'when it finally works, you know. You just know'
Six years after the heavily titled No More Stories Are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away, No More Stories The World Is Grey I'm Tired Let's Wash Away, Danish quartet Mew are ready with the follow-up+ -. The album will be released in April, and the song Satellites has already been teasing the fans for a few weeks.
A while ago, two of the band's members, vocalist Jonas Bjerre and guitarist Bo Madsen, paid a tiny visit to Norway to promote the new album. Between radio interviews and meetings, they took the time for a long chat with Musikknyheter. At Angst Bar, we sat down over a glass of water to get the boys to reveal a little bit about what's in store over the next few months.
The new album, contrary to the last one has a short and succinct title. The boys explain that even the song titles on + - are shorter than on the previous album:
'It's time we stop wasting people's time', Jonas jokes, 'They're the ones who have to pronounce the long names, and now they'll fit into iTunes as well as being a lot more convenient. And since the radio presenters won't have to pronounce the long names, they might play our songs more often!'
Why they've named the album + -, they don't really have an answer for, but after having thought for a little while, Bo explains that one of the signs is a plus-sign, and the other is a minus.
'It's to do with the cover art', Jonas says: 'The French guys who designed it said "It's like a battery"! And it's a lot to do with contrasts, this is probably the most versatile album we've ever made. We've somehow managed to include all our ideas in it, so the name fits.'
One of the songs off the album, Satellites, has already been released, but when asked whether this song in any way represents the style of the album, the reply is a booming 'NO!':
'All the songs are completely different' Jonas says, and Bo adds: 'It's almost to the point where it's messy, but also very very good. All the songs have their own personalities.'
When the band first started playing new songs live, Satellites was one of the songs they tested, using the working title “Klassen”. Another song the fans noticed early was “Boy”, and even though Jonas tells us that “Boy” does NOT feature on the new album, he says it's probably not the last time we've heard this song:
'We haven't completely solved it yet. It's kinda like a puzzle which is lacking a piece. So... yes... we'll see', he smiles: 'Who knows!'
'We do have plans for it', Bo explains: 'But we can't tell you about them. It's a secret.'
No More Stories was released in 2009, and the fact that it's taken six years to finish this album surprises even the band:
'We didn't start writing this album 6 years ago, Bo says: 'We've been busy with tours and other things in the meantime, but yes, it's taken a long time. It takes a couple of years from when you start writing, and then we slowly eased into the rest. We didn't work every day, but did little bits here and there.'
Having thought about this for a little while, Jonas tells us this is the first time they haven't gone straight into a new writing process as soon as they were done with the previous album. Usually they've tended to just keep going, but this time they needed a little break and normal every day life before they could start over.
This is also the first album they've recorded in Denmark, and Jonas feels this may have contributed both to the sound, and to the time it took to record. Instead of having a limited amount of studio time, they could go back and perfect each song.
'And we also spent a long time finding exactly the right sounds', Bo admits. 'It's very difficult, even just making the drums sound good. And then you starting adding layers of stuff on top of that, and suddenly what sounded good sounds absolutely horrible. And we play actual instruments, we don't use samples. It feels a little bit like walking up hill, and I understand why people sample the hell out of songs, but you won't get the same expression. We've got an amazing drummer, you want to hear him pound his little heart out!'
'Pound his ass off, Jonas adds laughing', and Bo nods: 'So despite walking up hill, I prefer doing it old school, because that's how we get the most expression and music out of it. And I don't even want to talk about how long we spent getting the guitars right, because that's just depressing.'
So how do you know when a song is ready?
'When it works', Bo says firmly.
'It's extremely difficult to do. Old songs like Am I Wry? No, they're difficult to pull off, and if it doesn't sound completely right, if not everything works, it'll just end up sounding like... it'll be all wrong. That's the thing with our music, it's not just «ONE TWO THREE FOUR», an A here and a G there, it's a lot more intricate. We could have written an album like that in one hour and record it in one hour – and have a product ready. But we Want to find ways of playing that haven't been done yet.'
'We're not singer/songwriters', Jonas says: 'We're orchestrators. If it's not done right, it won't work out. Some times it works out early, and other times you have to fail several times before you make it work.'
Bo adds: 'And when it finally works, you know. You just know.'
After many years' abscence, bassist Johan Wohlert has returned to the band, and this, along with the break, seems to have pumped new life into Mew's vains, both music wise and also live. When they played Vulkan Arena in Oslo before Christmas, it was an astoundingly energetic group of people we experienced on stage. Bo explains that Johan's return to the band wasn't exactly planned:
'He rang us one day and we just: "Don't think so buddy, you backed out! ...Ok, we'll think about it but don't get your hopes up!". And then we began recording the album and thought: "Hmm.. we need a bassist, we ARE a rock band after all", and our producer agreed, so we said: “What the hell” and figured we'd give him a chance.'
'We were never unfriendly', Jonas presses.
'Nonono', Bo agrees: 'Never unfriendly, but it's one thing being friendly and a completely different thing letting someone rejoin the band having left it once.'
'He had to sign a lifetime contract this time', Jonas laughs.
'We actually signed a contract in red pen when we first started playing, because we wanted it to look like blood', Jonas says eagerly.
'Wasn't it real blood, from our thumbs?' Bo reminds him: 'We're even singing about it in a song!'
'But yes, we wrote this album and it was good, but could have been better, and we realised we needed a bassist. Our producer, Michael Beinhorn, who also produced And The Glass Handed Kites agreed. Johan had been in touch a couple of times, but we weren't quite there since he'd already left us once. But then we decided to give him a chance and it felt very good from the first second. And we haven't looked back since.'
The boys tells us they've also played longer gigs than ever before these past few months, despite normally preferring shorter sets and to “leave them wanting more”. This time, it's felt right to make the gigs longer, and the boys feel prepared and ready for a new cycle of PR and touring:
'It's taken a long time to finish this time, so it's very satisfying to finally get going again, to have a song out and to get feedback from people. The fact that it's been six years since the last album, gives us a whole new generation of listeners, which is a great opportunity. It's surprisingly many very young people at the front row of our gigs, so they must have found the music through someone else.'
When they released No More Stories, the boys promised that the next album wouldn't take quite so long to make, and a grinning Jonas tells us that they're doing exactly the same thing now. Bo agrees, and adds that it's quite scary:
'BUT, I'll give you the release date for the next album right here and now! Exclusively! It will be... April 7th, 2017! Write it down!'
He gets a notebook out and does the exact same thing himself:
'April 7th, 2017! Yep! It's a deal. That's done!'
You heard it here first!
This interview was first posted at Musikknyheter.no