It's half past two on a Friday afternoon and I’m chatting on the blower to Johan Wohlest, bassist with Danish band Mew. He’s in Copenhagen, gearing up for another sold-out show on their whistle-stop tour of Scandinavia.
DiS: You’ve started to become popular in your native Denmark.
Yeah we have. The music scene here has really changed – all the gigs have sold out, it’s new times for rock music in Denmark definitely. Tonight we’re playing in Copenhagen and we’re playing to, like 1500 people…
DiS: That must be fantastic.
Homecoming! We’ve been away for a while. It’s been 6 months since we last played Denmark so the demand’s been real big.
DiS: And the album (4/5 'Frengers') went in at number 2 in Denmark, is that correct?
Yeah it did, which was crazy as well! Like I said, it’s a completely different vibe here on the music scene than it was 2 years ago, when we released our previous album. It’s kind of crazy that a little surge of bands like us can make an impact, that’s really positive.
DiS: I’ve heard you’ve had quite a good reaction in Japan as well.
Yeah that’s been overwhelming. It’s been the most similar in Japan compared to Denmark. We just went there to play a show, and I’d never been. You know, we were greeted by fans that were quite, quite into the band – it’s the closest we’ve been to Beatlemania I think!
DiS: It was back in 1997 when you formed, it must seem like you’ve waited a long time for a reaction like this.
Yeah, it was hard. We’ve released two records on indie labels in Denmark. I think the major reason was the world hadn’t really tuned into Danish music – and then the music scene in Denmark back then was just dominated by Aqua-pop. To be honest, we were pretty disillusioned by the whole scene. On our second record we decided if we want to do anything with it we have to get a deal outside of Denmark. We had to get a deal either in the States or in Britain and we were lucky enough to get one. I think there are a lot of Danish bands in Denmark who’ve made themselves their own labels for similar reasons to us. The scene’s become pretty big in Denmark, and you know that you say, ‘Screw it to the Danish major labels’… You do it yourself in Denmark and then get picked up by Sony in the US or something like that.
DiS: A lot of your songs have been remixed from your original albums or even re-recorded. Whose decision was it to do that?
It was our own because we were in a situation where we had to do the strongest possible album. There were some songs that were on our previous record but we just thought that now we had a decent budget to go in and do the new versions… For us it was like having made demos for five years and suddenly getting to do them right. It was a tough decision to make because it’s hard to go and re-record songs you’ve already completed, but we’re happy with the outcome.
DiS: Are you perfectionists in your work?
Oh, so much so. We take a long, long time to write our songs and we record them over and over until we get them right – backwards, forwards, that kind of thing.
DiS: Of the new songs I really like 'Eight Flew Over, One Was Destroyed'.
Yeah that’s one of my favourites too.
DiS: It’s just got a certain kind of atmosphere. Is that the direction that Mew’s going to take in the future?
That was one of the new tracks we wrote for the album, so that is possible. I mean it’s still pretty early on to decide. We’re working on new songs. I think it’s just going to be an even more dynamic record so you’re going to have parts that are even more spaced out and soft and parts that, you know, are going to be more hard. So it’s going to be a thing that we’d like to do that’s really, really dynamic and really sort of, up and down all the time, so you know… ‘long live the prog rock!’.
DiS: There’s a lot of distance in this album yet…
Yeah I mean, in Britain it’s considered the debut album, and I think it’s pretty rare that you hear a debut that’s so well-worked all the way through, and you know, where the songs are so distinct and so set apart from each other, yet somehow works as an album. I can’t come up with an objective opinion because it’s my record but I honestly think that. It reflects the songs that we’ve had for so many years. We’ve been able to choose these 10 songs out of maybe 30 or 40 – the 10 that we chose we absolutely thought they were right.
DiS: So how are you enjoying the UK? You’ve had a good reaction from your live performances.
Yeah I think we haven’t really, really gotten started over there yet. You know, we’re looking forward to coming back and touring some more – that seems to be the key. People might like the record but when they see us play live and everything sort of falls into place.
DiS: I’ve noticed a few people in Mew t-shirts at other band’s gigs.
Oh, really? Cool. Yeah it’s really cool. It's good stuff happens.. Or you hear about this other band that really likes us. It’s not just straight-forward pop music or rock music – you have to sort of give it thought. I have a feeling that we’re a band that appeals to other bands which is a good thing at this stage in our career, when we’re so dependent on being invited on tour by other bands.
DiS: You toured twice with Martin Grech...
Yeah! We clicked really well.
DiS: It was billed in the press as a double header.
To be fair, it wasn’t, but on the other hand it kind of was because at the end half the audience were there to see us.
DiS: I recently noticed on Ebay, 'A Triumph for Man', your first album, went for over $200!!
Yeah that’s true, that’s pretty sick. Yeah, we have a small secret stash that’s going to secure our pension when we get old!! We’re going to sell them one by one… It’s pretty crazy. We heard about that when we were in Japan. It was kind of weird. I think I have one copy at home and that’s it – it’s not going to be made again and there’s none left, so I think that the people that actually get there hands on it are pretty fortunate because it’s simply not available.
DiS: So no chance of a re-issue?
No, I don’t think we will. Because I think we think it’s pretty cool that it’s so rare. You know, the old indie sentiment here! Yeah I think it’s a great little thing for people who have it, you know, they can keep it and we’ve used some of the tracks as b-sides as well.
DiS: You’re reissuing 'Am I Wry? No' as a single in the UK. Why is that?
It’s the same mix as the limited edition; it’s got different b-sides. The previous release was difficult to get hold of, but we wanted it to be, it’s the same path that a lot of bands we admire have followed. You know, bands like The Pixies, where the audience thought, ‘I fucking discovered that band. That band is my band’. That helps if you do these small down-scale releases, and make stuff really rare. It can be kind of a pain for people that just really want it, but it’s good for the hardcore fans.
DiS: Do you feel that’s the kind of following you’re developing in the UK?
Yeah. I think that’s one of the best things about coming to the UK and touring there. I think the people that once they got it, they got into it, it feels like it’s their life, kind of thing. Well, maybe not (!) but they seem very, very, very into it and almost in a way that people in Denmark are into it. I think the UK fans are kind of in-between Denmark and Japan. If you talk about passion, they’re pretty high up the ladder.
DiS: The forum on your website seems to have quite a few devoted fans as well.
Yeah that was where we noticed it first really, where people were just chatting about us, and spending a lot of time discussing us! And that was promising. People have come up to us at gigs in England with like our angel tattooed on their forearm, and we’re like, What the fuck! That’s dedication right there. I don’t think we would have ever thought of that before.
So there you have it, the past 15 minutes have confirmed Mew’s cult status and reaffirmed the belief that they are a truly special band.
'Am I Wry? No' is released on Evil Office/Epic in the UK on June 9th on 2 x CD and 7” vinyl. The album, 'Frengers', is out on limited edition numbered CD and CD now. They also play Glastobury and tour with OkGo on the following dates..
7th Nottingham Rescue Rooms
8th Sheffield Leadmill
9th Birmingham Academy
10th Manchester Hop & Grape
11th Glasgow King Tuts
13th London ULU
14th Brighton Concorde II
15th Bristol Fleece & Firkin