Ahead of their return to Australia this month, we spent some time with MEW frontman Jonas Bjerre, tackling prog, their career and fan questions.
For all dates, music and info head to www.mewsite.com including checking out their synth-prog heavy new record ‘Visuals.
Firstly, welcome back to Australia, we’re so excited about having you here again.
Thank you so much! I am very excited to be coming back!
After such a long time for “+-“ to come out, how did you manage to put together ‘Visuals’ in under two years?
There were many things about making this album that were different from how we’ve been going about it previously. I mean, every album is different, but this was more different, if that makes sense? We didn’t take any break after touring +-. It was such an enjoyable tour and we were excited about musical ideas we had, just little parts and pieces that came together even on the tour, which is quite new for us. I’ve always regretted a bit, how the processes in the band tend to be very compsrtmentalused. There’s been writing, then recording, then touring. We didn’t want to “disappear” again, so we went straight into it. Pretty soon we had the foundations for a handful of songs, and at that point we just didn’t feel inclined to get a producer involved. The album felt a bit internal, somehow. We kept everything in that vein, only involved a handful of people outside the band. A few guest musicians, and then Claudius Mittendorfer to mix. I made the artwork, and the music videos have more to do with our live animations than they have before. We wanted it to have that as focus, a kind of visual starting point.
Has the band had much of a break between these albums or has it been non-stop touring?
These last two, no breaks. Lots of touring, and working in studios.
How do you select a set list for different countries – is it the same across a tour, or slightly different depending how often you’ve toured there?
We pretty much shape them as we want, playing the songs we feel like. There has been a core of songs lately that we tend to play, and then we switch a few as we see fit on the day. We don’t consider the country, because we feel the music has a sort of universal language to it, and though the nuances of each country differs, the emotional connection is a universal thing, which is a beautiful thought. I think our audience consists mostly of people who share a certain sensibility that I recognize in myself.
You’ve been focusing a lot more on the visual element of the live presentation lately…was this a conscious decision or something that evolved naturally?
It’s almost always been a part of the band, ever since our early days. I was doing film work in my day job and I found it natural to incorporate my animations into the show. At first, it also gave me an excuse to sort of just stare at my shoes. I was a shy front man. Still am. But now I feel like it’s just a part of who the band is. We’ve had it for so long, but the albums were always a myriad of things, and oftentimes things didn’t really feel focused, like the live visuals would have nothing to do with the music videos, which in turn would bear no resemblance to the artwork. This time we wanted it to be focused, to have the visual concept be the starting point for everything. Just felt right for this album.
Where else in the world is left for Mew to go?
We still haven’t been to south America, which we’re trying to make happen. And of course there are lots of other places left. We’re playing Greenland later this month which will be our first time. The world is a big place. I’d love to play New Zealand too.
How long do you see the recording & touring lifestyle going for a band at your stage? Will we see more records and tours in future?
I don’t really want to make guesses like that. As long as it feels right, as long as it’s as fulfilling as it is now, I wouldn’t want to stop. We’re still curious about what we can create together. And we’re not THAT old :)
You still play a lot of songs from across the back catalogue. Do you feel like Mew is a different band from the one that released ‘Frengers’ all those years ago, or do all these songs still resonate?
They definitely still resonate. But I think especially so in a live setting, because we get to share in the audience’s experience of the music. I don’t feel like we’re a completely different band. But I would never want to repeat the same album, you know? It has to move, otherwise it becomes repetitious which is creative death.
Mew has been called a lot of things over the years – emo, alt-rock, indie, pop, prog. What do you see Mew as?
An effervescent mix of art-rock and Scandinavian noir.
What does prog mean to you?
Progressive has positive connotations for me. If something progresses, it moves forward, rather than standing still. I don’t care that much about the virtuoso part of it. But I’d like bands to just burn the rule book and make something DIFFERENT.
What are your favourite prog bands?
Old Genesis, Yes.. But to be honest I don’t much care about genres. I think once it becomes a genre, it’s a limitation in a way. All of a sudden it’s supposed to sound a certain way, and incorporate certain elements. It’s kind of like free jazz… How free is that really? Alternative too has lost its meaning a bit. Most of what’s called alternative rock sounds quite formulaic by now… Not very alternative at all. Or at least you could ask: alternative to what exactly? If someone formed a progressive band today, it should be progressive in its own way, rather than attempting to sound like King Crimson, you know what I mean? I think inventiveness and intuition is what makes for great music.
I think the term progressive music should just mean music that throws away the rule book, and follows its heart wherever it goes.
Now we have some fan questions:
From Justin-Jody Mcloughlin:
After Ed Sheeran sent the internet into a frenzy with his Game Of Thrones cameo it got me thinking- is there a TV show or movie that MEW would like to appear in & what characters would you like to play?
I would be in anything by David Lynch.
I’d like to play someone very different from myself.
Is it easier to write your awesome songs in English or do you write them in Danish first and then translate?
I almost always write in English. I guess growing up with mostly English and American music, it felt like the musical language to me, although I have dabbled in other languages (and non-languages).
Amy Stachi McKay:
What does 156 mean?
That’s a secret.
Do you feel the same pressures as earlier in your career (i.e. having a hit/making a living) or are there other pressures now? How do you deal with whatever they are?
I never really felt that kind of pressure. I think the best way to go is to make what YOU want to make. If you start second-guessing it, and especially thinking too much about what other people may or may not want from you, the entire process is compromised. It has to stay true to itself, the music.
If you wrote a children’s album, what would you call it?
I tried to once. One song I wrote was called Animals Of Many Kinds. A part of it ended up in our song The Zookeeper’s Boy. Those could both be album titles, no?
What book/movie has touched your life in a special way? How did it impact you?
Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides made a big impact on me. It deals with being different, and finding your way through being different. It’s a wonderful book.
Thank you once again for your time, see you soon!