Jonas Bjerre of Mew
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Formed in 1994 near Copenhagen, Mew issued a couple of albums in Denmark before turning international heads in 2003 with Frengers, though it was 2005's And The Glass Handed Kites (released in the U.S. the following year) that solidified the group's status as one of the dreamiest bands around. Singer Jonas Bjerre can sometimes sound like Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant and at other times reminds listeners of Pale Saints' Ian Masters, but the band doesn't really have a musical contemporary—unless you consider Radiohead to be a newfangled prog band, in which case you can go ahead and lump Mew into that category alongside Muse and The Mars Volta. Mew recently completed its latest (curiously titled) masterwork, No More Stories Are Told Today / I'm Sorry / They Washed Away / No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I'm Tired / Let's Wash Away. In advance of Mew's opening for Nine Inch Nails tonight at Terminal 5, The A.V. Club caught up with Bjerre to talk about what it's like to be in a band that plays by a different set of rules.
The A.V. Club: You guys have a pretty unique sound—what influences you?
Jonas Bjerre: It kind of came in waves. It started out when we were just kids listening to what our parents listened to—the Eurythmics, Prince—and then when we kind of discovered alternative rock, I think via Nirvana we looked back and found bands like My Bloody Valentine, Pixies, and Dinosaur Jr., and that was really inspiring for a while. Then later on we kind of found our way back to more left-of-center pop music—Prefab Sprout is one of my favorite bands. I think they make really intelligent pop music. So it was kind of a wide range of things.
AVC: So many young bands just end up emulating the groups that they like. How did you avoid that?
JB: I think from the very start we definitely had a few aspects of our sound that were quite unique, and a little bit outrageous, actually. Like this really fast song with a really high falsetto, kind of hysteric, and things like that, was kind of our own thing. We have the two albums that came out when we were still pretty new [1997's A Triumph For Man and 2000's Half The World Is Watching Me]—I think the first one definitely sounds very noise-rock-inspired, but we pretty soon integrated things into our sound that I think that we feel is our own thing.
AVC: Why did you decide to work with Rich Costey again on the new album?
JB: We knew him already from the Frengers sessions, so we thought that would be an advantage, because every time you start out working with someone, you kind of have to find out how to approach the person and you need to find some kind of chemistry. The last record we did we found it was very dark and very cold-sounding, and we wanted this album to be the opposite of that. We wanted it to be more spacious and precise, and we wanted it to be warmer and colorful, so we thought Rich would be the right choice for producer for that. We went to New York and recorded and it was great.
AVC: What are some of the other things that he brings to your music?
JB: I think we're a difficult band to work with, because when we send out demos to people, there's always a bunch of stuff lacking that we know what's going to happen in our heads, but people can't really tell from the demos. Rich has been quite demanding on, "Finish the songs, and let me hear the finished song before I feel the album is ready," but the thing is that the album is never finished until we finish recording it—we always keep changing things up till the last moment. But he has been kind of beating us on our heads with getting it right and making sure that we have the right arrangements before we start recording. I think that's been very helpful. I think that some of the arrangements we had when we went into the studio, or before that, were just kind of too cerebral or too sort of put together as a puzzle, and I think it has a much more natural feel thanks to Rich.
AVC: Considering that you said the new album would be more upbeat than And The Glass Handed Kites, it's surprising to see what you've named it.
JB: [Laughs.] Yeah, the album title is kind of bleak, huh? We had a hard time finding the right title; we wanted the song titles to be shorter this time than the last one, and have them sound less like prog songs, you know? And I think most of the titles are pretty short, but finding a short album title proved to be pretty difficult. And then one day Bo [Madsen, guitarist] just called and I said, "You know what? The lyrics for "Hawaii Dream," I really like the lyric, and it really feels right for the album, to use that whole poem." Some people are just going to call it No More Stories... I was really happy with the artwork, because the artwork looks kind of happy and colorful, and I think that balances out the bleak title and shows the kind of contrast that we have in everything that we do.