To all of you who not once in your life had listened to MEW, danish super formation, with captivating vocals and music, you’ve missed on something special. I was super lucky to have an opportunity to speak to MEWs bassist, Johan Wohlert just before their concert in Poland. We’ve spent 30 Minutes on talking music and I have to admit, it was one of those interviews I won’t forget.
This is not you first time in Poland, correct?
No, I know the band played here about 10 years ago at some festival.
I think it was Off Festival in 2010.
Exactly. Me and Jonas visited Poland on a school trip, we were in Krakow and Auschwitz, it was quite interesting and we had a great time. Being so young and traveling first time without your parents is just like Woo Hoo!
How do you feel about a first solo show in Poland?
It’s exciting, obviously I don’t really know what to expect. I think it’s very cool, that we get a chance to play in a country like Poland. First of all it’s not that often that you tour in eastern Europe, yet we’re so close, an hour on a plane from Denmark. It’s kind of silly, that we’re not spending more time here. I hope it can be one of many shows, because what I’ve seen from the city so far, I think it’s lovely. I think one of the most interesting thing of being in a band is the cultural experience you get, it’s nice to play, but it’s also just fantastic to meet different people, see cities and experience different food. I like the traveling part of it.
Did you try pierogi already?
No, I hoped we will get a traditional polish meal for dinner. I love all the sausages and cabbage, but we were served Hawaiian food. Which was nice, but pretty far from what I’ve hoped.
I’ve read in one of your past interviews, that you’ve put out “Visuals” pretty fast, faster as opposed to your previous records. Do you think the process is better like this, with less planning and less overthinking? Or is it better to go for it and take your time?
It’s a good question. I think it really depends on what kind of record you’re making, depends on the strength of the songs. I mean, the Beatles made some pretty amazing records pretty fast, so did Led Zeppelin and lots of other great bands. If you have 10 great songs, I don’t see, why it should take you that long. But I think the type of music we play is very multi-layered, has a lot of details in it, it usually takes a long time to put it together. So it usually takes more time not because we sit around and do nothing. But I think it was important for us to prove to ourselves this time around, that we actually could make a record in two years’ time. In a lot of ways that’s really healthy for you as an artist, to do something, while it still feels relatively fresh. But I also like, when you can take your time and get super nerdy and go back and forth. Making this record fast was something new for us and therefore it was exciting to see if we could actually pull it off.
I wanted to ask about the cover. It’s kind of Halloween-ish, like the mask for Día de los Muertos.
Yes, it’s kind of weird. It was a bit of a coincidence, Jonas does all the live show visuals, had this idea to put a kaleidoscope effect on a computer, when you use the kaleidoscope circles and place them right, they start to kind of look like a face. Jonas said “It kind of looks like a mask, what if we took that from a computer and project it onto our faces”. Honestly we had no idea, that it would end up looking that cool. We actually needed a cover and in the past we always let other artist do it, but this time I was like “Jonas, you’re so good at coming up with all these imaginary fantasy creatures and you do all the live visuals, why don’t we for once try to create a cover, that actually looks like a drop of what we do live.” So one evening we just tried projecting the kaleidoscope effect onto our faces and the first time we did it, we were like “holy shit, it’s so fucked up”, but in a good way. It looks beautiful and really weird, it looks organic, because you can actually see, there’s a human face behind it, but it also looks really processed, computery. There was just something in it, I have never seen anything like it. Then we’ve made a music video, where we used the same technique, we’ve also project a full body suit onto Jones’ naked body. And it just looked really cool. It almost looked computer generated, but at the same time it looked really organic, because it’s all real. I really like processed human art, when you know there’s a human element, but it’s also something that looks otherworldly and inhuman in a way. I think it’s quite interesting in a way. We took this one picture of Jonas, it’s him on the cover, with the mask on and that one picture in particular was like “wow”. It was so MEW in a way, it looks so much like something we would do.
Fun fact, people all around the world have a different interpretation of the cover, because masks a very integral part of their culture. In Denmark we have no particular meaning for masks. But we get asked a lot, if we were inspired by some particular culture.
I think it’s so simple, yet so complicated. There’s just so much going on, you can’t stop starring at it.
I love the facial expression of Jonas, he looks spooked, yet you can tell he has his eyes closed, when you look at it closely. I think it’s the cover I like the best. Not to take away anything from the stuff other people have made for us, but I just think, I would want that shit on my wall. And I don’t think I would want any of the other covers framed, but that one I just think is a piece of art.
There’s always a favorite child.
I don’t know if “Visuals” is my favorite MEW record, but it’s definitely my favorite MEW artwork.
This record is actually more popish than edgy. Obviously every band evolves with their music, progresses and goes forward in one or the other direction. For example Linkin Park were really hard-core and then they went pop. Their fans were not really pleased with the change and we all know, how the story ended. Were you afraid of, how people will react to “Visuals”?
I know what you’re saying and as a band or as an artist I would never do what they did. It seems a little desperate to me, like you’re so much in doubt in your own abilities, that you let some pop producer make songs for you and you put your name on that. No. But I do believe, that every artist should try and evolve. And every artist should try and go places, they haven’t gone before. But obviously there has to be some kind of coherence. There has to be a sound that you recognize, or an element that you recognize. We would never make a jazz record. Like instrumental jazz. If we did, we would need to call it something else, not under the MEW moniker, never. We will always be between what we believe is MEW music. As we lost the guitar player, it was obvious we would do something focused a little more on bass and drums. The freshest thing we could do was to make the songs slightly shorter and make sure all songs had some great choruses. It’s not a straight up pop record, it definitely has elements of pop music we grew up with, which was the cool pop of the 80s. Anything from Kate Bush to Eurythmics. We find huge inspiration in song writing like that. I think in particular on this record it just felt like, we were doing a kind of Talk Talk record, where guitar is almost a background, with a groovy sound, cool keyboards and stuff like that. More pop melodies than more crunchy riffs. But I do miss big crunchy riffs every now and then. So I can imagine us making something heavier next time around. We always try to do the opposite of what we did the last time.
As you are a trio, were you thinking of recruiting the fourth member?
Mads, who plays guitar with us live, he did all the guitars on the record. Obviously the songs were written already, so what he did was more like add guitar part to the songs. But I guess, that guitar approach fitted really well with the songs, that we had. They were not written with big riffs in mind. They were written with bass, drums and keyboard. I also left the band from 2006 to 2013. And they kind of just continued as a trio as well. And I think that sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s difficult, I could imagine next time we write an album, we would probably want to write it with a guitar player. Maybe with Mads, or someone else. This time around it just felt good just to be the three of us. The process was really easy and smooth. There were no big creative arguments, we all kind of knew what we want to make and how to make it. It’s the first record we produced ourselves as well. What was important for us, we kept the whole process internally and easy. We would have died, if we had to create another record like +-, which took forever and was really tough to conceive. I think you can tell, the record is pretty easy, when you listen to it. We weren’t forcing it. We were also pretty well rehearsed, so it didn’t take too long to record it.
You are a band, which stays in the same genre and always puts your sound first, not copying and going with what’s easy and popular at the moment. I guess, you would never go as far to put out a pop song, like “Despacito” or “Anaconda”, or whatever is trending right now. Why do you think people are obsessed with this kind of music?
It’s a big question. I don’t know if I want to know the answer. I think it’s dictated to people in terms of media, what record labels expose people to. I think it’s the same old song. Anytime you see anybody get success with something, a hundred others will copy it. And we just live in an age, where people are just super scared of taking risks musically, because “fuck then I can’t live off of it” or “I’ll lose my fans on Instagram”, whatever the fuck it is. And that’s why everybody just sounds the same. If I turn on the radio, first of all I can’t listen to it, if we’re talking about the mainstream radio. It stinks. I wouldn’t even call most of it music. It’s some kind of OK beat and an auto-tuned vocal. You can’t tell who’s Kanye and who are the posers. I can’t fucking tell who’s who. I think it’s the major problem, no matter what age you live in. Art is about being unique. Art is about not sounding like the other guys or girls out there. When you have this whole copy machine thing it’s pointless to me. Why would you want to sound like Justin Bieber, if you could sound like yourself. I have nothing against Justin Bieber, he’s probably a nice guy. But it’s just this whole mentality. I think people are lazy. This turns into a big talk, the whole thing about having a little bit of knowledge about any topic at your disposal it’s great and convenient, but it makes people so lazy. It makes them stop searching, being curious. Same goes with music, which is getting dumber and dumber and dumber. I kind of lost faith in music for a long time. I think it’s so boring. I really had quite a crisis in my life, because music used to mean everything to me. And when you’re constantly exposed to so called music, which sucks, you just can’t believe how anybody would ever listen to it and find it interesting. When music just gets to be this backdrop for spending time with your mates or cooking. I needed to revisit some of my youth heroes and bands I grew up with, to sort of regain my trust in music. When I reheard some records, I was like “fuck me”, there’s a reason why I loved it as a fourteen year old. There’s a reason why it blew my head off. Because it’s so full of nerve and angst and life and flaws and imperfections and it’s so human. These days it’s just plastic, everybody sounds the same. No matter what, that is a huge problem. Maybe a lot of bad pop music came out in the 80s, but at least the good ones were so easy to tell who’s who. Everybody had their signature sound. That’s not the case today.
I think, the worse is, it’s mostly auto-tuned.
Yes and it’s done by guys with laptops, who just sit there and think it’s a great career. Career as a songwriter is the most unsexy thing ever. It’s so blunt. You would never in a million years catch me doing that. But as a musician, it definitely hurts a little bit, when something that you’ve kind of devoted your life to becomes so blunt and just pointless. I am just waiting for some band to come and kick everybody’s ass. I need it so bad. Like Rage Against The Machine, or someone like that. So I can go like “fuck me, they mean that shit!”. I’m really longing for something like that to happen. That would be the best.
You and me both. I am just tired of auto-tuned pop.
Pop is great, if it’s done well. Right now there’s no point in it.
I’ve made you angry with this question, didn’t I?
No, you’ve made me sad.
I’m so sorry.
I think it’s an interesting discussion from pop cultural point of view, as to how to stay curious as a human being. I like a good documentary on HBO and I like to check a football score on my phone, to have everything available on my fingertips. So it makes me lazy as well. I just think, I am very aware it does. So I try to fight it every now and then. But I feel it on myself, that I’ve become less of a curious person, by having all this access to all the things all the time. I just remember living with records for weeks at a time. When we grew up, we were forced to hear all the not famous songs on the record as well. And in the end those songs were probably the ones you liked the most. But these days it’s like, nobody wants to spend an hour on listening to the eight songs, that are not the hits. Fortunately for a band like us, we have fans, who love all the songs. No songs mean necessary more than others. It’s seen sort of like a whole and people really dig the experience in the whole universe of it. I think it’s an extremely fortunate position to be in as an artist, because it makes it worth writing 10 songs. And not just say “well, fuck the other 8, we will release 2 and go on tour again”. It’s so rare I find a record or even a song that I really like. And I know, every person, you always have this window typically between I guess fifteen and twenty, in terms of your musical education. That’s where you really sort of open to bands or artists, when you develop your musical taste, which will follow you for the rest of your life. It will always be a reference point. But imagine having fucking Nicky Minaj’s music as your point of origin. You’re fucked then.
I’m the 90s child and I have a similar point of view on the topic.
What did you dig?
When I started, it was Marilyn Manson, also early Linkin Park records, then I went through the Emo phase.
My Chemical Romance?
You know it! My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, 30 Seconds to Mars and many more. I loved it, I still love it. I am a rock and heavier music kind of girl. But in what I do now, I need to be into all sorts of music. It doesn’t necessary change my taste, but I like some of it.
I think there’s good music in all genres. I love “The Mechanical Animals” record. It was produced by Michael Beinhorn, who did 2 of our records as well. I just think it’s one of the best records he’s done. It’s a personal preference. I love this whole glam rock vibe, it sound super good. It sounds really organic, they were on fire. If on occasion I DJ, I always play “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me”. It’s such a groove song!
That’s one of my Marilyn Manson’s favorite songs! Thank you for your time, am looking forward to seeing you in a few on stage.