot of country as well. As troubadours, once they had to play at an old people’s nursing home in a new place in Halmstad. They entered a big table tennis hall and there were two men lying in there, they were not moving at all. They didn’t know what to do, there was no personnel around, so they just sat in the middle of the hall and started playing some songs, Proud Mary or something. Suddenly a nurse came and asked what the hell they were doing. They said they were just playing songs. A lot of doctors rushed in and then it turned out that one of the men there was in coma and he woke up to the sound of Per and Peter playing music. The day after it turned out that they shouldn’t even have to be there, at that place, but he will never forget that day. One can see that music makes miracles.