CAPE TOWN - Roxette, back in South Africa for a second time in almost exactly a year. This time around they only had 3 concerts, but the arenas were bigger (Coca Cola Dome 15,000, ICC 9,000 and Grand Arena 6,500) and the crowds were louder!
I had a quick sitdown with Per Gessle in his dressing room just before the curtain raised at the final show in Cape Town. Making small talk he informed me that he was out shopping in Cape Town for a party back in Sweden. "I bought 20 party glasses!" he said very impressed with himself. He seemed more nervous than I was, yet so friendly and accommodating that I almost forgot I was interviewing Pop Royalty... This is what followed:
TDR: You guys are back in South Africa for a second time in just over a year, which goes to show how big this world tour really is. That's quite amazing...
PG: It is! It's the longest tour we've ever done. It's great to come back. It's actually surprising because normally you don't. I mean we played four Sun City and three Cape Town shows last year, so you tend to wait 3 years before you come back. So when they said to us "How about coming back to South Africa?" we said "What?!", but... why not? Johannesburg we didn't play before and Durban we didn't play. And those were really fantastic concerts... Johannesburg was really big... and it's always a pleasure to be in Cape Town.
TDR: Social media has become a big part of this tour. Do you enjoy the interaction? You have been doing it since the "Have A Nice Day" site's "Ask Per" section.
PG: I do, especially when we're on the road as there is always an hour in the lounge at the airport and there is always so much time to do it so you might as well check out what people think. I think it's really interesting to have this communication with people and they appreciate it. For me as a fan and I go to the Tom Petty site (laughs) which isn't very active, but then they publish something and it's "Wow! Check out that guitar!" So when you get some details like hanging out in the dressing rooms or pictures of... yesterday we went to this vineyard... I just think from the fans point of view it's really cool.
TDR: It makes it more personal...
PG: It does! It's the same when people ask questions I'll spend 10 minutes answering them. Well I think it's nice.
TDR: And thank you so much for doing that! So, big world tour... what are the plans afterwards? A 5 month break? A 5 minute break? (laughs) What's happening?
PG: Oh, I don't know. On Tuesday [June 12] we are having a big meeting to decide what's going to happen in the afterlife. (laughs) As always it's really up to Marie as she's the one we look at. Everyone else are on their knees after all these shows, except Marie! She's a trooper! She's like "Wow!" She's getting to know... get the feel of... I mean she needs 3 or 4 hours in the middle of the day OFF, and when I say OFF I mean OFF! She just wants to be alone. So if we do something on a day off with the band, she doesn't really join us, but that's the way it has to be for her and she learned that over these months. I actually think this year has been the easiest part of the tour for her... to get to know herself a little bit and how to cope. Also of course we try to put the shows... Canada will be a tough one because we're doing 5 shows in 6 days. It's tough on your voice and traveling. It's tiring, but on the other hand we can all collapse 3 weeks later when it's all over! (laughs)
TDR: Speaking of North America, what's happening? Are you guys going to do a big promo tour?
PG: We're in a situation with EMI where nobody really knows if there will be an EMI in the autumn as Universal bought EMI and they are waiting to hear if they are going to sell off their publishing catalogue or what. I'm sure something will happen in the autumn with this merger thing. So nothing is really happening with us record wise in the States. That actually goes for all over the world and it's really disappointing. If you release an album you always want to maximize, get radios to play the new songs... and at the end of the day there's no one there for us and it's really difficult and that's why we stood by our original plan to present basically a greatest hits show instead of promoting a new album on tour like you normally do. Maybe we'll do a couple of new songs for the rest of the tour. We are doing "It's Possible", but that's the only new song we're doing at the moment.
TDR: But that's why you've got young and old coming to the shows as well, because no band has quite the catalogue Roxette has, the songs people know without them being US or UK #1's is unbelievable!
PG: Absolutely! That's why we can do this and be on the road for 19 months as it is a fantastic catalogue.
TDR: Which you should be very proud of...
PG: And we are! Also for todays artists in Top 40 it's hard to build a catalogue like this up. It's very rare. Very few artists do their own stuff. Most pop artists of today, like Katy Perry, rely on Max Martin and his team or whatever and that's how it is. We belong to that school where it's very rare in the Top 40 formula, because what we do is basically what R.E.M or U2 or Depeche Mode have been doing, but we're a little bit more Pop than they are. Although we work on the same premises basically... or what ABBA did in the '70s...
TDR: But they were only around for 10 years, you've seen four decades and been around for almost 30 years! (Per laughs and rolls his eyes, while blushing) Okay, we have a new DVD coming out...
PG: Yes we have!
TDR: ... And there have been some unhappy postings from the fans that it won't be a full 90 minute concert as you mentioned it to be a docu-concert. Can you tell us a little bit more?
PG: Well I can't really because I haven't seen it yet. You know, the things I've said about it is that it's not the hardcore facts how it's going to be. When we see it we'll decide. They filmed 7 shows. We decided early on that we didn't want to do it in the classic manner with the big cranes and stuff. We wanted it done with handheld cameras and make it sorta rough. A little bit like The Last Waltz, sometimes black and white... kind of like Rattle & Hum [U2 concert DVD]... so that's what we are aiming for. I think personally if you have a concert 90 minutes long and you take it down to 60 minutes and inbetween you have a documentary thing with interviews and interviews with fans and then suddenly you go into the next song, you break it down. So you get like a 2 hour DVD. For me I think that's a better film, because otherwise if we should do a DVD the concert will be from A to Z and then you probably need those cranes. It becomes more like a TV thing and we really didn't want to do that... but on the other hand I haven't seen anything yet, but they have like 800 hours of footage or something and it's overwhelming. So we are going to see a first version when we get back home. I guess they'll do a shorter version for TV, like a 45 minute version.
TDR: "Touched by the hand of God" is the new single. Can you tell us about the video?
PG: Yes, "Touched by the hand of God"! Germany wants that. I actually spoke to Marie Dimberg [Rox's manager] about that on the phone today and she is having a meeting next week with EMI which I've heard before. The UK wants to go with "Lover Lover Lover". I said you can go with anything as long as you promote it. Radio 2 in England picked up ("It's Possible")...
TDR: They've been very good to you...
PG: ...but nothing's really happening... It doesn't mean anything unless you do something with it. If you have an A-listed song on Radio 2 it should explode all over to the smaller radio stations in Northern England for example or whatever, but it doesn't happen, because EMI isn't there for us.
TDR: The fact that the fans go into the shops and can't find the singles or the albums...
PG: Nobody knows the albums and singles are out ... Actually here when I went to a Johannesburg radio station, Jacaranda FM, we did an interview and the guys asked me if I want to play a song and I said to play "It's Possible" from the new album, and they didn't have the new album! And it's amazing that we're on tour and we play the song... and that's the way the music industry is today. It's really hard unless you are extremely formatted towards the radio. I just read the other day that, and I've said it many times already, that 90 % of radio stations in the US don't have any people working there... it's all computers! And they play just playlists in the same format. So everyone is just... every radio station you hear in your car play the same songs, because they are all owned by the same company. So it's really hard to break in to that, unless you have a record company that's really pushing pushing pushing. And we haven't had that for many years and also with the situation EMI is in, that they have been sold, they don't know if they will have a job next week... That's why I told everyone you can pick any single you want and promote it, otherwise it doesn't matter. If I get an email saying "We're going to release 'Touched by the hand of God' as a single" and nothing happens with it, you might as well skip sending me the email. It doesn't matter. But uhm, that's the way it is.
TDR: Quickly, one last question before you have to go on stage: Small Apartments! How did it happen and are we getting a soundtrack release?
PG: Yes the album will be out, but I don't know who's going to release it. If it's going to be EMI or... But it's going to be out in the autumn, but on which label I don't know.
TDR: And the songs on the album? Old? New?
PG: There are 5 songs taken as is from "Son of a Plumber" and there are many songs from that album that have been altered and we have done instrumental versions of and re-edited versions, used some of the backing tracks and used orchestras, horns and trumpets and whatever. And then there are a couple of brand new tracks as well, but in the same style. It's a cool album. I wanted it be a soundtrack that's easy to listen to... in the film there will be snippets of certain songs ... there's a fantastic (instrumental) version of "Burned Out Heart" for instance, which is just like 3 seconds in the movie I guess, but the full 4 minutes is on the soundtrack album! We took liberties like that. At the end of the day if you're gonna do a soundtrack is has to be an album you can listen to. At the moment it's 54 minutes which might be too long...
TDR: No it's not ... We like them long! (laughs)
PG: Well I think it's better if it's one song too little than too much.
TDR: Well that's it, I know you are in a rush (Bojo stepped into the dressing room 2 questions ago, while staring at his watch). Thank you Per for this opportunity. I am grateful and humbled. You are a gentleman sir, and all the best for the future. We'll see you on stage!
PG: Only a pleasure!
And off we were to enjoy another night on this seemingly endless joyride.
Hanro Manefeldt for The Daily Roxette & Roxette South Africa signing off.