Life according to Per Gessle

When Per Gessle grew up in Halmstad, Sweden, everybody wanted to be a pop star. So even if he was completely devoted to pop music and had ten times more LP’s and singles than his friends combined, he was still just one of many ’60s kids who dreamed about fronting a pop group, hearing your songs on the radio and seeing your face in the magazines. Everyone who picked up a guitar had dreams of making it. But for Per Gessle reality would exceed his and everyone else’s wildest dreams, making his still-growing catalog of songs the only one in Scandinavia that could rival his song-writing peers Benny Andersson & Björn Ulveaus of Abba.

With staggering record sales of more than 75 million records—mostly, but far from only, with the Swedish pop phenomenon Roxette—Per Gessle is still re-inventing himself as a songwriter and artist. The busier he is, the more creative he becomes. Having spent the last three years touring the world with Roxette, performing some 150+ shows while writing, recording and releasing two albums of new Roxette material along the way, he still jumped at the opportunity to compose the soundtrack for Jonas Åkerlund’s acclaimed film “Small Apartments”.

Basically, it’s been a never-ending roller coaster ride since 1979 when Per Gessle became a teenage star with the power pop group Gyllene Tider. Most people believed the former teenybopper’s career was dried up when the group folded in 1985, but the next year he returned with a vengeance when Marie Fredriksson and Per recorded their debut single “Neverending Love” as Roxette. In those days few Swedish acts had been able to break out of their homeland—Abba being the glorious exception to the rule. But in the spring of 1989, Roxette almost overnight became international superstars when the infectious single “The Look” off their second album Look Sharp! became a US #1, the first time a Swedish pop group scored a US chart topper since Abba’s “Dancing Queen” in 1977.

For years to come, Roxette would be one of the most successful pop acts in the world. Songs like ”Dressed For Success”, ”Dangerous”, ”Listen To Your Heart”, ”It Must Have Been Love”, ”Fading Like A Flower” and ”Joyride” gave them multiple US hits during 1989-91—including four #1 singles and two #2 on the Billboard chart – as well as numerous other hits all over the world. The year long ”Join The Joyride” World Tour took Roxette to Europe, Australia, North America and South America, building a loyal fan base that in many cases lasts to this day.

After the release of Crash! Boom! Bang in 1994, the group once again toured the world – this time traveling to Europe, South Africa, Australia, Asia and South America. The tour was another major success for Roxette, whose February 1995 concert in Beijing was the second ever by a Western pop act (Wham! was first in 1985).

Apart from the greatest hits collection Don’t Bore Us – Get To The Chorus! and the Spanish collection Baladas en Español, Roxette took a break after the mammoth tour. Per filled the gap by recording the solo album, The World According To Gessle (1997), before Roxette returned with Have A Nice Day in 1999. The album featured a stark, updated sound and a string of hit singles like “Wish I Could Fly”, ”Stars” and ”Salvation”. Roxette’s 2001 album Room Service also featured strong single hits like ”The Centre Of The Heart”, ”Milk And Toast And Honey” and ”Real Sugar”.

But in 2002 it looked like the Roxette saga was all over when Marie Fredriksson was diagnosed with brain tumor. After a successful operation she managed to recover, but for most of the 00’s Roxette was put on hold. Meanwhile Per decided to chill out a little by picking up his Swedish solo career. On his 2003 album Mazarin, Per surprised everyone with his most personal and low-key songs yet. But it gave him no time to cool off—both the album and a hastily put together tour became that year’s biggest seller in Sweden. Still, it was only a foreboding of the staggering success that followed when Per’s former power pop group Gyllene Tider reunited for its 25th year Anniversary. The band’s Swedish summer tour drew an amazing half a million people in a country of only 9,000 000—making it the second biggest tour in Europe that summer.

The obvious question is: how do you follow success of this magnitude? The answer was: “you don’t”. Under the moniker “Son of a Plumber”, Per Gessle in November 2005 released a double album—a debut album of sorts—packed with deeply personal and highly inventive music inspired by transferring his record collection into his iPod. The album had a charming early ‘70s feel to it with tracks like “Jo-Anna Says” and “Hey Mr DJ” becoming air-wave favorites.

In the fall of 2005 Per also had the honor to receive a BMI Award for more than 4,000 000 airings of “It Must Have Been Love” – on American radio alone (a feat which would be repeated with “Listen To Your Heart” three years later). During yet another successful Swedish solo album and summer tour in 2007 (En händig man), Per decided to revive his international solo career with a new album—the result being the hit-packed 2008 album Party Crasher, his strongest offering in English since Roxette’s heydays. In the spring of 2009 he assembled a touring band featuring a combination of Roxette stalwarts Clarence Öfwerman (keyboards), Christoffer Lundqvist (guitar/vocals) and Pelle Alsing (drums) plus relative newcomers Magnus Börjeson (bass)/vocals) and Helena Josefsson (vocals).

The tour took Per and the band to 15 intimate club dates in cities like London, Hamburg and Munich—giving fans a chance to see the Roxette songwriter “reclaim” his international catalog of hits in a more guitar-driven and almost garage-rock sounding setting, which could be heard to the fore on the resulting Gessle Over Europe live album.

During Per’s solo tour fans at the Amsterdam and Stockholm shows got a real bonus treat when Marie Fredriksson took the stage during “It Must Have Been Love”. It proved to be a signal of a Roxette comeback. Marie had recovered enough to make the dream of millions of fans come true. In the fall of 2009 Roxette headlined the 25th Anniversary Night of the Proms tour, playing 42 shows in front of more than 600 000 people in Belgium, Holland and Germany.

During the tour the band made demos and prepared the recording for the much-anticipated new Roxette album Charm School, which was released in the spring of 2011. By then Roxette was back in full swing, touring the world and playing in front of more than 1,400 000 people in 46 countries, releasing yet another album—Travelling —in 2012, before taking a break after the September 19 show in Mexico City. But as you have guessed by now, the road doesn’t stop there. After all these years, there’s nothing else he would rather do. As the man says himself: “So few chords, so much to do”.

Sven Lindström