INTERVIEW: Mew chats “Visuals” and touring plans!
I have had many interesting interview locales. While most often it’s typically a green room or a tour bus, it has also been a full band interview in the green room bathroom because of soundcheck and even once sitting at the top of the stairs behind the venue during a sunset. But my personal favorite? Curb side interviews. While there have only been a handful of them, that’s how Johan Wohlert of Mew and I decided to conduct ours while the band was in Boston recently in support of their latest record, “Visuals”.
It’s a casual, no pressure environment and one that I think really allowed Wohlert to open up about Mew’s journey so far as a band as well the latest record for the band. We looked back at the crazy twenty plus years the band has been together as well as what is in the future for the band!
You’re just a week into this US tour. Considering it’s the first time playing this album in the states, obviously a lot of effort being put into the live effects, how have the shows been going?
How have the shows been going? They’ve been going great. It’s always fun to present new material to people. We’ve been going at it for a long time so we sort of know what to expect. It’s nice, even though we’ve done it many times now, to get the reaction of the crowd. That interaction that only exists when you play for people. People can enjoy the record but we’re not there in person. So it’s good fun to go out and play.
Then “Visuals” was the seventh record for the band since you started in 1995. It’s very familiar in sound to previous fans. When did you start the writing/recording for “Visuals”?
We started it in January 2016 and we spent around a year making the record, something like that. Which I feel was kind of fast.
For you, yeah? I was going to say sometimes there’s like five years between albums for the band.
I guess four has been the medium. The last one, I think it was six years between “No More Stories” and “+-“ that came out in 2015. So it is definitely fast for us. We toured all of 2015 then I think we did our last gig around Christmas or something like that. And in January, we just started going through whatever material was being worked on at the time and slowly it sort of turned into a record.
And clearly the band has been a band for such a long time, I’m sure it’s gotten into a pretty steady rhythm of how it works when you come into the studio and how you view that time. Was there something really new you tried on this record?
Yeah it was definitely a different experience just in terms of where we worked. Technology these days allows you to do a lot wherever you kind of want to in terms of recording. So a lot of this was just done in various little makeshift studios. It was a little more spread out then what we’ve done in the past. On many occasions, we have traveled to other countries to record it there. Mainly America. But it just kind of made sense practically and financially to just do it in Copenhagen this time. So that was a bit different. We did it more on family time. There were good things about that too.
And I know for you, you took a leave of absence from the band when you had your first child speaking of family time. To be closer to your family and things.
Yeah I had a seven year hiatus.
Yeah casual seven year hiatus. I guess it was just needed for me at the time. I did another band for those seven years and I wanted to sort of be the primary songwriter and see if I sucked at it or if I was alright. So I got that kind of out of my system, did three records and that was good fun and a good learning experience. I got to spend more time with my son. So it was kind of what I needed at the time but it was also great to get the chance to rejoin the band because obviously I had been playing with them for, I don’t know, twelve years before I quit. We’ve known each other since we were kids basically. So it felt a bit like coming home, both musically and on a personal level. It feels good to be where we are at the moment.
Like you said, you guys have played with each other for so long. Over twenty years. That’s something most people will never see, something you probably couldn’t imagine . Maybe something you would have told yourself then, you know very young. Something you would have avoided or maybe something you wish you had done as a band, if there is anything?
Nah, I mean I don’t think we planned twenty years ahead when we were fourteen and started the band. I just think that we were really ambitious about it from the very early start. I think the goal was always to have a life in music and to do that and to travel the world. I think my twenty year old self would be quite pleased to see that we’ve achieved some of what we set out to do. To be here twenty years on is like you say I can’t think of too many bands that last twenty years even. So to sort of been able to maintain our working relationship and friendship over those years is quite an achievement I think. As long as it’s fun and as long as it makes sense financially, as long as we can call it a job, it’s something we cherish.
I’m sure when you have that long of a career, it’s not something where you have to be full on road dogs. People are still going to come out, like you don’t have to tour all the time.
If we do, no. We probably should but we don’t. We tend to try and do a good fair run around records but other than that, no. It’s not like we’re Phish or somebody like that.
Selective touring. Your fans are still dedicated, I mean they’re standing outside the venue waiting for the show.
No, it’s true. On the previous record, “+-“, we experienced exactly what that was like. It had been I think six years since the band had last played in America and it was almost like it was even more exciting. It just made it more exciting and we didn’t know what it would be like. Would it be like starting all over, would people actually be excited and would come out for the shows? And luckily the latter was the case. I think we’re kind of a cult band in a way. We will never be the biggest band in the world but we will always have an extremely dedicated fan base and we have a fan base pretty much all over the world. I mean we play way more countries than a lot of bands who are bigger then us on paper. We pretty much play everywhere because there’s people everywhere that likes it. That’s kind of I think interesting, at least it provides us with a lot of exotic experiences. Fun experiences, fun cultural experiences and stuff. People who like Mew really like it. It’s not yeah they’re alright. It’s either you don’t like it or you really like it. I think that’s usually the case.
Then you’re still so very new into this tour, it’s not super long. It’s like an eighteen, nineteen market tour. The album is so new, kind of what is the focus for Mew for the next few months?
Yeah I mean for America, you always have to spend a lot of time here. To cover enough ground and enough cities. So we stay here for the duration of August then we go home for two days I think. And we fly off to Asia and do Japan and Taiwan, Hong Kong then we go to Australia and do five shows down there. Then we get to go back home for a while. Then we tour Scandinavia and some European dates. We’re going to Greenland for the first time which is quite exciting. Greenland being an old Danish colony so it’s about time. Kind of makes sense. It’s far away from Denmark so it’s kind of expensive to go there but it should be interesting. We should sort of wrap it up around Christmas. So then we’ve been out for eight months or something like that and that’s usually how long it kind of takes for us. So that’s the plan.
I’m sure many bands from here would love that opportunity to go to all those places.
It’s probably a better business case if you’re a big band in one territory because it’s cheaper to tour around. Instead of spreading your popularity out over twenty five countries or whatever how much it is. It is way more time consuming obviously and it’s way more expensive as a band because you have to travel everywhere. But having said that, it’s definitely a big plus if you’re interested in different cultures. If you’re interested in seeing the world and we all are pretty curious as human beings. We like that side of it a lot. It’s pretty awesome just to go to all of those Asian countries. We play around ten different countries I think in Asia and it’s just places you would never go unless it was job related like this because it’s just too far, too expensive and all that. So I think we’re lucky in that respect. Culturally we’re lucky I think.