Per Gessle about the magic of songwriting and musical nerdiness – interview by David Myhr for

David Myhr did a wonderful interview with Per Gessle about songwriting. The interview appeared on in Swedish.

In the intro, David mentions that after ABBA, Roxette is Scandinavia’s biggest music export ever with their 75 million albums sold. Per Gessle’s success as a songwriter is monumental. He is one of only eighteen songwriters who as a sole songwriter had more than two No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.

The guys met in Stockholm, in Per’s office on Strandvägen and talked about songwriting. Per thinks it’s always fun. Songwriting is an inexhaustible, hugely complex subject. At the same time, it’s also quite private in a way.

David says it has struck him that for all the incredible success, Per has often emphasized his musical limitations.

Per says:

I’ve always hid a little behind the fact that I was always the worst in the band, musically. Göran and I were always the worst in Gyllene! Because I wanted to write, I learned early on that I always have to work with people who are much, much better than I am. Even in Roxette, I handpicked everyone around me. And everyone was on a completely different musical level than I am. But… they can’t write my songs. I have used the fact that I can’t do many things to find other stuff.

David adds that Per believes that people who become too sophisticated and too good, easily lose the melodies, because they are looking for something else.

PG says a couple of his idols, e.g. Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, are good examples of people who have overcomplicated their music. He thinks that knowing a little doesn’t have to be a disadvantage when it comes to songwriting. For those old songs that he wrote, “Billy” and “När alla vännerna gått hem”, from 1977-78, he didn’t know what keys and such things were. There he copied his role models without reinventing the wheel.

David says he has noticed that there is sometimes a superstition among some younger songwriters that they should invent something entirely their own, while everyone is in some form of tradition. That even The Beatles listened to Elvis, Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry.

Per says:

Everyone listens to everyone, sort of. You hear Woodie Guthrie when you listen to Bob Dylan… Of course you want to be unique and be yourself. But I wanted to belong to pop, the whole romanticism surrounding the pop world. Long hair on guys. The album covers. To enter another world in the headphones and listen to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side Of The Moon”. There was an amazing romanticism about pop that wasn’t there in anything else.

Per talks nostalgically about his older brother, Bengt, who made Per as a six-seven-eight-year-old grow up with The Beatles, The Hollies, The Kinks, Lovin’ Spoonful, The Yardbirds and The Spencer Davis Group. To then find his own stuff like The Monkees. He also got into the singer/songwriter genre early on.

PG says:

I was very much a loner when I was growing up and lived a lot in this parallel universe called pop music. For myself. So I could kind of never see myself as a musician or an artist or singing or playing in front of people. It was absolutely not important. However, I was into writing and expressing myself very early on. I wrote lyrics long before I wrote music. I think it came from my mother. She always wrote her own fairy tales for us when we were small and illustrated them. Just for us.

David tells that Per got a Spanish guitar from his mother in 1976 and started playing Leonard Cohen songs fingerstyle. Then he also developed his understanding of both text and chords.

Per tried to translate Bowie’s “Cygnet Committee”. The long, really weird song on “Space Oddity”. And “Memory Of A Free Festival”. He loved that record, but he still doesn’t understand those lyrics. He bought a sheet music and learned the songs because the chords were written in it. He learned C, G7 and so on. But he also remembers his sister sitting and playing “Für Elise” on the piano. PG somehow never connected that (Per hums “Für Elise”) it’s an A minor! He realized it only many years later. Per learned to play the piano from some old lady in Halmstad and thought it was the most boring thing he had ever done in his entire life. Because she never connected that music to what PG was interested in. Had she told Per, “Look at this! Beethoven. A minor, E major, and so on. It’s exactly the same key as “House Of The Rising Sun”, it would have been a little easier. But Per gave up on that. He wasn’t interested in it. He thinks what saved him and made him really take a step forward was when he got to know Mats in Gyllene Tider. But it was also when the punk era came. The new wave. Then it was okay to be lousy and that appealed to Per enormously.

Per about song lyrics

Per talks about inspiration to understand what a song text can look like.

Mr. G says:

Take, for example, “Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen. It’s a letter. It even ends with “sincerely L Cohen” in the text itself. And it’s fascinating that a letter becomes a song text, but it’s not really that strange. If you write a short and concise message to someone, you can repeat the most important thing in the message and it becomes a chorus. It’s not far-fetched. So I mostly think that I hadn’t really found or understood this thing about form, and that it becomes easier if you stay within a form. If you look at, for example, “Billy”, the verses are of different lengths. They kind of stop when MP took over with the guitar and started cranking with his solo.

Song titles as a starting point

David thinks Per is a master of titles and he imagines a song idea often starts with the title. PG says it can start with the title. Titles are important. The title is like the face of the song, what makes one curious. He tells he has an archive of titles or more stanzas than titles that trigger his curiosity.

David says a common songwriting tip is “write down ideas from TV shows or book titles”. He is curious how it works for Per.

PG says:

I do exactly as you say. I have learned – not only because of age – but also for other reasons, that if you come up with something that you think is interesting, you have to write it down or record it. My phone is jam-packed with messages, tunes and stuff. It could be a title or a stanza or something like that. Or a rhythm. You hear something. It could even be that I’m inside a store where they play music in the room. And then I think “damn this sounds good”. But why don’t they do this instead? And then I can record myself humming it. Although changed, in my way. And then time passes. So when I come home and listen to it after three days, I don’t understand anything. I learned that you have to count in first so you understand later where the one is. It can be very exciting. Because there will be something that triggers something in me. Then something else is created from it and it becomes a third thing in the end.

David understands that Per doesn’t like to work as hard on songwriting as many people say you should. Like Benny Andersson who goes to his grand piano every day and sits there week after week.

Per says:

No, I don’t get that. I love to write but I do it as little as possible. Because it must be fun! The most difficult thing for me is if, for example, you write a song in English. And then I realize that it would have been great if it was in Swedish. And then I have to start over. Because I almost always write music and lyrics in symbiosis – roughly at the same time – which means that melodies and consonants and vowels and everything kind of fit together. So when I need to translate, I get so locked into how it really was from the beginning. It takes an immense amount of time and very rarely turns out well. So I try to avoid it, actually.

David says it’s kind of an editor’s job to sit down and sift through all the hundreds of voice memos. He is curious about how Per is doing that. PG explains that as soon as he records an idea, he transfers it to the computer where he has a folder called “workshop”. Beneath that, there is a folder called iPhone and there are hundreds of recordings. Text fragments are in another folder.

When Per is in town or sitting in a taxi, then it’s his iPhone that applies:

If you hear a strange person at Bromma airport singing in the toilet, it’s probably me. I usually call this part of the process “antennas out” and it goes on 24/7.

David says he has read that Per thought Gyllene Tider sounded the way he wanted at first around “Kung av sand” and “Juni, juli, augusti”. According to David, there is kind of a late Tom Petty vibe to that thing that the guys got together with Michael Ilbert.

PG says:

It was something I had felt all along. It’s hard to talk about Gyllene, because we finished so early. Lasse Lindbom, who produced us at the time, also didn’t understand what we wanted to aim at. When I tried to explain something, I couldn’t. But Ilbert understood it immediately.

David wants to know if Per works on a project-by-project basis, so that he didn’t happen to write a GT song in the middle of the Roxette circus.

Per says:

When I wrote Roxette songs, I wrote almost all the songs for Marie. Then there were songs that she didn’t want to sing for one reason or another. It could be that she thought it was a little too pop. But it was difficult to put a finger on where that line was. “The Big L” and “How Do You Do!” it gets a little bubblegum. But it kind of depended on what mood she was in. She loved it when I came up with this “Queen Of Rain” and the bigger songs. And when I tried to do something a bit R’n’B like “Soul Deep” or “Cry”, then she got to stretch that style a bit.

David is curious how Per works with demos.

PG says:

I often do several demo versions of the songs. It also goes in waves. Sometimes I just do acoustic demos. But if I’m going to involve other people, I often do it on synths. Maybe just a little loop or something, so that’s easy to change key then. So I don’t do five hours of work organically and then have to redo everything. I’m trying to find as much of the identity as possible for the song to go to the production level as soon as possible.

Key changes are an effective tool

The guys start talking about key changes or modulations as they are called. There is a variation David has noted in several songs that he tends to refer to as the “Per Gessle trick”. The verse in G and the chorus in A. Then back. He thinks it’s damn effective. “Jo-Anna Says”, “Kung av sand”, “June Afternoon” are just a few examples of Gessle songs where the choruses go a whole key above the verses.

PG says:

It is almost never sought. Or… I don’t think much. Everything is about efficiency in a song. If the melody is cool but ends up wrong, then there are different paths. If there are different singers – for example a boy and a girl – then you can use different octaves. Then it is solved by just the speed. But otherwise, if you want to keep the melodies as they are, you might need a modulation to make it “kick”.

It’s damn neat and that’s lovely. But people skip it! No one dares to change the key. It is such a simple trick that is only in your favor. Because once you’ve learned the song, you can’t hear the song without it. The melody gets better. It becomes a hook just from the speed!

David is curious whether it was usually Per’s experiments that led to these modulations or it was something that Clarence threw in as a hint sometimes.

Per says:

It certainly has happened. But usually they were written that way. There are so many songs that there were no rules! Clarence has probably done a lot of that too. But the songs for Marie that I demo sang on, when I wrote them, I might not have thought that I would sing the lead. Because I sang everything back then. If it was her song, her verse, her chorus and I’m going to sing it, then I have a problem that I have to solve. Both Clarence and Christoffer Lundquist have always been damn nice to help out. Magnus Börjeson too, for that matter.

David asks Per if he is talking in terms of tonic, dominant and subdominant parallel, but Per doesn’t really know what David means by that. Now David sounds like Clarence and Christoffer when they talk. When they sit and analyze something Per has done, they can sit and talk among themselves. PG sits next to them and doesn’t understand anything.

PG says:

I’ve gotten old enough that I’ve learned what I like. That’s also why I’ve always surrounded myself with like-minded people. But when you are in it for a long time, you have to leave your little house sometimes and test yourself and do things. It was probably a little bit of that too, which I think made us have such a relatively long, great career anyway. Because Marie knew her jazz, she knew her blues and Clarence knew his prog rock and Jonas knew his stuff, Jeff Beck tricks. And I knew a little of everything, but not very much.

The beginning of a song

David asks Per to take us into a typical scenario when a song is created.

Per says:

I usually never start writing a song with a title. First comes a musical idea that you think “this is damn hooky” or “this feels great”. Or “I would like to write something in six-eighths”. I’d like to have a certain feel, trying to play around with chords and stuff. And then comes something vague. When you have found a little temperature in what you are doing, you can start looking in your small archive if you want. Or maybe you already have it. While you sit and look for these chords, you might start singing something. Which might be exciting or trigger your imagination in some way. What takes time – much, much longer – is writing lyrics. Because when you get to writing the lyrics, you have quite a lot of music already written. Because otherwise you won’t get to the text anyway. The only time I’ve written music for a finished text is when that text has had another music that I didn’t think was good enough. Then the text remains.

David wants to know more about the process: „You have felt the mood of the musical idea and you may be browsing through your notes for phrases or alternatively start singing along to something. And then you enthusiastically finish writing the melody. Then comes the tough work of finishing the text?”

PG says:

But it can also be the case that the melody is ready, but it changes because I get into a text flow that requires a different melody. Everything works in symbiosis with each other. So it’s not set in stone. It is never set in stone. I also think that you should take that into account when it comes to songwriting, that songs are never ready. When you then play them with another band or with other people, they sound completely different. They are a creature in a way. After all, it can happen that you record a song, and then when you sit and listen to it during the mixing, you think “damn how long this is… we’ll cut out half the verse”. And then you get a completely different text.

David is curious about how Per finishes the lyrics.

Per says:

I have a hard time staying focused so I try to write a text in maybe an afternoon. Or… it’s different depending on how complicated the text is. Some texts are very strong for one’s self and sometimes I feel that I have something on my mind that I want to get down. I’m 90% there, but something is missing. And I don’t know what it is. Then it must take time and at least one night must have passed. And then maybe for breakfast… and then I might not even remember how the song goes. I haven’t worn it out. But then I just read the text straight up and down. That’s how I feel: “Damn it! It’s damn good. ” or “That’s clumsy. That’s not good!” And then I go to my office or to the studio and then I sit down again. I red-mark what I need to redo. So I’m constantly trying to trick myself into being focused somehow. Because I don’t get better from kneading. The song doesn’t get better from knowing it better. On the contrary. I trust 100 percent in my gut feeling, in my spontaneity.

I notice that when I work in the studio with other people as well. What I’m good at is capturing their spontaneity. Because they are not good at it themselves. Because they don’t know what they are doing. Most of them are very good singers and musicians, they just play damn well all the time. But they have a very hard time understanding when they are extremely good. But it suits me just fine. It’s a subjective thing. I remember Marie saying that she always thought she sang best when I was in the studio directing her. Because she didn’t hear it herself. She always sang well, but that stuff that was exceptionally good, she couldn’t pick them herself. And so it is for sure with my stuff. I cannot judge the quality. It means a lot to me. But if it is commercial…? I’m the worst in the world at picking singles. What is a hit? How to write a hit? I have no idea! I’m interested in pop music and it’s in the nature of pop music to be catchy. But I’m not too fond of modern pop music, because I don’t think it’s particularly catchy.

About choosing not to move forward with a song

David asks Per if he is good at killing his darlings.

PG says:

I usually “kill my darlings” earlier than that. It’s very rare that I go so far as to record it, even as an acoustic demo. The reason I do an acoustic demo is because, for example, Clarence or Christoffer say: “We don’t want your bloody demos! Record the songs acoustically and we’ll do the rest. So we’re open-minded”.

David is curious whether Per ever speaks on the subject or gives any type of workshops, teaching songwriting.

PG says:

No, I talk about so many other things all the time. When I release stuff, I don’t really need to talk about it anymore. Then I don’t want to talk too much about being creative. Because it takes away a bit of the mystery, the creativity. I think it’s my thing.

To David’s surprise that he could come and talk to Per about songwriting PG reacts:

I think it’s fun to talk. It’s a little different these days too. Because I do so very little. When I sit in Nyhetsmorgon and talk or do TikTok stuff, I just talk about the new songs and talk about how they came about and I try to remember. Nonsense. But what we’re talking about now is fun!

What makes a good melody

David asks Per what a good melody is.

Per says:

I’m always looking for something that gets me hooked. It’s a kind of rush when you hit it right. I remember sitting in that room writing (points to the office) “The Loneliest Girl In The World” as it came to be called. I was just sitting there plinking and then I started singing this (humming) and thought “how cool is that”. I just felt – like all of me – cool chorus! And then it was like putting together a puzzle. How do I maximize the chorus? And then I wrote the verses that didn’t get in the way of the chorus. And “what’s it going to be called?”. Then this idea “the loneliest girl in the world” came up. And then I thought maybe it’s too depressing. But, no, because sometimes it’s really exciting if you have something dark in a text, although the music maybe is bright. And vice versa. A good example is “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, which everyone thinks is such a super pop song. But there is a hell of a lot of “doom” in that text. There are lots of such examples and I’m not particularly afraid of such things, but it is mostly that it should feel good to sing and that you should be able to write a story around it in some way. And how do you write a story? It’s fact and fiction. You pick things up. For some texts you write maybe three stanzas when you feel a certain way. And those texts might be very powerful for yourself. And you live with them. And then, all of a sudden, when you write something that goes at the same temperature musically, maybe those stanzas fit very well. And then you develop them. It may start with something that is sad. Or something that you think is unfair. Something you think is questionable in your life.

Especially during the Roxette era, I almost always did a so-called “middle-eight”, a bridge. And they were usually super hooky. I’ve always thought that a bridge should always be so good it could be a chorus. Like a B chorus sort of thing. “Listen To Your Heart”, for example, has a very good bridge.

David says „where the key goes up a notch! Nice modulation!” PG says you notice that at a concert. Everyone loves to sing that bridge. There are plenty of such examples. David asks Per if he no longer tries to do such bridges.

PG says:

No, I don’t anymore. Because I tend to keep up with my time. I make the songs shorter and shorter. And then there is almost no room for a bridge. It feels like the time of bridges is over.

David wants to know whether you get better and better the more you write or you get worse and worse.

Per says:

You don’t get better and you don’t get worse. You become different, develop. I will not say “against your will”. But you develop because time goes by. What we talked about at the beginning, it’s good not to know very much. The hardest thing when you are my age is writing uptempo songs. That’s kind of why I wanted to make the new Gyllene Tider album (“Hux Flux”). I know a little too much, I’m a little too sophisticated and usually choose a different means of expression, other types of instruments and other types of tempos. So that’s why it’s been a challenge and you like that sometimes. You can’t write young music when you’re old, but you can write music based on the music you liked when you were young. Although you do it in a different way.

10 things to learn from Per Gessle

1. Listen a lot and let yourself be inspired

– You have listened so damn much. And then you like a certain style. Or multiple styles. And then you make something of it your own.

2. Save ideas

– If you come up with something that you think is interesting, you have to write it down or record it. My phone is jam-packed with messages, tunes and other stuff. It could be a title or a stanza or something like that. Or a rhythm.

3. Always have your “antennas out”

– It’s 24/7. It can happen now as we sit and talk. You might say something that I think “shit, I could use that for something”. Although you don’t notice that I noticed it.

4. Don’t get lost in technology if you’re not interested

– I’m not technically interested at all. So setting up a mixing desk and start working… it takes too much focus for me, so I lose sight of what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

5. Dare to change keys in the songs

– I’m writing Swedish songs right now and I’m currently working on a song where, after the chorus, I don’t want a theme. So then I did a solo that is exactly the same chord as the chorus. Just lowered. If the chorus goes in G, the solo goes exactly the same way just in F. Which then means that when I go back to the original key, you get a lift. You experience it as a key rise to the chorus. And that’s it! But you haven’t raised as all the choruses are in G. You’re tricking the ear all the time like this.

6. Learn what you like

– I don’t like three-part singing. It’s mostly just that when I listen to it, I don’t like it when it gets too thick. When it comes to vocal parts, I prefer fifth harmony. Perfect! Fifth is always the best. And then you might find a major 7th or a sixth that colors in a special way. I like that!

7. Find and keep your essence

– We created the typical Roxette sound from all these ingredients that we come from. I don’t think people realized this until after time has passed. Today, when I hear a Roxette song on the radio, I can think “damn, that sounds special!”. But I didn’t think so at the time. I just thought it sounded like us. At the same time, when we broke through, EMI wanted us to move to Los Angeles or New York. Or at least London to be closer to the industry. But we said we don’t want to do that because then we lose our whole essence. If we remove Jonas and Pelle and Clarence and all of them, we would have played Richard Marx!

8. Dare to play around!

– You can play around and you shouldn’t lock yourself up. At the same time, you have to respect what makes the song strong. It could be that a melody is very strong. So if you want to change anything, you have to do it wisely and with respect. If you now want to max out your song, which everyone wants to, then you have to know what you’re doing.

9. Pick up the feeling and temperature from other songs

– It’s not like now I’m going to write a song like this and it will be the same. But it is the temperature in the songs that you can take with you. That temperature opens like a door in yourself in some way. If I listen to “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” and I get into it, I can’t write music like that, but I can write a song with the same feeling, in my own way.

10. Everything leads to the next thing

– My songs are very much me and I live to write songs. That’s what I am. My wife and son and friends will probably sign it. But it also means that everything I do leads to the next thing. Every riff that doesn’t lead to anything allows me to get it out of my system, so I can move on to something else. You learn. It’s a long, long process.

About David Myhr

Besides being a writer, David Myhr is also a songwriter and artist and wants to know more about the phenomenon of songwriting. As a university lecturer, he both teaches and conducts research in the subject. He has discovered that trying to put into words what actually happens in the creative process of writing songs is extremely difficult. But he has just as fully given it to trying to get some of the biggest songwriters to do just that.

For the original article in Swedish and more photos click HERE!

SvD’s interview with Per Gessle about aging and pop music

Andres Lokko from Svenska Dagbladet did an excellent interview with Per Gessle and it was published together with Staffan Löwstedt’s wonderful photos in SvD last Sunday. It’s the first time Per let journalists inside his apartment on Strandvägen, Stockholm, so the article also gives you a sneak peak at where family Gessle live when they are in the Swedish capital.

The title of the article is ”Per Gessle, how is it to be so old?” and it predicts they were talking about aging. But once you have access to the whole article (which was published in paper on Sunday and available for subscribers online), you realize it’s about much more than that.

Andres writes Åsa, Per’s wife proudly shows one of Per’s 60th birthday present when they enter, a Playboy pinball game from the ’70s with a kitschy cartoon Hugh Hefner in a bathrobe and with a pipe, of course, flanked by blondes in bikini. The 2-storey apartment is a virtual Fort Knox. Where the guys could enter is the airy office with a grand piano in the room and shelves along the walls with CDs and art books on them. Wherever they look they can see framed pop-historical photos. In the toilet there is a black and white Iggy Pop, for example.

Åsa serves coffee and tons of cookies. Andres writes no one touched the bakery but a bowl of English liquorice disappeared very quickly.

Andres asks Per how it feels to be so old and Mr. G replies with a little self-ironic resignation that it’s cool and totally OK. Andres (born in 1967) says when he started writing about music 30 years ago, Mauro Scocco, Orup or even Per himself seemed to be old. Now they seem to be the same age. Per reacts that you don’t even notice when it occurs, you just all become adults. Then the older you get, the least important the age is.

Talking about aging, Andres says it’s strange, but suddenly he has a new role as a music journalist. It can happen that one calls him when Little Richard dies and he can also be waken up in the middle of the night to keep a knowledgeable eulogy of any pop legend. Per says aging with pop music is what both he and Andres do in a way. When Tom Petty died, it was as if a close family member had passed away. He felt things would never be the same again. When your idols die while you have the chance to get older and you have experienced how, for example, Marie got sick and others close to you have passed away, it becomes even more difficult to accept that David Bowie or Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks dies.

Andres asks Per if it is stranger to turn 60 himself than to see his idols turning 60. Per says it’s surreal to think of himself as a 60-year-old. 50 was one thing, 40 was also weird. There are periods when there is nothing happening in the music industry or in your life, but then suddenly you wake up in the morning and realize so many things have happened. Not only with music, but social media exploded, streaming services took over and you suddenly find yourself in a whole new world. And that makes you feel even older. Per says he even notices it on his son. Gabriel is 21 now and he is dealing with his own music while he is studying at KTH. He asks Per a lot of things and Per tries to answer, but they come from 2 radically different planets. Gabbe listens to music as much as Per does or did in his age, but he doesn’t care at all about artists, producers, album covers – all that Mr. G thought was vital. When Gabriel and his friends are listening to Post Malone and suddenly Dylan’s ”Subterranean Homesick Blues” pops up, they don’t even raise their eyebrows. Music has become something that just flows forward. Per tells Andres when he grew up he always listened to P3 and ”Release Me” by Engelbert Humperdinck was followed by The Zombies ”She’s Not There”, ”Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by The Beatles and then an Evert Taube tune. On the same channel. According to Per, it’s the diversity that makes music much fun and interesting. He bought ”Delilah” by Tom Jones at the same time as ”Last Train To Clarksville” by The Monkees and his brother had records by MC5. During those times wanting to let hair grow over the ears was super-important, almost revolutionary.

Andres asks Per if he feels stuck there. Per says, a little. At least with the hair. It’s not just about age. As an artist you have a requirement to always rush forward. If he thinks of David Bowie, he changed his look all the time, but sometime in the mid-1980s he finished with it and was just David Bowie and it was alright.

Andres asks if it is something Per strives for. Mr. G says change for the sake of change is not necessarily ideal. As an artist, the change must come because you have a need for it. For example, the reason he searched for Marie Fredriksson was that he felt limited by his voice. He has a strange love-hate relationship to it and felt that he could write better songs than how he could sing them. So he needed a change to be able to maximize it. That was the main reason for him to start Roxette. THAT was a natural change for him. Andres says that in such cases the bonus is that after a while it’s fun to hear your own voice again. Per agrees. The more he works acoustically, the more he is longing to play power pop with Gyllene Tider and the more time he spends in an electronic world with Mono Mind, the more he suddenly wants to play acoustically. He thinks these cycles he has invented himself to keep the whole spectrum alive.

Andres says when he hears Per’s voice he often thinks of British singer-songwriter Al Stewart. He had a huge hit ”Year Of The Cat” in the early 1970s. Per asks Andres if he knows that Al Stewart recorded one of his songs once. It has never been released though. It was ”Call Of The Wild” from the first Roxette album. Per has it somewhere on a cassette. Andres asks if Al’s version sounds exactly like Per’s original recording. Mr. G says, not really. But he has a bunch of Al Stewart songs on a playlist he listens to quite often and then he actually thinks it sounds a little like Per himself.

Andres tells the fact that Paul McCartney has stopped coloring his hair was bigger news than his latest album. It was the same with Tom Jones. Andres thinks they went into a new, perhaps their last phases. He asks Per if he sees his paths this way. Per says it’s not far from him to think this way, but he hasn’t got there yet. The last few years he has done so many different things that he didn’t have the time to take that step where he would try to see himself from outside. He says he still doesn’t know what he’ll be when he grows up. The GT reunion this year is not news to him, because he has known since quite a long time that he would devote this year to it and has started writing songs for the last GT album.

Andres remarks that GT for Per is like a band on stand by. Per says it’s nice to have it like that. GT always comes back on a project basis and after a short intensive period it’s over again. Andres says Per constantly wants to move forward, but GT is a pure nostalgia machine. PG says it’s true, but everytime the band came back, one of his conditions was that they release a new album too. It’s not that they need new hits, because people want to hear the old ones anyway, but to get together in the studio and do a creative work. They have extremely good relationships within the band, but they hardly ever spend time together. Per works with Mats MP Persson in the studio in Halmstad from time to time, Anders Herrlin was there with him in Nashville when they recorded his solo albums ”En vacker natt” and ”En vacker dag”, but the others he follows basically only on Facebook. But during an album recording, they immediately find their original roles. Per thinks they really need to find that chemistry to be able to go on a tour together. Should they not do it this way, there is a risk that five strangers will suddenly play pop music in front of 150,000 people. Instead of partying together in Mallorca for 2 weeks, it’s more efficient to record some new songs, Per tells Andres.

It’s 100% right that Gyllene Tider is a nostalgia machine, but Per sees the band in a more serious way. He thinks GT is a very good pop band in the same way as Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Now that they are 60, he wants to try to make pop music that is worthy and adult in the right way. They can’t do any ”När vi två blir en” songs anymore.

The guys are coming back to the aging topic again. Andres mentions that they are the first to experience that such things as the death of David Bowie can happen, that pop artists die of old age. He asks Per how he deals with it. PG says Keith Richards is 75. He saw ”Under The Influence”, a documentary about him on Netflix the other day and he just said “I’m no pop star anymore and I don’t want to be that”. He has been there since he was 17-18 and now he is a groomed old uncle and feels relatively good in his existence. He can’t be compared to anyone else.

To Andres, Carole King is an excellent example of how she in 1960 wrote ”Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for the teenage girls in The Shirelles, but when she 10 years later sang it herself, as a ballad at the piano, she transformed the text author Gerry Goffin’s words into a sad and grown love triangle. Per says a good pop song works like this. Also some of Per’s songs work like that. For example, when Lars Winnerbäck sang ”Honung och guld” with Per on tour, the song got a completely different meaning.

Per tells SvD that as time goes by, he tries to understand how he was thinking when he was writing nearly 40 years ago. To find out what he was looking for. He was also thinking about it when he wrote the new songs for GT. He dreams to find a tone of adult dignity, but in their chosen form of pop.

According to Per, the school of composing that he works in doesn’t exist anymore. Definitely not in modern electronic dance or pop music. It’s a bit like when Paul McCartney sits down and plays ”Martha My Dear”. No one writes music like that today, but he has it in his DNA. When Per started playing, the first thing he learned was Swedish songs. He and his friend Peter Nilsson were Sweden’s first troubadours employed by the city council. Swedish social democracy at its best, Andres reacts. That music school mixed with Simon & Garfunkel and artists like Bernt Staf and John Holm meant a lot to Per. That song tradition is in his DNA.

Cover photo and all photos in the original interview article are by Staffan Löwstedt.

© Svenska Dagbladet, Andres Lokko, Staffan Löwstedt

Charla K to compete with a song co-written with Per Gessle

Charla K’s name probably sounds familiar to Per Gessle’s fans, because she was signed by Per’s record label, Space Station 12 and together with Alex Shield she also performed as support act to Per Gessle on Mr. G’s summer tour last year.

Now she is among the ten finalists competing in the Norwegian national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Charlotte Kjær (29) is from Tønsberg and currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2009, she participated in X Factor Norway as part of the group Shackles. In 2013 the group participated in Melodi Grand Prix as a duo. Charla K’s first single was “Should’a Let Me Go“, written together with Alex Shield and Sharon Vaughn. This year, she co-wrote Stamina for Anastacia’s new album.

In 2018, Charla K competes with a song written together with Alex Shield and none other than Per Gessle. “Charlotte is a natural talent who has that unique skill that you listen to her whatever she is singing!” says Per in today’s press release. “Charla K writes songs as well, Stop The Music is a fantastic creation she composed together with Alex Shield. I’m both proud and happy to have written the text. And suddenly we all ended up in Norway. And on Melodifestivalen. Life is full of surprises! Incredibly fun,” says Per.

Charla K is excited to stand on the scene of Oslo Spektrum and perform the song “Stop The Music” on March 10, 2018. “It’s great for me to be one of ten selected artists who get the chance to participate in one of the year’s greatest , most important and most influential music contests – MGP,” she says.

Stop The Music” was chosen out of almost 1200 songs and that is a record for the competition in Norway.

In the 1980’s, Per Gessle already took part in Melodifestivalen as a songwriter. First in 1980, when Lasse Lindbom performed “För dina bruna ögons skull”, the song ended up at the 10th position. In 1986 Lena Philipsson competed with “Kärleken är evig” (lyrics written by PG) and ended up at the second place.

Fingers crossed for Charla K that she wins the contest in Norway, so we can all support her on the ESC later! Listen to the song HERE!

Photos by Karin Törnblom taken at Space Station 12’s anniversary party 2017


Alex Shield in the footsteps of Per Gessle

If you are following the artists signed by Per Gessle’s record label, Space Station 12, you already know that Alex Shield got signed by a big German music label, Starwatch Entertainment. They have just released Alex’s single, The Good Fight in Germany and there are now several articles popping up on German, Austrian and Swiss music sites. You do know that The Good Fight is the song on which you can also hear Alex’s idol, Per Gessle singing, right?

As written in the articles, Alex spent endless weeks in recording studios to prepare for the world of music, and that was where he got the chance to meet his great role model from his childhood – Per Gessle.

I’ve never met Per before, but I’ve seen him outside in front of one of the studio windows. I thought I would play some of my songs to him, but at the same time I realized he probably did not have the time to listen…

Alex took all his courage, introduced himself and asked Per if he could listen to some of his songs. To his great surprise, Per agreed and the rest is, as they say, history.

PG & Alex at the SS12 anniversary party

Per Gessle says:

Yes, that was something really special. Alex played me these songs and I immediately realized that they were exceptional. Fantastic songwriting, interesting arrangements and then his great voice. And since I had just done everything with this record company, I thought… hey, why don’t we actually do something together?

The single The Good Fight is just the beginning of a truly glorious musical career of an artist / songwriter / producer who says:

I want to create timeless music and write songs that will last for future generations.

Well, I was lucky to hear Alex perform live not only once and I think it’s safe to say he has a bright future in front of him. When I write “Alex Shield in the footsteps of Per Gessle”, I do think there is a lot in common and in many things Alex reminds me of Per. He is definitely an exceptional artist and with his amazing songwriting skills and creating great music, as well as having a fab voice, hm… today Sweden & Germany, tomorrow the world? 😉 Best of luck to you, Alex!

Pic of PG by Anton Corbijn, pic of Alex by Christian Gustavsson

Check these sites / songs / videos out!


Per Gessle interview in Aftonbladet Söndag

In yesterday’s issue of Aftonbladet Söndag magazine there is a Per Gessle interview on 6 pages, including some killer shots of Mr. G. The interview is done by Monika Israelsson, the photos are taken by Maria Östlin.

Nashville, autumn 2016

This time Per Gessle ended up in Nashville, Tennessee, in T-shirt weather in October. Per tells Monika that if he needed a harmonica in an odd key, he would have just walked five minutes to find one in Nashville. Mr. G brought his closest gang with him and a bunch of demos. Per says he thought they should record acoustic sketches only and then bring in local musicians and see what they bring. He asked the owner of the studio if they could take a pedal steel guy and Dan Dugmore got there, an old hero. He was so good. The result is two albums, first out ”En vacker natt”. Strings and steel guitar provide a classic country sound, yet the white sand dunes and an empty beach appear (referring to Halmstad). On the album cover there is a girl in a headscarf, singing at the sea in winter.

Stockholm, April 2017

The photos were taken in Ölandsgatan in Södermalm, Stockholm. At one moment, when a car was getting closer, the stylist shouted at Per and the photographer to beware, but they weren’t stressed. It turned out the car didn’t want to hit them, just stop by and ask Per how Marie is. Per walks to the car, leans down and says she’s just fine. They chat a bit, then the car is leaving. Per looks happy and is joking there was no selfie asked. Though it happened yesterday. And the day before yesterday. Since Per was at Skavlan a few weeks ago and said that he “gets depressed if no one wants to take a selfie”, there are even more requests.

They walk back to the record company’s office and there Per says his existence basically depends on what people think about the things he does. The new albums are not mainstream radio compatible. Per says to Monika that when you are used to meeting the public, you will be disappointed if you don’t get the cheering. At a concert he then thinks: “Why don’t people scream like they do usually?”. But if they scream extra much, you feel “calm down, you all”. Haha. He says one is analyzing things to death.

Per keeps his private life safe and people don’t know much about him. This is how he wants it. He says he won’t ever be on Parneviks (Swedish show that features golfer Jesper Parnevik and his family as they welcome celebrity guests to stay at their mansion in Florida for a few days) or on Så mycket bättre (Swedish reality TV show in which each artist attempts to do their own version of another artist’s well-known songs, with each person getting an episode featuring all of their songs being performed by the other musicians). He doesn’t know what he could win with it. He is very pleased that ”Tycker om när du tar på mig” means something for people, but he or his life doesn’t need to mean anything to anyone. He doesn’t feel the need to show his home or his cars or where he buys bananas. Åsa and Gabriel are the same when it comes to such things.

Regarding himself being a small town guy, Per tells Monika that there is a difference in growing up in a big city and a small town, and there was even greater difference in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That small town mentality has colored him so much that it lies in his personality. He grew up in Furet district of Halmstad with his mother who was a teacher in porcelain painting and his father who was a plumber. He was a trailing child and a loner. He was more into lonely stuff, like painting and drawing. He always felt more like an outsider. His brother introduced him to rock music: The Beatles, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, who became a direct channel to another world, much more exciting than Furet.

Per tells Aftonbladet Söndag that he went to a tough high school. There were a lot of drugs, a gang that broke the seats in the bus. Being good at school was the worst thing one could do. His dad drove him to school because he didn’t want to take the bus.

He started to play in a band with Mats MP Persson. Per asks Gabriel if he knows what one misses when he doesn’t play in a band. There you have your friends and you can play together the same song and that sounds damn good. That thing is sensational. It brought him a kind of gratitude. He and MP started as a punk band that sounded terrible and developed into Gyllene Tider. Per was purposeful and he covered Halmstad with leaflets and sent cassette tapes to record companies. They succeeded when EMI offered a contract and they recorded their first album in 1979.

The early Swedish texts are like a highway into a teenager’s head and body. Over the years, the songs have become more thoughtful, but still they take off in everyday happenings, often including sadness. A fishing trip, a rainy morning on the beach, an old love on the bus. Per says he usually tries to keep a fairly high minimum level of texts. Sometimes a song is so contagious that the text doesn’t play an equal role in the context. But when the music is more naked and crisp, the lyrics become important.

Monika asks Per if he can really put himself in the lives of ordinary people, with his luxury cars and private jet. Per says he doesn’t write about townhouse life or a night on the subway. He thinks that just because you tell a story, it doesn’t mean it’s true. If that means something to someone, he has succeeded. Then whether  he has experienced it or not, it’s quite uninteresting.

To the question why he doesn’t write sorely or about politics Per replies he doesn’t think he has had any political substance to come up with. Besides that, he doesn’t think it would be interesting enough. He is more towards the dreamy stuff. He thinks all people are political in some way when in a society. Mr. G thinks it’s unacceptable not to vote, it’s a democratic right so it’s better to vote for anything in that case. But he doesn’t really know how to use it.

Monika asks Per about his musical self-esteem. Per sayst it started at minus 100, he thought he sang damn badly. He started singing in Gyllene Tider because no one else would. Now he has learned that this damn voice is an asset. Everything that stands out is good.

Per thinks of himself as a kind of director. He always choose to work with people who are much better than himself. That can help him to pursue any kind of vision he has. He knows something will be fine, but he doesn’t know how to get there. He has always thought Marie Fredriksson is the best in the studio when Per is there. Mr. G means he thinks he makes Marie take one more step.

Per met his wife, Åsa in the mid ‘80s. The early years were significant in their relationship. Gyllene Tider’s English album and Per’s second solo album flopped. When looking at Roxette and his actual life, it’s easy to think that it has always been so. But it has not. He was a ”has-been” when he was 24 and it was damn hard for him. He lived on Åsa’s salary from Vingresor and had no real master plan. When Roxette had its break-through, it was evident that Åsa, with her professional background took care of the gang’s trips. This way Per and Åsa didn’t spend much time apart, despite long tours around the world. She often documented with a cam. The films became raw material for the Jonas Åkerlund documentary, Roxette Diaries (2015).

Per’s voice is shining when he talks about the ‘90s, the years when Roxette had several songs on the Billboard charts in the US for 4 years in a row. Per remembers playing Joyride for 200 radio directors in the US. It wasn’t even released, but they came to them to congratulate on their next “number one”. If you’re lucky, you have this success once in your life. Back then Roxette was exactly what America wanted. Nevertheless, they were never completely in the heat. The US record company wanted them to move to the United States and they would replace musicians in the band. But Per and Marie said no. Per says it’s one of the things he is most proud of, that they kept their gang. They created the Roxette sound together.

When Per is listening to old songs today he can be knocked out. Marie’s voice is amazing, Per says he can feel “damn how good she sings”. He smiles and says back then he didn’t sense it, it was more like “sing better!”.

Monika and Per talk about the times when Marie got ill and that Mr. G among others thought it was the end of Roxette. He started to work with Gyllene Tider and did solo projects. Then in 2009 Marie and Micke came to Amsterdam and Per asked Marie to come up on stage to sing Listen To Your Heart. He thought people would die for it. Marie didn’t want to, but Per knew she wanted, so it took like 15 minutes to convince her and she said OK, let’s try it.

Per is grateful for the Roxette tours and albums during the past years, saying he felt something of a “brotherhood responsibility”. Today they talk regularly.

There is a deep melancholy in the music on Per’s new album. In recent years, Per has first lost his mother and then his brother and sister, who both passed away in cancer. Mr. G says when people die around you, you grow older sooner. There is a thoughtfulness and one is thinking more about everything. He says he has to stop himself so that he doesn’t only write about what has been, but about what is and the future too. When his sister died, her son found a box of old diapositives from 1966. It is Gunilla who stands by the ice and sings. Per has selected some of the pictures for the albums. It felt like they fit the record.

Per’s replies to special questions:

5x the last time I…

… cooked: ”Scrambled eggs. I’m miserable in the kitchen.”

… bought something extremely expensive: ”A dulcimer, a string instrument. Pretty expensive but very fine.”

… loughed out loud: ”Quite a lot of times last week, when I was watching Dag, the TV series.”

… felt ashamed: ”I’ve stopped doing that. No, in fact, I feel ashamed just now about this answer of mine.”

… took a selfie with someone: ” Yesterday in a car shop. Then you just have to be in for it!”

3x the coolest cars in the world:

  1. Ferrari Dino: ”Cars don’t have to be practical. And they don’t have to drive at 350 km/h, because you never drive that fast anyway. However, it’s important that they are beautiful.”
  2. Mini Cooper: ”Classic, the one Austin Powers drives.”
  3. Rolls-Royce Corniche: ”So incredibly beautiful car. This is the one of these 3 I don’t own.”

3x people about Per:

Marie Dimberg, manager: ”Per, like most other artists, is hard-working, creative, target-oriented and focused. What distinguishes him is his amazing songwriting that gave him three careers: Gyllene Tider, solo and Roxette. I don’t think there is a big difference between the private and public Per. He is immensely positive and thinks fast both inside and outside the job. And he is just as bad at keeping the time in both cases…”

Marie Fredriksson, artist: ”Per is extremely creative, focused, positive and cheering in the studio. This is how he is as a person. We’ve had so much fun together through all the years. We had a lovely dinner together just the other day. There were many memories that came up and it’s obviously nice with such a long friendship that it continues even outside the stage and the studio.”

Mats MP Persson, band member in Gyllene Tider: ”My first impression of Per was that he was a real artist, translating Leonard Cohen’s and David Bowie’s lyrics into Swedish, and he had a tape recorder with microphones that could be used to play and record. He also had great visions. I thought it was really exciting and once we started doing covers with Per’s translated lyrics, for example, Doctor Feelgood. We did everything on our own and called us Graperock, if I remember right…”

3x this is how I wrote the song:

(Dansar inte lika bra som) Sjömän (Gyllene Tider, 1980): ”One summer I was weighing mushrooms. There were over three hundred girls and two guys. When we had nothing to weigh, we sat in our Ford Transit, where I wrote the text and then we made a song of it in the evening. Just because I could. In a way it was like solving crosswords.”

Allt gick så fort (En vacker natt, 2017): ”This song wrote itself. I was in France on a beach, a woman was picked from the water. I don’t know what happened to her afterwards. It became a catalyst for the fact that life goes fast.”

Neverending Love (Pearls of passion, 1986): ”I wrote a song for Pernilla Wahlgren, Svarta glas. Then I accidentally heard that her brother Niclas had recorded it and that was not the idea. I made an English text instead and recorded it with Marie.”

There are captions next to the photos in the article including Per’s thoughts on Roxette was the second pop group ever to play in Beijing. The concert in 1995 was met by both criticism and praise. When they played It Must Have Been Love, there was a banner in the audience saying ‘one world one unity’. One felt they became their longing for a Western life. The whole band went out and cried afterwards.

Another caption says that despite his worldwide success, Per Gessle remains a small town guy. He has never left Halmstad. By many, he is still perceived to be private – and that’s exactly how he wants it.

In a third caption it’s written that Gyllene Tider’s first hit wasn’t obvious. Per says they were told that the first single must have a certain pace to make it disco comaptible. But just then Frank Zappa happened to have a hit with Bobby Brown and that was very slow. So some discos in Stockholm started playing Flickorna på TV2, which had the same pace. Slowly but surely people began to recognize it. An organic hit, that’s the best kind.

The article closes with Monika’s thoughts that among the memories flowing from Per, names, places, anecdotes, she can’t find the right moment to ask why Per makes new records and gets out on exhausting tours when he has millions on his bank account. But eventually it becomes irrelevant. It is clear that Per Gessle lives and breathes music.

Great interview! Thanks for that, Aftonbladet Söndag!

Per was asked to draw a portrait of himself. Of course he made a Leif drawing. Haha.


Update on 3rd May: Aftonbladet shared the article online for subscribers.