Per Gessle is one of Sweden’s most successful artists and songwriters. He always has something going on. This summer he was on tour with Gyllene Tider, now he is working on a new solo album. Roxette’s music is to become a musical and a movie is being shot about Gyllene Tider. Deep inside, he hopes for some more world tour as well.
Ulrika Palmcrantz from Senioren magazine meets Per at home in their large apartment in Stockholm. Upstairs, the one that counts as the “office”. When you go up here with the elevator, Per has to push the button. If you press the button in the elevator yourself, nothing happens.
We had to put up a lattice gate in the stairwell, because Roxette fans used to come here and sleep on the stairs.
he says, smiling.
He is kindness itself. If someone wants to take a selfie with him when he’s out in town or just express their love for his music, he almost always stops for a moment. Now he has set the table with coffee mugs, cookies and a box of After Eight.
I thought it might be suitable when Senioren comes to visit, he laughs. I was going to buy Bridge Blanding too, it’s actually my favourite sweets!
Actually, he has not moved to Stockholm from Halmstad, where he lives most of the time.
No, I’m only here for a couple of days, we haven’t really moved yet.
Halmstad is still what he counts as his primary residence. He and Åsa have their house there, there is the car collection with a large number of Ferraris – the largest part of it can now be admired in a side building to Hotel Tylösand of which Per is the largest owner.
And old friend Mats MP Persson has the studio where Gyllene Tider sometimes comes together and plays. Like before the Hux Flux tour this summer. Actually, they had been out on a farewell tour and 40th anniversary already in 2019. But then the pandemic came and everything became so sad and boring, Per thought. He got a new guitar and so “there were some new songs”.
That’s how it often happens. Rarely has a year or even a few months gone by without something happening with his music. First it was Gyllene Tider, which had its heydays in the early ’80s, then Roxette with Marie Fredriksson from the mid-80s right up until 2016. A huge success with 75 million records sold, world tours and four No. 1 songs on the US Billboard – to compare with ABBA that actually only had one. And in between a successful solo career. Plus he wrote loads of songs for other artists. It seems that both the words and the melodies just flow out of him.
Usually it just comes to me. It can be a word or maybe a piece of melody that pops into my head and then I spin on it.
Sometimes it happens when he’s sitting here on the sofa with the guitar. Sometimes when he’s out walking. It can be anytime and anywhere. But rarely before a set deadline.
No, I can’t have deadlines or a lot of times to fit in, it doesn’t work.
Creativity must be allowed to live its own life, which it does to the highest degree. Should things ever go slower, he has tricks to use. Like getting a new guitar. Or sit down at the piano for a while.
He cannot imagine to stop writing music and being on stage. Music is his life and always has been and when the inspiration is there he is extremely productive. For example, he wrote Joyride and Spending My Time on the same day. Joyride began with his wife Åsa leaving a note on the grand piano where she wrote: “Hello, you fool, I love you!” He had read an interview with Paul McCartney who described songwriting with Lennon as a long “joyride”. Together it became the chorus: “Hello, you fool, I love you, c’mon join the joyride”.
I work well together with those I have worked with for a long time too, like the Gyllene Tider gang. We have so much fun and creativity when we beam together. Nowadays it becomes like a “project” when we do it because it’s not ongoing all the time. But we’ve known each other since we were barely twenty and know exactly how each works. We are five completely different people, yet it works so well.
He says he wishes all young people could experience the feeling of being in a band and playing music together. How magically fun it is, both with the music and with the community that arises.
But I think that those of us who grew up with ’60s-’90s music had a golden window. Then there was room for personal music. Now everything is more similar. It’s just like cars, they all look the same now. Pop music reflects its time to a great extent. Today you can’t release a Sgt. Pepper and the whole world is listening. Hey Jude, it’s seven minutes long. Nobody listens to a seven-minute-long song anymore.
Much has been written about Per’s enormous music career both as a solo artist and with Gyllene Tider and Roxette. But he has managed to keep his private life pretty well under wraps.
I keep myself quite private, that’s how it is. I’m not the type who appears on TV shows like Stjärnorna på slottet or Så mycket bättre. Above all, because I can’t imagine living with people I don’t know for six weeks on Gotland. There is no value in that. It just doesn’t suit me.
I’m actually not super social. At least not when I compare myself to some others. Like my wife, for example. She always talks to everyone when we meet new people while I sit in a corner.
As a child, he was a loner, “fat and with ugly glasses” as he himself describes it. Early on, it was music that dominated his existence. Every penny he came across he spent on records. As a ten-year-old, he already had about a hundred. He wrote his first song as a 7-year-old and became really musically active in his teens. The Beatles and Hep Stars were his big favourites. Father Kurt, mother Elisabeth and sister Gunilla, who was 14 years older, did not directly share his interest in music. But his seven years older brother Bengt liked to listen to music and had many good records in his room. He became a bit of a gateway into the magical world of music for Per.
Sometimes I had to buy a few records from him if he wanted money for cigarettes. He also had an acoustic guitar, but it was out of tune. But in 1976, my mother bought me a nylon-string guitar. It cost SEK 1,800, which was a lot of money back then.
I sat in my room and practiced and practiced. I learned chords but I couldn’t read sheet music. I still can’t.
When he turned 15, he had to choose between getting a used moped or a used stereo. An easy choice for a guy who mostly sat at home with his records and headphones, listening to music and writing lists. Lists of songs, but it could also be about sports. Who scored in the TV puck, for example.
But the world of pop attracted him the most.
In the pop world there was everything that was not in the real world. It was probably inside my head that I lived most of my life during this time.
Weeks before Per was to graduate, his father Kurt died. He was the one who was most skeptical about Per’s music.
Ironically, dad died on the same day that Mats Olsson wrote about Gyllene Tider in Expressen, the first article about us. Mom said she didn’t think he’d let me do music full-time if he lived, but I don’t know. Dad was a plumber, grandfather too. They came from a completely different world.
That you could make a living from music was not something dad Kurt believed in. Per and Åsa were almost as questioning at first when their son Gabriel, now 26 and a computer scientist, said he was going to move to Spain and compete in e-sports.
We were against it at first. Play video games? But then it hit us that we were just like our parents had been and then it was just: Let him go!
Although Per describes himself as “not super social”, he still loves when things happen. Standing in front of an audience of between 60-80,000, as it could be during Roxette’s world tours in the ’90s, gives him a kick.
When we broke through and it started to get big, I felt a big “wow!”, while I think Marie felt more a “help!” I was triggered by the success and just wanted to write more and more songs. But both Marie and I agreed that we did not want to move to the United States. The record company tried to get us to move there or at least to London, but we didn’t want to. We wanted to work with those we had always worked with here at home.
Just when Roxette was planning a major European tour in 2002, Marie Fredriksson learned that she had suffered from a malignant brain tumor. It was a long break for Roxette, where Per instead released his fourth solo record and went on tour with Gyllene Tider. In 2009, Marie was back and they set off on a world tour. Roxette’s comeback tour lasted until 2016.
The whole trip we did with Roxette was fantastic. What Marie and I got to experience was completely unique and I’m so happy about it. Nothing has affected me like the time with Roxette. In a way, that was my destiny.
When he stands on stage today as a 60-plus years old and sings songs he wrote as a 20-year-old, he realizes that the lyrics are about exactly the same feelings he has today.
Although you choose a different language when you are younger. But a lot of the early songs are awesome and I couldn’t have written them today. But I’m a better composer and musician today. I was nervous throughout the ’80s on stage. It’s not the same today.
The constant battle for him when he performs, not least with Gyllene Tider, is that he likes to play new songs while the crowd wants all the old hits.
I think all slightly older artists recognize that. But there is of course something nice in the fact that you realize that the songs meant something to others.
He doesn’t feel any anxiety about getting older.
No, I think things will be as they are. I’ve always liked achieving goals, I’m a Capricorn! But often I have been surprised and frustrated when you reach the goal and realize that after that comes only a kind of emptiness. It won’t be any different, life is just as usual. I was quite old before I realized that this was the way it was.
He takes care of his health reasonably well, even if exercise is not very high on the list of interests.
I go for walks and since I got a frozen shoulder a while ago, I do a 15-minute exercise every day, some kind of Pilates stretching.
Otherwise, it’s music that counts, still and always.
I think it’s actually the most fun now. Gyllene Tider has never been as good as this summer.
He would actually think it would be fun to do another world tour as well. At the same time, he will start drawing a pension from next year when he turns 65.
Yes, I have to do that, isn’t it time for it?
he says, flashing one of his many smiles again.
Facts about Per Gessle
Family: Wwife Åsa and son Gabriel, 26 years old.
Lives: House in Halmstad and apartment in Stockholm.
What he is doing: Artist and songwriter. Has three legs in his huge career: Gyllene Tider, Roxette and a solo career.
Currently reading: Niklas Strömstedt’s biography. “It’s brand new.” A biography of Michael Caine. “I like biographies.”
Listening to: American singer Weyes Blood, the bands Cigarettes After Sex and Goldfrapp. “Then I always go back to my old favourites. Tom Petty is my house god! I have made a playlist on Spotify called Easy listening according to Per Gessle. It is growing all the time…”
Lennon or McCartney: Both! They are best when they are together.
Dreaming of: A little sense and common sense on this planet. And maybe another world tour!
Other: Has a large Ferrari collection in Tylösand, owns 17 cars. Is No. 1 on Ferrari’s Nordic list of customers.
Actualities: In 2024 there will be both a Roxette musical based on the book Got You Back by Jane Fallon (premiere in the fall of 2024 at Malmö Opera) and a movie about Gyllene Tider. In addition, a new solo album is coming…
Per’s 5 favourites from his own songs
* Vid hennes sida
* Tycker om när du tar på mej
* Flickan i en Cole Porter-sång
* Spending My Time
* The Look
Per’s 5 favourites from other artists’ songs
* God Only Knows – The Beach Boys (which I always tried to play on the guitar at home in my room)
* Here, There and Everywhere – The Beatles
* American Girl – Tom Petty (My house god!)
* Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks (Damn, how old I am!)
* Bird On The Wire – Leonard Cohen (The world’s most amazing artist!)
* But now I forgot Burt Bacharach, what a songwriter!
Manager Marie Dimberg
I first met Per in 1984. I worked at his record company then and we were introduced to each other at Café Opera. I remember that I said that I came from Jönköping and he replied that “we hillbillies must stick together”. He is a very positive person, cheerful and extremely professional. Great at writing, not just lyrics, a real language equilibrist. And dedicated in everything he does!
Mats MP Persson, guitarist in Gyllene Tider
Per and I have known each other since we were 16-17 years old. We both had a bit of a crazy sense of humor, then I played drums in a band and Per thought it sounded exciting. We started to skip school and spend more and more time on music. Even then he was a bit of an entrepreneurial guy, setting up plans and goals in a way that I didn’t. We know each other inside out and don’t always need to talk to understand what the other wants.
All text is written by Ulrika Palmcrantz for Senioren magazine in Swedish. Here it is a translation by RoxBlog.