After the departure of guitarist Bo Madsen, Mew has been busy promoting their latest album Visuals with a surprising twist to fans. Finished within the span of just one year, the record is described as Mew’s most compact piece of work – one that encapsulates the band’s everlasting chemistry but without the lengthy numbers Mew was previously known for. To commemorate their show in May for this year’s installment of Urbanscapes, JUICE speaks to bassist Johan Wohlert about the band’s longevity and his excitement to perform songs from their new record live for us Malaysian fans.
Images Sasha Ryabina
Very excited for the new album Visuals. It is your most concise album yet, what were you trying to capture in the record in terms of emotions?
Oh, good question. I think the general emotion that we have in this record is just very positive, and the vibe of the songs are just very upbeat. The tempos are a little faster than the last time, the songs are a little shorter. There are a lot of really great choruses on the record, you know. A lot of really great melodic moments, and umm, I just think as a whole it’s a little like you said, concise, and a little more to the point. Because [with] the last record, we tried to make really long songs, but this time around it just feels right to do shorter songs that had a little more spunk.
“… the main inspiration for the past couple of records has always been Mew.”
It is said that Visuals is a record affected by current news and the death of an icon (David Bowie). Being a band that is not political, what particular news inspired your songwriting process for this record?
I think the main inspiration for the past couple of records has always been Mew. You know, it has always been us. It’s trying to look at a history of the band and just sort of you know, listen to what we love about the band and try to refine that. When you have a band that has been going as long as we have – which is like 20 years – you reach a point where you sorta start referring back to yourself for inspiration because you have your own style. I think that was the case for the new record as well. We just wanted to do songs that were different from the last record but still sounded like, y’know, Mew.
So, would you say it’s to honour your band as a whole after all these years?
I don’t think it’s about honouring, I think it’s about celebrating. And just to keep the style of the band alive, so to speak.
So Johan, you left the band in 2006 to prepare for fatherhood. What are some of differences you feel after having a family and re-joining the band?
I was out of the band for 7 years and at a point I just started missing playing together with the boys and the travelling that we did together. Actually, I missed the music and I just think that when it came time to do the + – record, the producer called me and asked, “How would you like to maybe come back into the band and then record this record with us?” So, I felt pretty blessed to be given the chance to play in the band again because I didn’t expect to, really. I kinda thought that it was a done chapter in my life but I think it’s been great to be back.
Is this proof that nothing can get in the way of passion?
Oooh, I think it’s actually a good example of that. If you have the passion for something, you can take it really far.
“[Being in a band is] kinda like a marriage in a way, you know?”
You guys grew up together and then stayed as Mew for two decades. What’s the secret behind this long lasting teamwork and friendship? It’s still a better love story than Twilight.
It’s kinda like a marriage in a way, you know? Where you become very close in many ways and I think if you can sort of, manage to stay good friends, then there’s no real time limit on how long you can work together. Obviously [if] the work is enjoyable, and you feel like the work is going in the right direction. I mean, it’s weird because bands don’t usually last this long, but I just think that we somehow manage to stay true to who we were and to just try and keep it exciting and be good friends. I think that’s the key.
What are your thoughts on uprising bands on their persistence to maintain creative freedom and not signing onto big labels?
It’s all up to each individual band. I have no real opinion on what’s right for anybody else, I just think it’s good if you insist on having your creative freedom. I will always say that at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing obviously. But other things come into play as well as far as sonically and career-wise and all that, but when it’s to make a long-lasting career, not showing any compromise in your creativity is probably the one trait that will get you the furthest because it’s all about being original and having the guts to try out stuff that other people maybe don’t do. Try to stick out and be original.
“I can tell with a band like us, it’s obvious that we’re not British and it’s obvious that we’re not American.”
Coming from Denmark, is there a specific sound your country has in terms of music production?
I think you can hear a lot of artistes coming from Scandinavia that have this certain Scandinavian sound that is typically a little melancholic and sort of moody. But I don’t know if there’s a typical Danish sound – I can tell with a band like us, it’s obvious that we’re not British and it’s obvious that we’re not American. So, I think that you can sorta tell that we come from somewhere else, and that the sound is probably Nordic in a way.
“We have made records from everywhere from the countryside mainland to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, it always sounds kinda Nordic and kinda moody and melancholic.”
Mew’s music can be described as something that is almost atmospheric, but personally, what kinda setting are you in to produce this kind of music?
Umm, that’s a good question. I mean, I think what we’ve been doing over the years is that the actual physical setting doesn’t really influence our music that much. We have made records from everywhere from the countryside mainland to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, it always sounds kinda Nordic and kinda moody and melancholic. So I don’t think it really matters where we are, I think it just comes from within. It’s more like what does your soul feel like and what do you feel, that’s kinda what shines through in the music than the physical frame of where we are.
That’s very interesting. It’s as if you carry that sound with you everywhere you go, and your environment does not affect it as it’s from the inside.
Mew is set to perform on 10 May ’17 at KL Live as part of Urbanscapes 2017. Get updates of the band’s show by following the event page here.