Roxette: Swedish pulling power

By Scott Kara

Per Gessle talks about Roxette's enduring popularity ahead of their Kiwi concert.

Marie Fredriksson overcame the odds to beat a brain tumour and is now on the road again with Per Gessle. Photo / Supplied
Marie Fredriksson overcame the odds to beat a brain tumour and is now on the road again with Per Gessle. Photo / Supplied

Being a loyal Swede and pop music fan you might expect Per Gessle of Roxette to have been influenced by Abba. Not a chance. It's not that he doesn't like his fellow Swedish music stars but New Yorkers the Ramones - their self-titled first album especially - and the Sex Pistols were more his thing. "They were a big influence on me, and when you listen to that music today it is still hardcore but it's pop music with these big melodies," he says.

Though there is little sign of punk rock in their 1988 hit ballad Listen To Your Heart from the album Look Sharp!, you can detect a certain punky swagger perhaps in hits like The Look and Dressed for Success.

It was around the time those songs were released that Roxette - made up of Gessle and singer Marie Fredriksson - came to New Zealand for a promotional visit. "We landed in a helicopter in a school somewhere - and there were lots of kids in school uniforms," remembers Gessle. "Everyone was, like, crazy, like something from a Beatles movie or something," he laughs.

And the duo, who have sold around 75 million records and clocked up more No 1 top 10 hits in the United States than Abba, still have reasonable pulling power these days playing Vector Arena on Saturday - and selling out dates across the Tasman.

The tour for latest album, Charm School, is the first since Fredriksson's recovery from a brain tumour in 2002.

What impact did Marie getting sick have on you - and the band?

When Marie got ill, I knew inside Roxette was history. I knew it was over. Marie only had a 5 per cent chance of surviving, so the odds were not on her side at all. And seeing her from 2003 to 2005, seeing her on medication, she had to restart her life altogether, and she had to learn to read again. She had to start from the beginning. So there was no future for Roxette at all. And for me Roxette was Marie and myself and so there was never really any option to do it with someone else. We've known each other since we were in our teens when we shared rehearsal space in our first bands. And we've never been a couple, but we've always been very good friends. So I just think there is chemistry between us even though we are very different people - but I guess opposites attract.

How were you different as a band when you regrouped?

When we actually got together and started writing Charm School, it was very different. She lost a bit of her short term memory, but she knew everything that was old, but she was having a really hard time learning new things. It was a struggle to record, learning new lyrics, and it took a lot of time but at the end of the day it worked out really well.

Roxette started touring again in 2009 ...

So far we have done 52 shows, and most of them have been sold out. But we started out easy because we didn't really know, and Marie didn't know either what she was going to be able to do. We signed up for the Night of the Proms [in 2009], this rock music meets classical music thing, and the good thing for us was that we only had to perform four songs, which was just what Marie could cope with at the time. But then it just exploded and we've been through Russia, the rest of Europe, South Africa and now New Zealand and Australia.

So why do you think you still have pulling power?

A song like The Look is part of the reason why we still sell so many tickets. The music we do has some sort of timeless appeal.

You talked about your love for the Ramones and the Sex Pistols but where else does your unashamed passion for big, catchy pop tunes come from?

It's a combination of the music I was raised with, you know, having an older brother who was a teenager in the 60s when the Beatle thing happened, and ever since I was a kid, from 6 or 7 years old, pop music has been my life. I had 100 LPs by the time I was 13 years old because all my money went on records. I delivered newspapers as a kid and every krona I made I bought a record. So popular music has always been my main interest.

LOWDOWN

Who: Roxette
Where & when: Vector Arena, Auckland, Saturday
Listen to: Look Sharp (1988); Joyride (1991); Boom! Crash! Bang! (1994)

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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