Mew

Music, The Universe, and Everything

Apr 21, 2015
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On Mew’s new album +-, there’s a song called “Witness,” where a low-voiced singer rasps his way through the band’s signature layers of guitars and pounding percussion. Frontman Jonas Bjerre, who typically delivers his enigmatic lyrics in falsetto, assures that yes — that’s him on the track. Although his ethereal vocal style has become a trademark over Mew’s six albums to date, he confesses that the calling card started accidentally.

“I had to sing high because we didn’t have a proper practice space,” he says over the phone, recalling back to the time when Mew was more a collective of artsy pals rather than a full-fledged band. “I would usually just plug my mic into one of the guitar amps. The only way I could hear myself is to sing in a very high spectrum because otherwise it just mingled with the guitars. That was the reason I started exploring the higher range. It’s weird, how it’s all coincidence.”

Bjerre uses the word “coincidence” loosely; even though he also credits fate for the fact he’s the frontman of Mew. (“I think I just kind of drew the shortest straw,” he laughs. “There was nobody who wanted to sing in the band — everybody wanted to play guitar.”) He sheepishly admits that he has a nerdy side when it comes to talking about the nature of the cosmos, citing Our Mathematical Universe, a book by Max Tegmark, as a force that’s shaped his current worldview.

“It’s all theoretical,” says Bjerre mulling over the idea that there might be billions of parallel universes where everything is happening all at once. He gives a rueful laugh. “Scientists, the next week they’ll come out and say, ‘Oh, actually, that’s not true at all.’ Now they think there wasn’t a Big Bang. The universe always existed.”

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that a member of Mew would take such an expansive position when it comes to life’s big questions. Since their 1997 debut, A Triumph For Man, the Danish four-piece (which also features Bo Madsen, Silas Graae, and Johan Wohlert) have made it a habit of dropping into fans’ lives every three to six years with a new album of layered, complex tunes that straddle the line between pop, rock, and prog. Theirs is a world of big, bigger, biggest — where heavy use of both crescendos and guitar licks suggest both wonder and transcendence. Their secret? Bjerre says that at heart, they’ve never really grown up.

“I often think of being a kid and playing with Legos and stuff like that,” he notes. “That’s the same thrill I get making music as I did when I was being creative as a kid. That hasn’t really changed.”

Mew entered the writing of their sixth album as a three-piece, bassist Johan Wohlert having left the band in 2006 shortly before they began work on No More Stories… At the suggestion of their producer Michael Beinhorn, who felt like there was something lacking in the band’s initial demos, Mew asked Wohlert (who had remained a close friend) to join them for writing sessions. He agreed and eventually rejoined the group as a full-fledged member.

“He kinda came back and saved this album, I feel,” says Bjerre. Sure, he was proud of No More Stories…that yielded melodic singles like “Introducing Palace Players,” and “Repeaterbeater.” But the quartet was in no hurry to make part two. “I’m really glad we made No More Stories… in the way that we did. It’s a weird cloud of ideas in a way. But it’s not as driven and focused as when we have Johan in the band.”

Tested at summer music festivals and refined in the studio, the songs of +- encompass a large range of emotion and tone, from the introspective semi-acoustic “Cross the River on Your Own,” to the anthemic tracks “Satellites” and “Water Slides,” which Bjerre says were early fan favorites. But even more than a triumph for the music, the return of Wohlert and resulting album speaks to the band’s core values. A creative endeavor that began when the members were just kids in school, bashing out art projects, making experimental films, and trying their hand at African singing and “weird percussion instruments,” Mew is, at heart, about enduring relationships.

“The things that are closest to you, are obviously family and friends and all that,” says Bjerre. There’s a hint of a smile in his voice, even across the crackly Skype connection. “That’s also why I’m so happy that our band is formed out of friendship. It really was just four guys with a common goal and a dream. It still is that — even though we’ve grown a lot wiser. That is the beauty of being in a band.”

(www.facebook.com/mew)

 



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