The Roxette Gazette

Per Gessle in a big interview about the film venture, family worries and the Ferrari collection

ArticleRasmus BlomKING • 2024, Issue 2 •

Note: This has been translated from the original Swedish.

KING

Gyllene Tider is to become a film, Roxette a musical and he himself has a new album in the pipeline with Sweden’s artistic elite as guests. In an exclusive interview, triple act Per Gessle talks about his historic career in the service of pop music, the close deaths of recent years, and what Bruce Springsteen is like as a host.

From the roof of the Grand Hôtel you can see all of Stockholm. When you stand up there with the spring wind in your hair, you have the Royal Palace in one direction and Per Gessle’s penthouse apartment in Östermalm in the other. Then it strikes you that not even Sweden’s most luxurious hotel suite tops the legendary artist’s ordinary everyday life. “My ceiling is someone else’s floor,” to quote the poet Nils Ferlin.

With 100 million records sold, four Billboard hits, two floors on Strandvägen, half of Tylösand, Europe’s finest Ferrari garage and a Picasso, you can sit back and relax. Per Gessle is usually too restless for a holiday, but this time he’s looking forward to sinking into a sun lounger in the Maldives – two weeks at the Four Seasons, as befits a rock star. For when he returns, another busy year awaits: his first band will become a cinema film, his second band will become a musical, and his solo career will be gilded with a new album.

The day before our meeting in the Flag Suite at the Grand, we meet at his home on Strandvägen, the address that for most Swedes represents the last step on the ladder of success. To reach Strandvägen is to pass the game Sweden. Level 100.

Per Gessle has two floors on the parade street, one where he lives and one where he works. He could have charged an entrance fee to the working floor, which is more reminiscent of a pop museum than an office, but instead he welcomes you with freshly brewed coffee and Ballerina biscuits under the rustic beamed ceilings and windows overlooking Djurgården and Skeppsholmen.

– “We have lived here since 1993. The apartments were for sale together so we bought the lower floor to live in Stockholm and this floor as a studio. I recorded Belinda Carlisle here in the 90s, but then I realised I’m so incredibly untechnical, so I dismantled the studio. Now I use it as my office, I take my meetings here and sit and write my songs, as you can see there are instruments everywhere. It also has a nice view with good sunlight, if it’s sunny in Stockholm, it’s sunny here.”


References to pop culture are everywhere: an Elvis bust, a Playboy pinball machine, old stage clothes, a large black grand piano and lots of expensive electric guitars. A lifetime of objects and details. Books are crammed from floor to ceiling: rock biographies, pop memoirs, photo volumes, exclusive special editions and a signed David Hockney book so huge it requires its own stand. Pop art hangs on the walls: Andy Warhol originals of Mick Jagger, Hans Gedda originals of Cornelis Vreeswijk and Anton Corbijn originals of U2. Between a portrait of August Strindberg and a glazed-in small Ferrari model is a gold-framed photo of a beautiful woman with dark eyes.

– “Isn’t she beautiful? That’s Åsa in the 80s when we met. She was a model in Paris at the time,” says Per proudly.

Åsa and Per have been married since the summer of 1993. She’s the one all the hundreds of love songs from 1985 onwards are about. Together they have their son Gabriel and Hotel Tylösand, the beach hotel in Halmstad that they bought in the mid-90s and now own 60 percent of. Åsa (“the boss”) is in charge of the design and spa department, among other things. You can tell she works with spas, she spreads calming energy when she looks in and chats during the interview. During our meeting at the Grand Hôtel, she comes by with pastries.

The couple divide their time between Stockholm, their villa outside Tylösand and their suitcase.

– “In a normal year, we spend a third of our time in Stockholm, a third in Halmstad and a third travelling. In recent years, it has become more Halmstad because Åsa works so much with the hotel. Her son went to high school in Halmstad, but he lives here in Stockholm now.”

As a world-touring pop star and hotel owner for almost 30 years, Per Gessle is something of a connoisseur when it comes to hotels. So what characterises a strong hotel experience, according to Halmstad’s own Basil Fawlty?

– “First and foremost, it’s about being seen as a customer. You’re paying for a service, so you need to feel that you’re important. Secondly, my personal favourite hotels are not necessarily the fanciest. Super fancy hotels can be fun, but I like unique boutique hotels with a special feel. In London I always stay at Brown’s, in New York at Whitby and in Miami at The Edition.”

I nod towards a book about the legendary Studio 54 nightclub in New York created by The Edition founder Ian Schrager.

– “I was actually at Studio 54 once. Me, Anders Herrlin and Mats Olsson from the Express, who is a good friend. It must have been 1981. We were let in thanks to Mats Olsson’s girlfriend at the time who wore a short leopard skirt. There were many lovely odd characters there. It was just as you would imagine.”


When you have an absolute ear for pop tunes like Per Gessle, Benny Andersson or Max Martin, you can’t fail. Just look at Gessle’s career – apart from a blip in the 1984/85 album when Gyllene Tider was over (“I was a has-been at 26”) and he was a hired gun for other artists (most memorably the lyrics to Lena Philipsson’s Kärleken är evig), it’s been a constant success. “Sommartider”, “Listen to Your Heart” or “Här kommer alla känslorna på ett och samma gång” – different styles, different constellations, different eras, but all of them carry Per Gessle’s strong genes and become instant hits. Music that goes straight into the central nervous system. It’s the kind of magic that makes 70,000 people gather in a football stadium in São Paulo and sing songs written in Halmstad. Per Gessle himself is humble about his success and likes to blame it on luck, but if he had to point to something else, it would be the melodies.

– "My music is very melodic and often easy to take to heart. But why it turned out the way it did, I don’t really know. The hardest thing I’ve done was to break through with Gyllene Tider, because it came out of nowhere, which the film is also about. The next hard thing was breaking through with Roxette. It was a whole new journey and you can analyse to death how it happened, but we had luck, timing and talent. We were in the right place at the right time, but the likelihood of that happening was so small at that time, especially the time before what is usually called the Swedish pop wonder. There was absolutely no advantage in not coming from England or the US. We really had to fight for it – during the promotion of “The Look” in England, the record company wrote that we were an American band. It was not possible to say we were from Sweden. When Marie got sick in 2002, I started working on “Mazarin”, which was my first solo album since ’85. When the album came out in 2003, it became gigantic and led to Gyllene Tider embarking on their biggest tour ever the following year with an average of 30,000 people every night. So success breeds success, while the hardest part is following up on success.

He only writes when he feels inspired.

– “Sometimes I’ll be sitting in front of the TV watching some bad programme and I’ll pick up my guitar and start playing, but otherwise I say I write as little as possible. I know there are many people who say just the opposite. That as an artist and songwriter you have to have discipline, and of course you do, but I don’t sit at the piano between nine and five. I only work when I have an idea or a project, when I feel that I have something in my system that needs to get out. Then I go into my bubble and throw up, as my wife calls it. I become anti-social and completely hopeless to go to a restaurant with, because I just sit and think about some phrase in the second verse. It’s probably some kind of ADHD. I go into it 110 percent.”

The lyrics are the most time-consuming.

– “The lyrics take so much time and effort. It takes a lot of concentration to get a decent text. Finalising a text gets harder and harder every year, not least because you’ve written so much that it’s easy to repeat yourself. You try to find an angle in a text. Who is telling the story? What are you telling us about? Why are you telling it? When I wrote to Marie in Roxette, I tried to write from her point of view. It’s interesting to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Writing lyrics is much harder for me than writing music, but at the same time it’s more rewarding because it’s so difficult. Writing lyrics is complex, because I want to be revealing but only to a certain extent. I don’t do many interviews because I have no need for celebrity. I don’t want to flaunt my life and my family. The texts I like most are the universal ones that everyone can identify with. It’s about finding very basic subjects: relationships, joy, sadness.”


Per Gessle knows a good tune when he hears it, whatever the genre. It is said, for example, that he considers Broder Daniel’s indie anthem “Shoreline” to be one of Sweden’s best pop songs.

– “I really think so. Fantastic song. I also like songs like “Work” and “Underground”. Broder Daniel is a fantastic pop band. It’s been an enormous asset that I’ve never been a specialised idiot, but have listened to everything: experimental 60s music like The Velvet Underground, blues rock like Led Zeppelin, flute music like the Grateful Dead or hard rock like Metallica. Nowadays, I mostly listen to older pop and rock, but also piano music and jazz. With pop music, I’m so workaholic that I start analysing the songs straight away, it’s as if I’ve already discovered the magic trick. I mostly listen to things I can’t analyse myself.”

In recent years, selling the rights to one’s song catalogue has become popular in the music world, from hyper-commercial artists like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to integrity warriors like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Per Gessle has noticed the trend.

– “I can understand Katy Perry doing it, she belongs to a younger generation of artists and songwriters who work in large teams and therefore perhaps have a different relationship to their songs than I do. But I reacted to Dylan and Springsteen doing it. Even Neil Young has sold half of his rights and I saw that Tina Turner even sold the rights to her stage name before she passed away. Somehow it is their life they are selling. I wonder why they do that. The only reason I can think of is that they have a lot of children and are trying to settle any disputes between their kids while they are still alive. For me, it would feel very strange to let someone else decide about my songs. The music is my life and the songs are my babies. I’ve had a lot of offers, but I’ve never taken them up. It doesn’t feel relevant. And what would I do with all that money?”

Later this year, Per Gessle will release his first Swedish album in seven years. The title “Sällskapssjuk” is a nod to all the duets with famous Swedish artists on the disc. The first single “Beredd” with Molly Hammar is already out, but the rest of the guest artists are still a secret.

– “It’s not a pure duet disc, but seven or eight of a total of thirteen songs. Everyone I asked said yes, which is an honour. I chose singers whom I respect and who I think can make a positive contribution. Then it was important to find voices that work in terms of key.”

How much contact do you have with the Swedish music industry otherwise?

– “No contact at all, really. I’ve got to know a few people who I hang out with sometimes. Nisse Hellberg and Uno Svenningson, for example.”


It’s no wonder that Per Gessle feels lovesick as a performer and songwriter, after all, his most successful song ever was performed by Marie Fredriksson. Roxette’s epic power ballad “It Must Have Been Love,” featuring Marie Fredriksson in the form of her life, is one of the pop duo’s four chart-toppers in the US, with over half a billion plays on Spotify and almost 800 million views on YouTube.

The song was sent into orbit in 1990 as the theme song to Pretty Woman, the most famous romantic comedy of all time, starring Richard Gere as businessman Edward and Julia Roberts in her breakthrough role as prostitute Vivian in a whirlwind love story. The classic film featured the chemistry of the century between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts on screen and between Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson on the film’s soundtrack.

– “Marie had a great career going in Sweden that was much bigger than mine. So my only chance of keeping her in Roxette was for the band to be successful. Roxette was really just a side project for her in the beginning. The first album didn’t do well at all outside of Sweden, so our German record company suggested that we do a Christmas song. It would probably be easier to get on German radio then. I jumped at it straight away. I wrote “It Must Have Been Love (Christmas for the Broken Hearted).” It became a gold disc in Sweden, but the Germans wouldn’t even release it. They didn’t like it! Life went on, Marie released another Swedish solo album while I was putting together the material that would become “Look Sharp!” At a lunch in LA, someone at the record company asked if I wanted to write a song for a Disney/Touchstone film with the working title 3000. A classic love story based on a man who hires a prostitute for a weekend for $3,000. Robert Palmer and David Bowie would be involved among others. It sounded hugely exciting. However, we were on our way to New Zealand so I didn’t have time to write anything new, but I said we had a great Christmas ballad I could fix up and remove all Christmas references from. No sooner said than done. Marie sang a few verses, we made a new intro and Michael Jackson’s engineer, Humberto Gatica, mixed. Then Marie and I went to see the film, which by then had been renamed Pretty Woman, in a small cinema in Burbank, California. I left thinking it was a fun film, but not much more than that. Julia Roberts was a newcomer and Richard Gere was a has-been. But then everything exploded.”

Roxette were Sweden’s biggest music export since ABBA even before Pretty Woman thanks to hits like “The Look”, “Listen to Your Heart” and “Dressed for Success,” but with Hollywood success they became a global phenomenon in earnest. Records sold multi-platinum and world tours followed one another. Roxette was biggest in South America and Germany, where they remain one of the country’s most popular bands ever.

– “Roxette is growing by 10 percent on streaming platforms every year. I’m just grateful that people are still interested and that the music is finding its way down the generations.”


It’s been almost five years since Marie Fredriksson passed away from the brain tumour she lived with for almost 20 years against all odds.

– “It was terribly hard. But at the same time, she was ill for so long, so we knew she was a mess. You waited for that call somehow and knew it would come sooner or later. It was almost even more difficult when we got the news that she was ill in 2002. It came like a bolt from the blue and you didn’t realise what it was. It was a strange fate. She was ill for so long and so heroic to be able to make her comeback in 2009 and continue playing until 2016.”

Marie is not the only one Per has lost recently. Mum Elisabeth, brother Bengt and sister Gunilla all passed away within a few years, while dad Kurt died when Per was just 19.

– “We’re all going to die. I don’t think about it too much. It’s always really hard when loved ones pass away. My mum was old and ill, so it was also something you mentally prepared for. I also knew that my sister was ill. But I didn’t know that my brother was ill. He had lung cancer, but he hadn’t told anyone. So it was very surprising that he disappeared. I don’t know what to say about that, life is so fleeting and you have to make the most of your days. Of course, you think about it more when you get older, as a young person you have no relationship to time in that way. You can’t really do anything about it. Time does things to you, but I’m a positive guy and I’m super grateful for what I’ve been able to experience in my life. And my God, I’m not done yet!”

Just like Monica Zetterlund and Ted Gärdestad, the story of Gyllene Tider is now to become a feature film. Summer Times opens in cinemas on 17 July and is set during the band’s early years between the 70s and 80s, with a host of nepobabies on the cast list: comedian Peter Wahlbeck’s son Valdemar Wahlbeck plays Gessle, Magdalena Graaf and Magnus Hedman’s son Lancelot Hedman Graaf portrays Anders Herrlin and Jesper and Mia Parnevik’s son Phoenix Parnevik portrays Micke Syd. Newcomers Ville Löfgren and Xawier Kulas take on Mats “MP” Persson and Göran Fritzon respectively.

– “We were all quite sceptical about a Gyllene Tider film at first. A film about a band where everyone is still alive can get weird. But then the filmmakers told us what they were after, a story about a bunch of small-town guys who for some reason manage to get into Café Opera in wooden slippers. It’s not a documentary about the amazing career of Gyllene Tider, but the film ends in 1982 when “Sommartider” comes out. So it’s about the journey there. I’ve only seen five scenes, which were great. The script is super funny and reasonably accurate. You have to overlook artistic liberties to make the film as good as possible.”


After the summer, Per Gessle’s other pop group will have a new lease of life, as Joyride the Musical premieres at Malmö Opera on 6 September. Unlike the Gyllene Tider film, the musical is not based on real events, but more like ABBA’s Mamma Mia!

– “This process has been going on for years. I’m involved to the extent that these are my songs. I’m involved in the way it’s presented, the style of the people singing. There is a certain kind of mannerism in the musical world that I find difficult, I like there to be a pop and rock edge to it all. Roxette is big all over the world so hopefully this can grow and be played outside Sweden in the long run. I really love Roxette and am very proud of what we created. I’m the biggest Roxette fan in the world myself.”

The lavish feel-good musical is created by award-winning director Guy Unsworth and set designer David Woodhead, with Gessle’s blessing. The plot revolves around a humorous love triangle based on the novel Got You Back by Jane Fallon, the British author and Roxette fan who incidentally lives with world-famous comedian Ricky Gervais.

– “I met Jane Fallon many times while working on the musical, but never Ricky. I saw in an interview that he called Roxette his favourite guilty pleasure band, which is funny. I hope he comes to the premiere.”

At 65, Per Gessle has spent a lifetime in the rock business. But unlike many of his Swedish and foreign colleagues, he has avoided both drugs and the tabloids.

– “There have been a lot of drugs around, but it’s nothing for me. I’ve never been interested in it. I take care of myself.”

Even during the most hysterical years with Gyllene Tider in the early 80’s, Gessle kept a low profile and went to California instead of basking in the limelight in Sweden. When he’s not playing to sold-out arenas, he’s happiest under the radar.

– “I’ve never been attracted to fame, but it’s come as a result of my love of playing in bands and making music. My journey in life is all about music.”

However, Per Gessle checks a lot of other rock star boxes: He loves expensive leather jackets and Italian sports cars. His interest in motoring started when he saw Tony Curtis’ red Ferrari in Snobs Who Work when he was 12 years old. Today, a Dino 246 GT like the one in the TV series is proudly displayed in the pop star’s Ferrari collection, which is on public display in the permanent exhibition The Joyride Car Collection at Hotel Tylösand.

– “I have always loved cars. Even motorbikes and Riva boats, I love everything that is beautiful. During the Gyllene Tider years I drove a Golf, but after the “Joyride” album with Roxette, when I started earning money, I bought a Mercedes SL600. ’95 I bought my first Ferrari which I unfortunately don’t have anymore. In ’97 I played at Ferrari’s 50th anniversary party and since then I’ve had a good relationship with the company, which has allowed me to buy some limited edition models.”


After all his years on the international music scene, the son of a plumber from Furet in Halmstad has a lot of friends all over the world. In one of the built-in bookshelves is a photo with a greeting from Tom Petty and a while ago he was at a bar mitzvah in New York in distinguished company.

– “There was a good friend of mine in New York whose son had a bar mitzvah. It was a big party where I was appointed host over my table. I had Springsteen, John McEnroe, Lars Ulrich and Keith Richards at the table, but they never turned up. Then there was one more rascal whom I have forgotten. I can’t say I know Springsteen, but we have met and talked a few times. He’s a nice bloke.”

Per Gessle is one of our greats. But he owes his own greatness to others, he says.

– “When I look back, my greatest talent is that I found all these people who make me a better person than I really am. It takes a talent to find them and allow them to take their place. To not always think you know best yourself. The older I get, the more space I leave for other people.”


Styling: Rebecca Cohen
Grooming: Åsa Elmgren
Thanks to Grand Hôtel

Images

Per wearing sunglasses and a fur coat holding his hand toward the camera.
Fur, Stand Studio.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per in an all-black outfit standing in front of a mirror.
Jacket, Blk Dnm. Shirt, Blk Dnm. Watch, Cartier.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per facing a mirrored alcove with his back to the camera.
Jacket, Blk Dnm. Watch, Cartier.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per in a black suit with a white electric guitar on a bed.
Coat, Saint Laurent. Shirt, Saint Laurent. Jeans, Blk Dnm. Boots, Saint Laurent.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per in an all-black outfit checking himself in the mirror.
Jacket, Blk Dnm. Watch, Cartier.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per in a fur coat stepping out of an elevator.
Fur, Stand Studio. T-shirt, Dolce & Gabbana. Pants, J.Lindeberg. Boots, Saint Laurent.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per's face reflected in the mirrors of an alcove.
Jacket, Blk Dnm.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall
Per dressed in black pants and a silver jacket reclining in a chair.
Jacket, Deadwood. T-shirt, Dolce & Gabbana. Pants, Blk Dnm. Boots, Alessandro Vasini. Sunglasses, Tom Ford.
Photo by Fredrik Etoall