Interview: Mew

By on Friday, 30th October 2009 at 12:00 pm

Mew (album cover)Mew‘s new album, the rather lengthily 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’, is one of my favourites of 2009 so far. I was fortunate enough to get get frontman Jonas Bjerre to answer a few quick questions….

Hello Jonas. What are you up to today?

I am making a new animation for the live visuals, it’s a pretty ambitious one with armatures and play dough and fimo clay, reindeer skulls. I am also drinking coffee and later on today I’m gonna cook some beets that I have lying around here..

When I caught you at the ICA a couple of months ago, you had some brilliant projections behind you. Did you do these yourselves, or do you have a friend that does these for you? Now you’re playing bigger venues in November, are we going to see a bigger and more exciting production?

I do pretty much all of them myself, though we are using a bit of new material from the directors who have made our new music videos for this album. It’s a very time consuming matter, but it’s very rewarding as well.

Your new album is absolutely amazing. When you started writing for it, did you have any idea of the direction you wanted to go in? Or did it just all happen organically? It certainly seems a bit more upbeat than “And the Glass Handed Kites”.

Thank you! We had a few themes we wanted in there, definitely summer and sun and warmth, kind of like a counter-reaction to what seemed to have a hold of us during the making of Kites.

After the jump: Jonas talks tree-top gigs, naked people and palindromes.

On the subject of songwriting – how does it start for you? Lyrical concept? A riff?

Very rarely the song happens out of lyrical content, those usually assemble in my head while we’re playing the songs, although sometimes I walk around and think of them or I sit at home or in the park writing. But usually the words form in my mouth as I’m creating the melodies. The songs come together in many different ways. Often it’s a riff and beat from Bo and Silas and then I put melodies and sometimes chords to it on the piano or keyboard. Sometimes the songs are written very traditionally, a skeleton formed at the piano with singing, but mostly the songs are like little puzzles, each piece its own thing, and we put them together in different ways, transposing, using a little glue once in a while.

Your sound is incredibly unusual and innovative. Do you think that music of today is too, well, boring and safe?

Well you know, I do think the state of things on a greater scale are looking a bit gloomy. But there are worse problems in the world than people having bad taste in music. There has always been a trend to follow and sometimes it’s been good, but now it seems the industry is just generally underestimating peoples sense of adventure when it comes to music, and they put their money on what seems safe, what will render a fast but short stream of revenue. Radio sucks most places and people just aren’t exposed to the good stuff. So they keep buying crap and the industry keeps producing crap, it’s supply and demand. The economy is bad and that has made it worse for a while. But it seems like now things are so bad, new things are emerging through the crap, and you see really good bands, inventive bands, do well on the charts.

Mew (side)“New Terrain” can be played both forwards and backwards. What was the idea behind this? Was it difficult to produce?

It was something we were hoping would work and luckily it did. A sort of palindrome song even though the lyrical content is not the same backwards. But it makes sense in both directions and is audible. It was not all that hard, but I think it was an idea that came from an inspired moment, maybe it was just random, but it felt like it came from a place.

You’ve supported some pretty impressive bands such as REM and Nine Inch Nails. What bands would you love to go on the road with?

Oh that’s hard to say. If Kate Bush went on tour and performed the Hounds of Love album from start to finish, that’s something I would love to support! And the Pixies and Prefab Sprout. And the Beatles.

Likewise, you’ve supported the likes of Bloc Party and Kasabian. What do you think of the British music scene compared to Denmark?

When we started out a lot of bands in Denmark were imitating whatever was happening in the UK and partly in the US as well. And because at that time things were not all that globalized they usually did it 3-4 years too late.. there were some really interesting bands happening too, bands that had their own voices, but they were rare and undiscovered and most of them eventually disappeared. Some of them made it. People have seen now that it can be done, that you can succeed even if you’re kinda weird and don’t sound like what’s on the radio. So now there are some really good bands coming out and some of them even make it across the pond.

There is still a bit of imitating going on, lately a lot of bands seem very heavily influenced by bands like Arcade Fire. But look, it’s hard for a young band to find their own sound, it takes time. What bothers me is when bands don’t even try, they’re not ambitious about being inventive, they just wanna be successful and rip off other bands and get girls (or boys). But the Danish music scene is better than it ever was when we started out I think. And there are some really interesting bands.

Before going on stage, do you have any rituals?

We each have rituals I think. I’ve noticed Silas starts warming up his hands a bit, and I can tell his mind is fixed on rhythm. I usually do this breathing thing that helps me focus and wakes up my slumbering singing muscles. Before we go on stage we gather and form a circle and say a magic chant.

What would be a cool location you’d like to do a gig at?

We played this old movie theater in Moscow once, that was really cool, and the screen was already there! I usually like older looking theaters, places that have history. The Fillmore in San Francisco is really nice. But if my imagination was allowed to go wild I would want us to play in a big forest somewhere, we’d each play in a different treetop and place speakers all over the forest to create strange surround-sound ambience and the audience would all be naked.

Where would Mew like to be in 5 years time?

I think all of us in the band, we’re hoping to expand our field of vision to more than music, although music will always be the pillar the holds everything together. We need to keep experimenting and try new things, visual art, let stuff happen. If we get too comfortable it’s not gonna work.

Finally, what music and books are you guys really enjoying at the moment?

There’s a Norwegian writer I love, called Lars Saabye Christensen. I don’t know if he’s been translated to English but he should. He is a little bit like a modern day Knut Hamsun (without the Nazi leanings). My friend Coco gave me his new book for my birthday and I’m looking forward to some quiet time to get started. I am mad about the Hounds of Love album these days. And I just got the “new” Prefab Sprout album which is growing on me. Some friends of mine called Silo gave me some of the premixes of their upcoming album which is really innovative and catchy.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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