Currently storming across the US in support to brand new LP “Visions”, we recently had the privilege to sit down with Jonas Bjerre, vocalist, guitarist and visualist of Danish alt-prog stalwarts Mew, to pick his brain about the band’s past, present and future:
Riot Nerd: So I want to start off with the new album, “Visuals”. I gave it a listen and I just want to add I’ve been listening to Mew for a while. I gotta say, this new album sounds pretty glorious.
Johan Bjerre: Ah, thank you!
RN: I want to talk about the creative process behind this album. You said in a recent interview that you usually create the visuals (for the concert) after recording the music but this time you created the visuals first and then made the music as a response. How was that experience?
Johan: Well, to elaborate it was born out of a response to find new inspiration. When you’ve been writing songs for a long time you tend to fall into a pattern or a routine, so (the album) was all about finding inspiration in new places. We just tried to do the visuals first to make it more inspiring and let it dictate the music more. It was very interesting; it worked in some cases and other times it did not but it was a great experience nonetheless.
RN: I find that very process fascinating. I do visual art and I’m used to usually responding to something audibly instead of making something to have someone create musically in response. I also read a lot of spontaneity went into writing the lyrics as well; you talked about not wanting to be ‘holed up in a cave’. It seems like there is more of an intuitive response this time when recording and creating the album.
Johan: Definitely. Since we historically have spent a long time on records we thought it would be a good creative challenge to work a little ‘freer’ and not over-think things too much. In the past, we may have been guilty of really over-thinking things and second guessing ourselves. This time we had to go with a little more a gut instinct: if it felt good the first time and it still felt good the second time you heard a piece of music, it was probably because it was good. So trusting our instincts a little more and…I feel like ‘going with the flow sounds so wrong (laughs).
Johan: Just trying to be a little more free and seeing where the music wanted to go naturally instead of over-thinking it.
RN: I get it, I totally understand where you’re coming from. This is also the first album you’ve made since your bassist Bo Madsen, a founding member, left the group in 2015. How did this create new challenges or new ways of making work?
Johan: Going from a four-piece to a three-piece is obviously different so it will always result in a different way of working, but we’ve been doing it for so long that we now have a sort of method and we’ve stuck with that for creating work. When it came down to, at least, playing together and hatching out the songs in that sense it felt pretty familiar and comfortable even though we were now three and not four. Depending on the personnel the music will always be different. I was out of the band for seven years and they did a record called “No More Stories” without me, and even though I love that record it still sounds different than the previous ones we did together as the four of us. So I think the new one still sounds like Mew but it also sounds different since it’s just the three of us now. Naturally, it sounds different.
RN: Yeah, it seems like with everything we’ve discussed with this album, there’s a lot of changes; not only in becoming a trio but also in the creative approach and song writing. It’s more a an intuitive and adaptive theory. Again, just…going with it and seeing where things lead. It’s kind of fascinating to hear you talk about it.
Johan: Yeah, I think when changes happen you often need some kind of reaction and I think this was just how we naturally reacted to the situation. We thought “Okay, this is going to be different so we might as well embrace it and see how far we can take it and make a new and fresh direction.”
RN: Do you think this sense of spontaneity will carry over into future projects?
Johan: I don’t know. We tend to do the exact opposite of what we did the last time around so…I wouldn’t be surprised if we did something really complicated the next time! (laughs) That is the nature of the band, but again we’re in a very different place now on a personal level so the mood is more easier going and lighter. I think that some of that natural ease in regards to working together will continue, but on a musical level wanting to stretch a little out and maybe be counter-reactive to what we made the last time. That would be our normal, new procedure at least.
RN: This notion of being different with everything you do: I think that is one of the appeals of your group. You don’t expect the same thing every time, at least I enjoy it.
Johan: Definitely. I think it’s something we take pride in. We were always kind of a period band at heart and the creative process of the general thing is going forward into where you’ve never gone before. I mean, if you don’t then what’s the point?
RN: Okay, I’m going to change it up here since we’re getting near the end. Anything that you’re currently into right now, not necessarily music but perhaps a book or film or maybe something crazy that you’re really into right now?
Johan: Wow. Uh…good question! We’re all into all sorts of things. Right off the top of my head…yeah…we all bring books on tour to occupy our time. I’m currently reading a book on The Jesus and Mary Chain. That’s always a little entertaining: a little rock-n-roll history.
Mew’s “Visuals” is available now.