Rock stars diddling laptops. That’s what I found backstage recently at the Fonda, where Mew, the hottest thing to come out of Denmark since cheese-filled pastries, were about to perform behind their current And the Glass Handed Kites. Sensing my disappointment at the lack of debauchery, guitarist Bo Madsen explained, “We’re hung over — it was our tour manager’s birthday last night!”
After the show, though, as Madsen sketched a skeletal nun on his pad and singer Jonas Bjerre peeled the labels off Heinekens, we finished off all the beer. And then dipped into the vodka.
Mew are a proggy synth-pop band — like Coldplay with balls or Sigur Rós on Ritalin. Since sweeping the Danish Music Awards last year, they’ve steadily gained a U.S. following thanks to Bjerre’s nightmare-inspired lyrics and equally surreal stage videos of nipple-eyed monsters and taxidermied cats playing violin.
We talked about L.A. weather, lending J. Mascis money, and just how sexy Prince is.
L.A. WEEKLY: A Mew song is like a good indie film — there are layers, and if you invest in it, there’s a big payoff. But here we’re used to spoon-fed pop hooks and movie plots. How would you tell Americans to prepare their palate for you?
BO MADSEN: Everything that has value is worth spending time on. If you want an original band, you should definitely check us out. I think we’re like U2 and Depeche Mode in that we’re doing our own thing. I think that’s what music is all about — not trying to fit into something.
JONAS BJERRE: When I think about music history, it seems to be all about movements against things. There was a movement against pop, against punk . . .
You mean music is reactionary?
BJERRE: Exactly, but now it seems like everything is spoon fed by corporations. There’s not a reaction to anything. Easy-to-sell music gets made and played. So it’s become harder and harder to find music that’s a little bit different.
Is it a misconception that the European audience is so much more sophisticated than Americans?
MADSEN: Americans are much better at adapting to different sounds. And also American bands allow themselves to be influenced by other genres and places. I’ve always liked American music more than British music. America is the best and the worst.
I read that your music is influenced by My Bloody Valentine, Pet Shop Boys, the Pixies — I get all that, but you also said Prince. Is it just in the sexy?
MADSEN: Sure, it’s sexy, and I get really turned on when listening to his music. [Laughs.] But he’s a true genius, so precise and sparse and so to the point. His “When Doves Cry” and “Beat It” by Michael Jackson are the two best songs in my book, because they don’t shoot in every direction but are very precise pop songs.
Dinosaur Jr. is listed as another influence, and singer J. Mascis sings on “Why Are You Looking Grave?” Did you really meet J. Mascis on a bench in Denmark, and he needed money?
MADSEN: I was walking through Copenhagen, and I saw this guy, and he looked really lost, and I realized it was J. He had lost his suitcase. He didn’t have anything to wear, or money to eat. He was kind of fucked. I hung out with him for a few hours. Gave him some clothes — he played his show that night in a Mew T-shirt. That was when we were still in school, so it was pretty cool. I lent him some money, but he paid me back.
Did you have him in mind specifically for that song?
BJERRE: We knew we wanted someone else to sing on that track. We liked J.’s voice, we thought it added nice contrast to my higher-pitched voice. And we had met him so coincidentally. We like when things happen like that. A lot of our music is created spontaneously — it just happens, we don’t think about it too much.
So are the lyrics really inspired by your dreams?
BJERRE: Some of the imagery in my dreams I use in the lyrics, but it’s that state of mind that you are in after you’ve had a really good dream or a really bad dream that you can use it. It inspires you, gives you a new creative energy, it’s not so literal. I like the immediate effect — it has some subliminal effect, but I don’t want to analyze it.
Dreams never seem to make sense the next morning or when you try to tell somebody about them.
BJERRE: And it never has the same impact. It’s really boring to hear about people’s dreams. An image moves an individual on its own, without an explanation.
You guys spent five months recording And the Glass Handed Kites here. What do you think of L.A.?
BJERRE: I think the weather here is decadent. There’s just too much sun.