The progressive Danish indie rock quartet Mew has finally released a new album. As of this past week, +- has hit the ground running. Respective band members have done the same in the past year touring and such. Now, they relish in the return of bassist Johan Wohlert to the band after a seven-year break he took to start a family. With the revitalized lineup and a fresh perspective, they bring us a glorious new record that fills the void we have been feeling. Luckily, we were able to sit down with lead vocalist Jonas Bjerre and bassist Johan at SXSW to discuss their progression and current status. We got the scoop on their new approaches in respect to collaboration, their dream collaborations, and how they are excited to be a part of doing something that is for the greater good of music.
mxdwn: So, you guys have known each other since your school days, right? What’s it like being lifelong friends who are also in a band together?
Jonas: It’s invaluable. Is that the right word? It means that it’s so good that you can’t put a value on it, right? Yeah, because I think that you go through a lot together and there is a certain patience that comes with knowing each other really well. It’s just a great strength for the band to know each other so well.
Johan: Without revealing our age, we’re approaching our 20th year of playing together and not that many bands survive that long. There are few, actually, and I think that’s a testament to the fact that we’re good at being together and we’re pretty good at facing the issues when they arise. As long as you can sort of maintain a respectable and honest relationship with each other, I think you’ll go a long way.
mxdwn: How do you feel that relationship fuels your music?
Jonas: I think we kind of grew up together musically as well. We didn’t really start a band because we each had aspirations to start a band. We were just friends and we liked making music and other things that we did together. I think that we kind of developed our own musical language because none of us were really trained or anything. So, we kind of just fooled around with things until it felt right. I think that there’s a strength in that because you sort of discover things together and that brings you closer and also makes it more likely that you’ll succeed in defining your own sound. I think that too much knowledge about music at an early stage can be damaging almost because you kind of end up repeating a lot of patterns that have already been stabbed to death.
Johan: Rules are there to be broken.
mxdwn: That’s a good segue. Congratulations on the new album (+-) and the return to the stage. It’s a masterpiece. Do you feel that your relationship influenced the new music? What were some influences that you drew from?
Johan: Did you just call it a “masterpiece?” You think it’s good?
mxdwn: Well, yeah!
Johan: It’s odd because you do that record and you put it in a drawer for months. Then you put it out there and play it to people. We don’t get a whole lot of reaction, you know, personally. Maybe the management will hear here and there that people like it, but actually, not that many people have actually said, “That’s great,” or “That’s not so good.” Obviously, you liking it is very nice, but it’s just great to get some feedback on it. Just the fact that we get to share it which is basically maybe the biggest benefit of being in a band – that you get to travel the world and you do it with something that you share with people and that makes people happy and influenced emotionally. I think that’s fantastic. Thanks.
mxdwn: Do you think that bringing that kind of happiness to people is part of your goal when making music?
Jonas: I think that my aspiration is to make other people feel about music the way that my favorite music makes me feel. When it kind of transcends your expectations and it sneaks up behind you and really goes deep inside you, you feel like it’s very familiar, almost, because it touches a part of you and at the same time it’s completely alien because you’ve not had that exact feeling before. That to me is what I aspire to do.
mxdwn: What I like about your music is that I feel like there definitely is a progression. It feels like you can listen to any song five times in a row and hear something different every time. For a long time it was just you guys making the music. Now that you brought in Russell from Bloc Party to collaborate, how has that changed things? What was it like working with him?
Jonas: It was great. This is kind of a new thing for us. We also had Nick our keyboard player. He also participated in some of the writing. Usually we’re very reserved about that. We never really opened up to other people like that. We’ve had other people sing on the record. Usually we just finish the song first and then have people play on it, but it was great. We had Russell work for three days just writing and a song came out of it which is pretty cool. For us, writing a song in three days is pretty unique. So that was wonderful.
Johan: The reason we asked Russell was that we all really like his guitar approach and in some ways it’s a bit reminiscent of the way that Bo plays. They both have that sort of slightly stabby style; maybe Russell does it to an even greater extent. The experiment was sort of to try and have that dual-guitar thing going on again which was something we did a lot way back in the day. Jonas has sort of shifted more towards keyboards than sort of the writing. It was kind of exciting to hear two guitars going on at the same time at least again. Yeah, he’s a cool dude – just easy-going and no big ego. No “Here I come, I’m a big star!” It’s just a thrill to see what could come out of it. You know, there were no guarantees in anything. Like you said, it happened very quickly and very so, “Ah, yeah. That sounds good. It’s a wrap!” Nothing works like that in our camp, but it was fairly quick and it had the vibe of quick.
mxdwn: It’s really exciting to hear your experimentation and growth. What can we expect to see from the album on tour?
Jonas: Well, in this album, we actually did some touring in the midst of recording which we’ve never done that before. I think that’s great. It’s another way of getting a fresh perspective because when you have an audience, you can’t help but listen through their ears. I think that’s helped shape a few of the songs to get the final set. Then there’s a bunch of songs that we haven’t played yet really since pre-production days. We need to figure out how to play them live. That’s always part of the challenge. How are we going to do this live? There are obviously a lot of details, so we’re gradually going to play them more and more. Hopefully, by the end of the year or even by the summer we’re playing all of it.
mxdwn: Do you have any surprises in store?
Johan: Just the fact that we’re here! Having a finished album is sort of surprising.
Jonas: We’re definitely playing a bunch of new songs off the new album. I guess that would be the biggest surprise.
Johan: We’re back. Surprise! You know, I think SXSW is sort of like a scaled down version of bands. You don’t bring your whole production. It’s more like you’re here, you’re part of something bigger. It’s also about supporting music in general and live music. Today we did this acoustic session. It’s all about those kind of things where you say live music is important, it has a place, and it’s a great place for bands to go and to be seen. For us, who are approaching five gigs in six days or however much it is, it’s great. It’s something you want to participate in. One thing it’s for your own benefit, but another thing it’s for the greater good of music. It shows the festival keeps on growing. It’s added on film, media vs music and all that tech thing. It’s cool. I guess it’s the biggest thing of its kind in the world these days. We’re pretty stoked to be part of it.
Jonas: I think it’s a great opening for us to come back to America because we haven’t toured here for so long. It feels very welcoming.
mxdwn: The crowd seemed pretty receptive to you guys returning to the stage. How do you guys feel about it?
Jonas: It’s good. Definitely, yeah. I mean, we haven’t played in the states for a long time. So, it’s great. They were very welcoming.
mxdwn: What about just for fun? Who would your dream performer to play with be?
Jonas: Ah, The Beatles. Why not?
Johan: Let’s start at the top – maybe if you could sneak ABBA over here or something like that…
mxdwn: One last fun question. Since you guys have known each other for so long, what would you tell your ten-year-old selves? Advice? Anecdotes?
Johan: If we go a little older, I know what I would say. I think I have been out of the band for seven years, so I would tell my younger self to remember to enjoy the moment and not be sort of blindly focusing on something indefinite out there on the horizon. With my age and my second coming here to the band, I have a whole new fresh perspective on remembering to enjoy it and to feel blessed that I get the chance to go to Austin and freaking America and to play for a bunch of people. That is pretty rare and I often think to myself that in a moment some guy will come tap on my shoulder and go, “Party’s over dude. Sorry, it’s time to get back to the real world and a real job.” As four old friends at the tender age of 39, it’s phenomenal. It’s pretty rare.
Jonas: That’s a good answer, hard to follow. I think I would tell my ten-year-old self to get out more and actually go out and be in nature and live life.