Danish Art Rock Rocks – A Conversation with Mew
Mew provided one of those moments. In a friend’s car, a song came on that caught my attention, prompting me to stop him in mid sentence and ask, “Who is this?” So yes, I was late to the party on Mew . . . but I eventually arrived. If only it were fashionable to be late on discovering a band.
Their sound offers everything from ethereal art rock moments to epic walls of sound and never lacks the guts of great guitar driven rock. Unique melodies, cerebral and undeniable drum beats and innovative production are a regular part of this band’s numerous offerings. The Danish band has long ignited a buzz throughout Europe, but has yet to really break meaningful ground, in terms of number of fans, in the states. Experimental, eclectic, rocking and on the receiving end of praise from Bono, Mew feels like one of those undeniable forces riding a wave of inertia that will eventually land them in your player . . . make room.
We spoke to Mew’s singer, Jonas Bjerre, about the band’s early days, the music scene in their native Denmark and of course, about the praise from the anointed one, Bono.
Synco: Mew’s members met at such an early age. Back in those days, what was more the motivating factor, to be rock stars or to make great art?
Mew: Definetely making great art. Although I think at that time the idea of art didn’t really enter into the equation. At the very beginning, we actually got together in school doing an “art project” because our teachers told us to. But after that had ignited our interest in doing creative things together, we started a band, and I think the idea was just that – being a band. With all that it entailed.
Synco: What was the music scene like growing up in Hellerup, Denmark?
Mew: The were a lot of bands that sucked. And then there were a few that were really good. But the good ones largely went un-noticed. Hellerup is a small town though, so the bands I can still remember the names of, are the ones that stood out. Lords of Destruction, some of those guys went to the school across from ours. But a large part of the Copenhagen scene was very derivative of whatever was going on in the UK. Those were the bands that went and got major label deals. It didn’t lead to anything. There was a 4-years-too-late britpop scene, when we first started playing to give an example. A lot of bands were like that. Mew had critical acclaim from early on, but it took us a few years to build an audience. The scene in Denmark is a lot better today than the general scene back then. I think we have a lot of great bands and artists now.
Mew: Hard to put into words, but I think there’s a certain feeling in the band that we’ve experimented with a particular method of writing and just generally go about things which we have taken as far as it can go. The next thing we do will be different in many ways, a kind of re-examination of what makes us all tick. We just wanted to create a kind of document, an overview, of what we’ve done so far. I think Eggs Are Funny is a good introduction to someone that doesn’t already know Mew, and to those who do, it might well serve the same purpose as it does for us, which is kind of like a collection of our songs, in a new context. And I think the limited edition with the dvd is quite fun, it has all our videos and some of the early ones are quite amusing to me.
Synco: For someone new to Mew, give us the Mew Beginners 101 with the five songs they should listen to.
Mew: Depends on what mood they’re in.
Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy
Am I Wry? No
Silas The Magic Car
The Zookeeper’s Boy
Synco: I saw a video online, with Bono “singing your praises,’ how cool is that?
Mew: That’s pretty cool, I guess. There seems to be a lot of musicians that dig what we do, for some reason. I’ve tried to figure out why that is, but haven’t come up with an explanation yet.
Synco: What do you attribute the changing sound from Frengers to And the Glass Handed Kites to No More Stories?
Mew: We are inspired by everything around us, but I think in reality we are inspired mostly by our own course, and we travel in a sort of intangible zig-zag pattern, maintaining a curiosity about what can be done and where we can go. We are also 3 very different individuals who all bring different things to the table. And then there’s the… you know, personal development ha ha.
Synco: I see imagery being as a big part of the band’s work, am I right?
Mew: Yes, absolutely. Music always conjured up images, and we often connect visuals and music. Our live show is very visual, and all of us work with visual arts in some form or another. I used to work in post production, doing compositing and that sort of thing. And from a very young age I would do claymation. It just seemed like a natural step to include animation and visuals into our live setting.
Synco: You’ve toured with R.E.M., NIN, Bloc Party and many others. What would be the dream tour?
Mew: We did a show supporting the Pixies in Washington D.C. some time ago. Joey and David came down to our dressing room before we went on and told us they really liked our music, which felt completely surreal to me. Afterwards we hung out a bit at their room, and they were all really nice. One of my favorite bands ever. I don’t know about a dream tour, but two musicians I would be truly honored to work with would be Paddy McAloon and Kate Bush.
Synco: I have read you are finishing a soundtrack for a Danish movie, with the first single on Itunes. How did this come about? And when can we expect a release for the movie and soundtrack?
Mew: The director of the film, Rune Schjøtt, used to be the host of an alternative music program on Danish public radio. That’s when I first met him, back when I was still in high school I did some harmony vocals for a singer songwriter who performed at the station. We have been close friends ever since, and he asked me to do the soundtrack for his first full feature as a director, called Skyscraper. I worked on it whenever time permitted during the last year or so. It’s both film score instrumentals and a lot of “proper” songs, and I decided to put it out as an album. It will probably be released same time as the film comes out. It was nominated in the 14plus category at the Berlin Film Festival this year, where it premiered, but the release date will probably not be until sometime in the summer. I am still tinkering with the music, even though the film is done.
Synco: Can you also tell us about Apparatjik?
Mew: Apparatjik is a music and art collective that originally came together to make the theme music for a show on BBC by Bruce Parry called Amazon, which dealt with the problems and difficulties of various indigenous tribes. From there it just kind of took off. Last week we had a symposium in Frankfurt about environmental issues, architecture and music and this week and the next we’re performing and exhibiting at the neue nationalgalerie in Berlin. It’s pretty crazy. And very confusing. Which is what makes it so much fun!
Synco: What were your three favorite albums of 2010?
Mew: Owen Pallett’s “Heartland”
Deerhunter’s “Halcyon Digest”, mostly because of that song “Helicopter”
Salem “King Night”
Synco: For our mostly American audience what are some Danish bands and films that you would suggest?
Mew: Bands: Lords of Destruction, Silo (they have a new album coming out which is great), Symptoms, Oh No Ono, Figurines, Spleen United, Efterklang.
Synco: What’s next for Mew?
Mew: Right now we are taking a bit of time off, after touring all over with “No More Stories”, but we are constantly writing and will most likely start doing proper writing sessions for the next album later in the fall. Maybe we will play some shows later this year, not decided yet.
You can keep up with Mew on their official website.