After a miraculous 20 years of touring the world, Mew returned with their seventh studio album Visuals earlier this year. From backstage somewhere in San Diego, California preparing for their last American show, bass player Johan Wohlert spoke to OLIVIA SENIOR about their first album without long time guitarist Bo Madsen. He said they are looking forward to a short three-day stopover in Copenhagen, the place they call home, before heading to Singapore, Japan and Australia, including Perth for the very first time.
Does Visuals feel like it’s been 20 years in the making?
(laughs) That is a good question. No I don’t think it does and its actually kind of interesting that this time around there’s been a lot of talk about us having done this for 20 years and I think it’s pretty relative, you know, the amount of years we’ve been doing it. For us it feels like this is another record and this is another step in a new uncharted direction where we hadn’t really gone before. For us it just doesn’t feel like 20 years but I think it’s great that we’ve managed to keep it together for that long. I’m pretty proud about that fact.
I read you started to record this album back at home in Copenhagen and you ended up producing it yourselves, what was the experience like finishing this album independently?
Well it was pretty good. It started out as more of an experiment because we had a lot of song ideas beaten around after the previous world tour we did back in 2015 and it just felt like, lets give it a go and let’s see if we can sort of get these songs into shape and then we decided whether we needed somebody to come in and produce it. After we had done four or five songs it just felt like you know what, we might as well just continue doing this ourselves because we were really pleased with the result. I think it was a lucky experiment that turned out well so it felt good. We did everything on the record down to artwork and music videos and live visuals so I think we needed to keep it very internal this time round. Having gone from being four guys to just three guys it felt right to do everything we possibly could ourselves.
Did losing your guitarist Bo Madsen this time round change the process at all?
I wouldn’t say so, not on a practical musical level. We pretty much went on business as usual but obviously on a human basis it changes and the outcome obviously changes, you know, in regards to who’s in the band at the given time, so I think it was somewhat different but the process itself was pretty similar with what we were used to.
Did the video clip for 85 Videos come before or after you decided to call the album Visuals?
Sort of at the same time kind of because we knew we had to come up with some artwork for the record and Jonas (Bjerre, singer) had this idea of doing kaleidoscope masks on the computer and projecting them with a video projector on the human body and the face, not necessarily to create a video but just to see what it would look like and if he could do some cool image with that, and it just looks stunning! Well to us at least. We were so in awe by how it turned out because we didn’t know what to expect initially. When that sort of came about we started messing around with that. We just thought, hey, we should do a whole video like this.
It’s very unique…
Yeah defiantly, I’ve never seen it done before at least. It just looks organic but at the same time really alien. It’s weird.
How does being so visual with your sounds help you guys express yourselves?
I just think it sort of enlarges everything. It’s like a movie score, we all know a feeling of watching a movie and then hearing a really great song accompanying the movie, it makes it more memorable and it makes it bigger somehow. And emotionally it hits you a little harder. I think the two things have gone hand in hand and at least for us as a band we’ve always experimented with, especially live, visuals even when we were just starting out. I just think it enhances everything.
I hear your live shows are really breathtaking…
I think it sort of underpins the emotional content of the song and it gives people that third dimension they can sort of just float into. I think that’s a huge part of the new live experience is that you get these dream worlds you can just sort of float away in.
You have the control of how people can experience your music at your live shows but how would you prefer someone to experience the record at home?
I think our music in general is great for sort of image evoking so I think if you take a walk in a beautiful surrounding, you know, in a forest or in the mountains, anywhere you can sort of clear your mind and just float away. It’s the sort of music that requires attention a little bit so it’s not really meant as background music, you need to pay attention when you hear it. Somewhere calm is probably the best place.
Although your sound has changed over the years you’ve developed a very distinct style… how would you describe it in a few words?
We call it a mixture of art rock and Scandinavian noir.
Is that style derived from outside influences or have you had enough experience that you continue to be your own form of inspiration?
I think that’s very much the case when you’ve done seven records like us, you start referring back to yourself in terms of inspiration rather than looking for it outside. I think there is a very distinct sound and therefore it’s more important for us to make sure it stays within the compliance and boundaries of our sound. We pay very little attention to what’s going on in the music world outside of our own really.
How do you keep the momentum up after so many years?
I think it’s a simple matter of if it still feels important and if it still feels like it’s fun. It seems like we continue to be able to play in new and exciting places and take the music to new crowds and new places all over the world and I think as long as we feel we’re here and we’ve done something cool and something that on top of that makes other people happy, that’s really what drives us.
Would you say anything to your younger self?
I would say that I’m really pleased that my young self had so much ambition and such a drive and self believe because the lord knows that it takes that to keep a band going for 20 years and to take it to the level we’ve taken it. It’s a long long journey and it requires hardship, you go through hardship. I would say you did well, you somehow managed to turn your dream into your livelihood and your career and not many people can say that unfortunately.
And to head over to Australia more…?
You know what! We went there for the first time back in 2015 and I absolutely loved it! I really didn’t have much expectation in terms of how it was going to be but I was a massive fan of Sydney as a city as it was the one we got to spend the most time in. That mixture of beach vibe and big city combined with great food and really nice living was amazing, I would love to come down more often but it’s just far away.
What can we expect when you head over?
What we do best is deliver an emotional experience. We’ve never been about irony or tongue in cheek or anything like that, it’s just an honest emotional and musical experience.