Jonas Bjerre of Mew – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jonas Bjerre of Mew – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In

“In my country it is unthinkable to not be able to afford to get the treatment you need, no matter the contents of your wallet.”

Apr 24, 2020 COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In Bookmark and Share

We are checking in with musicians during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to see how they are dealing with everything. What has their home quarantine experience been like so far and how is the crisis impacting both their career and art? Here we check in with Jonas Bjerre of Denmark’s Mew.

We’re living in future history right now, unprecedented times that will define our era. At some point we will be living in a forever-changed post-COVID-19 timeline, but right now we’re deep in it. Many have had their livelihood interrupted by the pandemic and included are most musicians, who make a lot of their money by touring and performing, two things they can’t do right now. Most record stores are closed and vinyl factories are shut down, so album sales are depressed too. Our intention with this series is to highlight the challenges musicians are going through right now to hopefully encourage our readers and their fans to rally around and support each musician (financially if you can, but we know it’s tough out there for many people).

We’re all in this together, a whole planet united in this fight, and we hope these interviews will help illustrate that. We put together the same set of questions about the current crisis and emailed them to several musicians and will be posting their responses as they come in.

Mew formed in the suburbs of Copenhagen in 1995, but it wasn’t until 2003 and the release of their third album, Frengers, that Mew began to truly achieve attention outside of their native country. Over the years the band have developed a unique sound (a mix of art rock, dream pop, and prog rock, led by Bjerre’s unmistakable high-pitched voice) and a visual aesthetic all their own. The band’s last studio album was 2017’s Visuals, released via Play It Again Sam. Mew’s core lineup also features Johan Wohlert (bass) and Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen (drums).

Bjerre is also in the band Apparatjik, alongside bassist Guy Berryman from Coldplay, guitarist/keyboardist Magne Furuholmen from A-ha, and drummer/producer Martin Terefe. Last month the band released a new single, “JULIA.” He has also written scores for film and TV, including recently for the Danish TV show Scandinavian Star.

Read on as Bjerre reflects on his COVID-19 experience so far. He has also submitted a photo of himself under quarantine.

Where are you spending the quarantine and who are you spending it with? If you’re spending it with other people, have you found that the quarantine has brought you closer together or caused tension?

I am spending the quarantine primarily at home with my family, but also at a small studio space my wife and I rented on top of a closed movie theater, to be able to focus on work occasionally, as the quarantine and the closing of institutions have made that slightly more difficult at home. The days feel different, and sometimes it’s frustrating, but I also feel like we are learning from it. Friends are reaching out to one another, “how are you guys coping?”

Is everyone in your family safe and healthy so far?

Yes, so far (knock on wood).

What’s your daily routine been like? Have you spent much time outdoors? And since musicians spend so much time on the road, have you found it hard adjusting to so much time at home?

I just made it home, from Cuba, right before the travel ban was put into place. As I generally travel a lot, I don’t really miss travel as such. I really like being home. But I miss being able to just walk around without having to worry, seeing friends and family without having to stay at a distance, and in general I find the atmosphere of Copenhagen has become a lot more tense.

What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?

Mew have had to postpone and cancel a bunch of shows this year, shows we were really looking forward to. As no one can tell how long concert and travel bans will stay in place, it’s really too early to tell how much it will affect us in the long term. But it definitely is not great for anyone. At this point, we should just be grateful to be healthy, I feel.

If you also have a day job outside of music, how has that been impacted by COVID-19?

I don’t really have a day job as such, but I just finished scoring a documentary TV series called Scandinavian Star, which thankfully came to completion before the quarantine. I feel like if I went looking for more jobs like that right now, it would be hard to find one. All projects seem to have been put on hold somewhat.

Do you trust the government and our leaders (such as President Trump) to effectively deal with the pandemic? What most concerns you about the response of elected leaders at home and abroad?

I most certainly don’t trust Trump to deal with anything, really, except looking after his own interests. I think our prime minister has done fairly well here in Denmark, but they are just now today opening certain institutions, which I personally feel is premature. The curve has flattened somewhat here, but it could quickly turn around if we’re not careful.

How do you think the crisis will affect this November’s U.S. presidential election? Will it make it easier or harder to defeat Trump?

Well, last I read he was not polling well, but with the electoral college still in place, I really don’t know. I still cannot really fathom that it was possible for him to win the election in 2016 in the first place. So many people are foolishly voting against their own best interests. I was sad to see [Bernie] Sanders leaving. I think he would have done a great job. But maybe he would have been too divisive for America. The second red scare lies deeply in the U.S., still. And a lot of Americans seem to confuse a socialist democracy with communism. In my country it is unthinkable to not be able to afford to get the treatment you need, no matter the contents of your wallet. That is as it should be, in my view. And I cannot see why the USA, with so much wealth and power, should not afford its people this.

Which sources of news have you been turning to most during COVID-19 and which social media platform have you found most useful?

I mostly read the Associated Press News, as well as some local Danish newspapers.

What do you think will be the lasting effects on society of all this isolated time at home?

It’s very hard to say. Hopefully some things won’t go back to “normal” after this. I hope we all learn from it. I hope people realize that in the grander scheme of things, we are in the same boat, and we better take care of its sails and its hull.

If you have school-aged kids, how have you been dealing with homeschooling and how are your kids adjusting to life at home and away from friends?

My daughter is bored some days, and definitely misses other kids, but I think she is coping really well.

Are your parents, grandparents, and others in your life who are at risk taking social distancing seriously? If not, what lengths have you gone to in order to convince them to stay inside?

Yes, they take it very seriously and keep their distance.

What other steps should record labels, music streaming platforms, and other music industry entities be taking to help struggling musicians through this time?

I wish I had the answer to that one.

What is the best way fans can support you financially right now? Buying vinyl and CDs, downloading and streaming your music, buying merch, supporting your Patreon page or other crowd sourcing platform (if you use one), or some other means? Is there a particularly cool piece of merch you’d like to highlight?

We don’t really use such platforms, at least not as of yet. Listening to our music is much appreciated.

Which albums, songs, films, TV shows, books, podcasts, live streams, video games, board games, etc, have been helping you get through the quarantine?

My good friend Rune recently gifted me with a years worth of Master Class, which I am really enjoying. My wife and I watch The Ozarks, Better Call Saul, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and old movies and musicals. I really enjoyed Mandy starring Nicolas Cage, great pictures and the soundtrack is beautiful.

Have you been doing any live-streamed concerts during COVID-19 or do you plan to? A lot of artists have been doing them, do you think it’s a challenge to make them original and interesting?

We haven’t been doing that so far. I think it’s great that people are doing it, we might do something like that, I don’t know. Depends on how long this will go on for, I think. But yeah, it’s obviously a challenge to create intimacy with an audience through a screen, but I think people are rising to that challenge.

Is there something you’ve been putting off for a long time, but are now doing with this time at home?

So many things. House painting and redecorating. Fixing and calibrating synthesizers. I’m working on some long term projects of mine, which I had been neglecting out of necessity but now am finding the time for. That’s quite enjoyable, actually.

Has the quarantine been a fertile creative time (are you writing or recording new music, for example) or have you found it hard to focus on creative endeavors?

I think, frightening as it is, there is something freeing about realizing that there really isn’t much I can do right now in terms of “work,” so I might as well just focus on creativity. I always prefer being creative, when there is no specific goal to it, just letting it flow and see what comes out of it.

Beyond the obvious items (such as toilet paper), what things have you made sure to get from the grocery store when stocking up? And, also, do you have any toilet paper?

The other day I could not find flour anywhere. We wanted to make pancakes (the French kind) but it was nowhere to be found. Seems a lot of people are baking bread at home these days, maybe. But that’s it. I haven’t seen much hoarding in my neighborhood at all. Plenty of toilet paper to go around.

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