Photo by Paul Heartfield
Interview with Jonas Bjerre of Mew | By Morgan Y. Evans
Jonas Bjerre and his Danish band Mew return with another otherworldly record, the futuristic + – (pronounced plus minus, of course). It’s the band’s first in a half decade and as thrilling as past head in the clouds indie prog hybrid masterworks like …And The Glass Handed Kites or Frengers. In fact, it might be their most fully realized collection of light and hypnotic spacey alt rock psalms yet (and with a Kimbra guest appearance!). I’ve played them for people and seen the most crossed arms snob get pulled in, so let’s hope you also learn to love Mew like I do. I caught up with Jonas and got the background on the band’s current state(s) of mind.
Your music is so spacious and yet has this sort of fey sense of gentle control, like movements in nature. “Satellites” is a great example or an older song like fan favorite “156” on Frengers.
Thanks. I think there is something about the way we work that feels a bit like orchestrated madness sometimes. We try to change things around a lot, to gain new perspectives on parts we write, and sometimes there is this feeling of a pattern or a sense of symmetry in the music that makes it feel just right. But it is pretty painstaking at times, we get so caught up in the details, I can’t even really explain how and why, and yet most of it comes from us just playing together, figuring things out as we go.
All your records feel kind of painstakingly crafted but this one really feels like you put time in, from production to arrangements. “Cross The River On Your Own” is so lush. Listening to Mew feels like music “matters,” if you know what I mean.
Thank you so much! That is a great compliment. Yes, I think I do know what you mean. A lot of parts just gel with everything going on around them, and it gives you a feeling you enjoy, whether it be melancholy or it’s uplifting or angry, or everything at once. But then there are parts that feel like they have a real urgency to them. Like they carry a message, even if you can’t consciously know what that message is, you just feel it. It’s like something ancient and brand new at the same time. Very hard to explain. But that’s my favorite feeling I get listening to music. The parts that give me goosebumps.
Did you know that Mew is also a type of Pokemon now? Or maybe it was for a long time? I’m not sure. Do you relate to anthropomorphic pink cat-like creatures? I mean, who doesn’t?
Yes I know about that whole thing. Nintendo came out with that concept a couple of years after we arrived at that name, and for a little while it was a bit annoying because there were those who assumed we were somehow connected (or named after) that little pink kitty cat. But it’s not something that ever made us consider changing names or anything. We’ve had a cat play violin on screen projections at our live shows over the years, but this was a white cat in a uniform, and not related to our little Japanese friend.
Can you talk about the “My Life is my own” lyric in “Satellites”? Is that freedom part of the allure of writing music?
It’s certainly something I’ve thought about. When I was younger, I often thought about how much of life was controlled by the sound of bells. The alarm clock in the morning, the school bells ringing you in from recess. I’ve had full time jobs, and where I used to work it wasn’t like you could just pack up and go home at 6 pm. And there was always that dream of being on control of your own time. But you know what? No matter what you end up doing, alarms and bells will still play a part. And now you’ve got emails, and other types of alarms, like notifications that are actually called PUSH notifications, pushing you around.
Having said all that, I am just so extremely grateful to be allowed to do what I do for a living, to do what I love doing and having people appreciate the work we do in a bunch of different countries all over the world. It really is like a dream sometimes. And that more than makes up for all the alarms! And to answer your question, yes that part of the song really is about the freedom you have, or at least SHOULD have, to choose what to do with your life. That it belongs to you, and to nobody else.
Do you prefer outdoor or club shows? I feel like your music must be so expansive outside, vocals and guitars just like sheets of colorful rain.
I love doing big outdoors gigs, festivals, late at night with a sense of mystery in the air. And I love having a large audience, of course. But, I also really enjoy smaller gigs, in dark, sweaty rock clubs. I feel really lucky that we get to do both types of shows, because we tour in different places with different levels of success.
Were you surprised a few years back to get the offer to open the at the time farewell Nine Inch Nails shows?
I was super stoked, and yes, very surprised! I think there was a part of me that was a bit fearful as well, because even if our material has a certain contrast, a certain underlying darkness to it, some of our songs are obviously much lighter than what people might expect at a NIN gig. But it turned out to be a really amazing spot for us. I spoke with Trent a bunch during our tour together, he is a real master at his craft and he was really generous to us, in the way he invited us along, and made us feel at home in his space.
He’s very curious about music, and I felt very inspired from my talks with him. We would love to do something with him again.
How do you feel the band has grown most since the previous record? I feel like you just get more cinematic somehow. I can listen to Mew in almost any mood. A real blessing.
Thank you so much! Having our original bass player rejoin the band made a big impact. The previous record was tricky, because we wrote it as a three-piece, and all the bass lines were written afterwards, like an afterthought. I think we did something really interesting with that, and I’m very happy about that album, but it was just a step away from the skeleton of the band, being the 4 of us, growing up together musically.
So we are back to having this core of being a band, and that brings with it more direction and focus. We are very different people, and we each bring something different to the mixture, and I think we’re getting better and better at realizing what the band really is.