Mew's Jonas Bjerre is interested in investing people in art, and yet acknowledges the not-so-straightforward duality of his band's nevertheless captivating and catchy music. "At least our best stuff, there's always a point we can sound optimistic and hopeful but there's darkness underlying it as well," the Danish musical genius tells me. "Even we don't know if it is a positive or negative song sometimes afterwards. I like to be able to touch people and make them feel connected."
Mew have proven on Visuals that they can still make very powerful songs without former guitarist Bo Madsen, with the new effort overall proving slightly more satisfying than the nonetheless also compelling prior release + - . It was also made with far less time between albums, just two years compared to the 2009 to 2015 stretch between No More Stories and + -. Perhaps this accounts for the sense of fresh excitement in the songs compared to the last album's very compelling but perhaps more measured approach.
Spacelab: This record feels almost more existential. The band has almost become your own genre. It sounds like you feel excited to write but more and more like you are exploring what you've built. Like flying the ship but there aren't a lot of rules. Your music reminds us we are part of something bigger.
Jonas: I think we try to tap into what it means to exist, life, all the things. Our music is never a direct translation of reality, kind of a reflection. To me, I enjoy songwriters that can tell a story in a beautiful way. It's not what we do. For us it starts out as something but almost always ends up being something completely different in the end, layering and mutating of the thing. I like when the music discovers a feeling I wasn't able to put into anything before, kind of a mystery to me that now I see physically manifested in the world.
Spacelab: I love how you said that. You were just making me think of how a lot of your songs evolve and adapt for the listener. A song will strike me one way and then sort of shift meaning later. On the new record "Nothingness and No Regrets" I was thinking about the theme of time or death, having a meaningful life. I love the part on the record where you say ,"I'll make time for you." It is less of a simple pop statement when you think that in terms of a lifetime, every moment is very precious, y'know?
Jonas: It is. And the weird thing is, your time becomes more and more precious because you spend so much of it now on complete nothingness. Things that aren't meaningful at all. You become constantly bombarded with that. These days, I don't even want to go on social media. I feel bombarded with a lot of negative stuff as well. Things are not good and that's terrible but you can't think about that every waking moment you have or you will get depressed. Is the real you as important as the you that is projected on the world? That's a sad way of thinking. I am also afraid to say things like that because some people are happy like that and they find a different meaning in it. Everyone is different. One of the biggest gifts you can give is your time, because there is so little of it.
Spacelab: Social engagement can be important but so is self care and if you can disengage and be more happy then come back with having made a beautiful song, that will make the world a better place as much as marching or clicking like on every post you agree with.
Jonas: It is a matter of choosing your battles. It can be very meaningful, sure.
Spacelab: Something I found interesting, not sure if it was intentional. On + - and this album there is the end songs "Carry Me To Safety" and the other one had "Cross The River On Your Own." It is sort of faith versus self-determinism in those song titles, but both are some of your strongest songs and great album closers.
Jonas: I didn't think about it, but that is a great observation. That is exactly the different songs meanings. "Carry Me To Safety" is about the pressure we put on ourselves. I see people on tv trying to get famous for no reason. That's always been a part of human culture but to me it doesn't really mean anything. America is such a competitive world to be in. "Most likely to succeed" and all that. I don't think life needs to be like that, a competition. It's about what you do. The worst thing you can do is give up. "No, he gave up. I'm so upset." But maybe sometimes you should give up? You are free to stop if something is making you unhappy, for example. A lot of people don't. Certain aspects of my life is like that, when I keep doing things that don't make me happy but I don't want to give up. I'm not talking about being in the band or anything like that, but goals you set for yourself. You have to achieve them or you feel like a failure. But maybe those goals aren't right for you? Maybe they are not what will make you happy eventually.
Spacelab: You reminded me of a restaurant I worked at once and it was open 7 days a week, but it was very expensive to stay open. We burned a lot of firewood, for example. But there were two days of the week with no customers. But the owner was prideful and didn't want to close those days, even though no one was around to see either way and he would have saved hundreds of dollars every week. And it eventually closed! That image was kind of sad to me. He should have quit those two days and relaxed with some Pinot Grigio.
Jonas: It sounds like he couldn't accept it. Yeah.
Spacelab: Hey, "Candy Pieces All Smeared Out" has a pretty heavy intro for you guys. It almost reminded me of The Melvins or something. I loved it.
Jonas: I played it for a few people who were really offended by it. "You're rocking out and then it goes somewhere completely different. It's annoying!" I guess I can see that but we tried something different. I found these old noise tracks I used to sequence on an Amiga 500 and it had this cool sound to it with the shaker. Back then you could only play four samples at once so sometimes you'd kind of have to pitch things to fit so the shaker and high hat go up and down like that. I had this kind of catchy pop chord with power chords and things we haven't done for awhile. And I thought ,"what else could go with that?" I wanted to make this really simple, primitive riff because we don't really do that either. We are always sort of trying to do what we haven't done before but within the framework of our sound. It kind of still has to sound like us or it would feel forced.
Spacelab: I like the album name Visuals. It seemed like a commentary, because so many people get their art visually these days or like effects in movies over plot. But you guys have all these other subtle layers.
Jonas: I always had a very visual perception of music myself. Ever since I was a kid I would listen to Jean Michel Jarre and picture these sort of mountainous landscapes, for example. Such a big sound he had on those albums. When I hear music I immediately have pictures in the head. I am also an animator and so we have been using those images in our shows for years. It is a fine balance because you don't want to force onto people what you see. Same thing with music videos. Sometimes you love a song and see the video and it has nothing to do with what you thought the song was. It can be confusing. But on this one I really wanted to explore the visual side and so I am making videos for every song. It's not music videos, more like an animated backdrop to sort of go with the music live. I wanted to do it full on this time. It is something I was thinking about during the making of the record, like if we had a scenario of a place the song could live it might inspire. We did sort of picture each song in a different space. So I am working a lot on that. The music video for "85 Videos" was very much how I pictured the song, this weird, colorful almost underwater place. The beginning it almost sounds like it could be in a jungle. I don't know. I don't really have specific reasons for what I do all the time but I just try and listen to where my aesthetics take me.
Spacelab: Yeah and your listeners kind of trust your band to take them on a journey.
Jonas: But yeah, sometimes you can also scare people off (laughing)
Spacelab: Well you aren't King Diamond, so it isn't that scary. But I know what you mean. Maybe people are like ,"This is cool. Then it gets a little weird" (laughing)
Jonas: Right. We've been using these visuals through our career and people like it. Even if we played a small place we would bring projections and turn a place into a different place. But I remember one time I had a new video and it was kind of fun, a silly animation I made with robots. It had such an effect on one person who wrote in a forum that we were completely different now and not a rock band. "It's all electronica and they are Kraftwerk with robots." And all it was was this one song with a different visual in one part, but it made someone experience the band completely differently. I thought that was really amazing that was how much it can mean.