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Jonas Bjerre of Mew
Unusual & Unexpected
by Matt Crawford on Aug 21, 2009
Mewís brand of rock, with its multiple layers, time changes and unconventional arrangements, is hard to categorize. Perhaps thatís why the Danish band found it hard to name its fifth album with a simple word or phrase. The group returns to the U.S. on the eve of the release of No more stories, are told today, Iím sorry, they washed away, No more stories, the world is grey, Iím tired, Letís wash away for a string of solo gigs and dates opening for unlikely bedfellows Nine Inch Nails. See Mew in San Francisco at The Independent on September 4th. Jonas Bjerre (vocals/guitar) spoke with SF Station during a phone interview from Copenhagen.
SF Station (SFS): The title of your new album is getting a lot of attention. Was that your idea?
Jonas Bjerre (JB): The title is the lyrics for one of the very short songs on the album. We have a history of having long titles, even for the songs. On this album, we wanted to react against that and have short titles for everything but it didnít really work out. We couldnít figure out a word or a couple of words that felt right, and we ended up really struggling with it.
Bo (guitarist) called me and suggested that we use the whole poem. Some people are kind of annoyed with it. We did it mostly because we think it looks really nice graphically. Iím sure people are going to call it No More Stories; itís kind of a shame if it gets stuck like that. Itís not the longest album title ever.
SFS: Thatís right. Fiona Apple still has you beat by a few words.
JB: She deserves that record. Thatís cool.
SFS: This is your fifth studio album. Does it feel routine at this point?
JB: Not at all, actually. One of the good things about our band that is also kind of a curse is we donít seem to learn from our mistakes that much. Itís always kind of a struggle to finish a record and every time we finish one we say, ďNext time it is going to be easy and spontaneous.Ē I donít think we are able to do it that way. Weíre perfectionistic, so itís not routine at all and itís a great challenge every time. Also, touring is still nerve-racking once in a while. I think thatís a good thing too.
SFS: What was a recent nerve-racking experience?
JB: When I go onstage I feel there is a state of mind I have to be in to perform well. I have to be in that state of mind to feel like I am communicating with the audience. I donít speak so much on stage; itís a feeling of conveying the music and giving back. Sometimes, something will happen, like a technical flaw.
The last time we played The Fillmore, the power went out and I didnít know what to do because that hadnít happened for a really long time. I tried telling jokes and then I went over to the piano and started to play and sang some songs. In the beginning, it was nerve-racking, but after awhile I thought the whole mood was kind of cozy and I really enjoyed it. It ended up being my favorite show on the tour. Sometimes you need that to get that special feeling.
SFS: Both Bono and Trent Reznor are fans, which was more surprising?
JB: Thatís a hard question to answer. I guess Trent Reznor. When he first asked us to tour with him, I was a little bit worried that his fans might think we are too soft because we donít have that same edge. But we toured with him in Europe and itís been really good so far. I was really happy because I respect Trent Reznor a lot and I think he is a really talented guy.
The Bono thing was a TV interview where he mentioned us. It was more of a fleeting thing, but I didnít know he knew about us. That was great, too.
SFS: What have you learned from touring with Trent?
JB: We hung out a little bit. Heís a great guy and has a lot of cool ideas about music and where itís headed -- the whole death of the album, and everything. Heís really into that and the future of the music industry.
He calls our music 'unusual and unexpected', which is cool because we are not deliberately trying to be unusual but we are definitely deliberately trying to surprise people. If music surprises me -- if it does something unexpected -- Iím not prepared for it and it reaches deeper into me because I donít have a shield up. With most music on the radio, after 10 seconds you know the whole song and everything that is going to happen. It doesnít have as much of an impact if you are prepared for it.
SFS: Your band seem very album-oriented. Are you worried about ďthe death of the albumĒ?
JB: We are not happy with the death of the album at all! Weíre going to keep making albums, no matter what happens. A lot people talk about just creating tracks, but to us itís very important to have a complete body of work. Thatís not to say we canít make individual songs, but we really love the album format and thatís what we grew up with.
SFS: The video diaries and the video for the first single ďIntroducing Palace PlayersĒ have a common cinematic theme with elements of horror and science fiction. Are those themes you intentionally tried to include?
JB: Yeah, but I didnít make the ďPalace PlayersĒ video. It was our friend who had this vision about the contrast of nature and science. He has this whole idea about minerals coming alive. I think only he can explain it, but we really like it a lot. I feel like itís an art installation as much as it is a music video (See it here: bit.ly/4fuhu).
I try to make the video diaries a bit more interesting than the fly-on-the-wall approach with a band in the studio. I think thatís been seen too many times, and Iím a little bit bored with that. I tried to give the episode a theme that shows a little bit about what we are doing and what goes on in our heads. Sometimes thereís some humor or horror. We just try to make it interesting.
Mew performs at The Independent on September 4th. Tickets are $18 doors open at 8:30pm and the show starts at 9pm.
by Matt Crawford on Aug 21, 2009