ROXETTE: SWEDISH ROCKERS BASK IN INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT
By PAUL FREEMAN [1992 Interview]
Roxette is back!. In 2010, they embarked on their first world tour since ‘95. 2012 brought a new album, their ninth studio effort, “Travelling.” They’ll be hitting the road again in August, spreading across North America. For the latest news on the band, visit www.roxette.se.
Exciting rock 'n' roll comes not only from New York, L.A., Memphis, Atlanta and London. It can come from anywhere in the world - even Sweden.
The Swedish band Roxette, currently in the middle of an 18-month worldwide tour, is enjoying spectacular record sales. Maybe ABBA wasn't an aberration after all. Roxette's first album roared up Sweden's charts in 1986. Its second, "Look Sharp!" has sold more than six million copies. And the band's latest, "Joyride," has racked up about 9 million sales. Among Roxette's smash singles are "Fading Like a Flower," "It Must Have Been Love," which was featured in the movie "Pretty Woman," and "Church of the Heart."
The band, fronted by singer Marie Fredriksson and vocalist/guitarist/ songwriter Per Gessle, creates an infectious brand of pop-rock that is smooth yet has bite. Their fellow Swedes are justly proud of them.
"While there's jealousy among other musicians," Gessle says, "there's a huge amount of respect from the media and the public for what we've done. But people in the street don't really know how hard it is to crack the world market in the music industry. Of those who have tried, 99 percent failed."
Gessle believes timing was right for his group. "Everyone tends to think in more global terms now. My home country used to be so isolated. In the last few years, other countries began to have more of a cultural impact on us. English radio was always the worst, playing nothing but English and American artists. They're now suddenly playing Italian music, Latin music. Artists from all over are having an influence. There are a lot of German bands having success in Scandinavia right now. The world seems more like a global community."
Gessle and Fredriksson had separately become superstars in Sweden in the early '80s. They decided to team up and broaden their horizons. "I'd been playing all these venues in Sweden 10 times over," Gessle says. "I wanted to do something different. We said, 'Let's do something in English and see how far we can go.' We hoped to break through in Europe. America and the U.K seemed like too unrealistic a goal.
"When I started writing when I was 13 years old," he continues, "it was in English, because I'd been listening to British and American music all my life. Eventually I changed to Swedish. So it wasn't difficult switching back again."
His music has been, to some degree, flavored by his cultural background. "We're basically a very international band, but the music of Sweden is in our blood. In school, we sang all the Swedish folk songs, which are very beautiful, very melodic, very sad. They're similar to the folk songs of Northern England, and you can hear that influence in what Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) is doing."
The primary influence on Roxette, which was named for a single of the same name by the British band Dr. Feelgood, has been late-'60s rock. "The songs were based around strong melodies," Gessle explains. "Generally, today's pop is dance music and rap. Obviously, there is still a wide variety of people who appreciate good, melodic songs. That's what Roxette is all about."
The band's appeal has a broad base. "A lot of people think we attract only 14-year-olds. That's totally wrong. In Europe, the average has been 20, 22. In America, it's seemed older, maybe 27, 30, which has surprised us."
Because Roxette's music is so deliciously commercial, the band has not been a darling of critics. "If critics think we're too pop or too middle-of-the-road, then they must have listened to only a couple of hit singles, not our albums. It seems that you can't sell a huge number of records and have good reviews. In eight years, ABBA never got a good review in Sweden."
Gessle reports that the music scene in Sweden is a diverse one. "There's a lot of heavy metal. We have a long tradition of singer-songwriters in Sweden, the Leonard Cohen, Rickie Lee Jones types. There's even rap in Swedish these days."
Roxette's first album, "Pearls of Passion," though it created a sensation at home, didn't make a ripple in America. It looked as if the follow- up, "Look Sharp!" would suffer the same fate. Then an American exchange student brought a Swedish copy of the album to a Minneapolis radio station, which broke the single "The Look." The song became a hit before the record was even released here.
"A couple of months earlier," Gessle says, "the record companies had turned it down, saying, 'It doesn't sound American enough. No one will play it on the radio.' We said, 'What is American enough?' Why wasn't the question simply, 'Is it good or is it bad?' Music isn't about nationality. We thought we'd have to try again next time. So the surprise success was a bit of revenge.
"It's the sort of hit record that artists all over the world want - the people's choice. It wasn't pushed by record companies or independent promotion. People wanted to hear it and that's what made it a hit."
Gessle is relieved that "Joyride" is even more successful than "Look Sharp!" "There was pressure. But in some ways, 'Joyride' was easier, because, by that stage of our careers, we knew exactly what type of album we wanted to do. We were going on a big tour, so almost all of the songs were written on the guitar, to give us something dynamic and pliable when we performed them live. On 'Look Sharp!' some of the material, which we did with an English producer, was Euro-pop. It was an interesting experience, but it really wasn't Roxette."
Gessle says he is now ready for the attention he is getting. "Having success on this level worldwide is so different from having success in Sweden. It's very strange. I'm thankful I'm not going through this at the age of 21. It takes experience in life and in the music industry to handle it."
As for Roxette's future, "I think it's still going to be the same three chords," he says, laughing. "The band is coming together so much more on this tour. When we go into the studio again, we will take advantage of the energy and tightness."