Small Talk with Jonas Bjerre of Mind-Mutilating Mew

Fusing sky scraping apocalyptic guitar injections with the calypso treble chimes of steel drums and clean-as-a-wiped-flick-knife Telecaster gleams, whilst simultaneously reinterpreting hallucinatory takes on sweeping soundtracks worthy of film cells from Blade Runner to Lord of the Rings is no mean feat. Yet the androgynous vocal swathes of Great Dane Jonas Bjerre set against the chimerical, majestically introspective sonic soundscapes of astral experimentalists, Bo Madsen and Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen scale the fabled great heights of Ben Gibbard’s forever-revered, perpetually lukewarm bit on the side, The Postal Service. Cowering over the dashboard in an M4 service station barking adoration down a phone line is the ideal scenario purveying the grim reality from which Denmark’s finest export since Lego, Mew, strive to evade, wandering down wooded lanes of the solemn subconscious, deep into the surreal splendour once splashed over canvas by a certain Salvador Dalí. Contemplating genre-bending, veering away from mainstream appeal and plans for potential greatest hits records ahead of their hallowed arrival on these shores next month, Bjerre is as endearing as his pacified Scandinavian demeanour and whisked fringe suggest.

Jonas Bjerre: Hello Josh, how are you?

Dots: I’m sat in a car in a less than salubrious service station. You’re still very much an undiscovered treasure. Having toured with both REM and Nine Inch Nails, in which arena were you more at ease?

JB: Both sets of shows were amazing in different ways. I was slightly terrified initially when NIN asked us to tour with them because I thought maybe their audience wouldn’t have viewed us as tough enough in terms of our sound but it was actually a wonderful tour. As their farewell tour it was special to be a part of that too.

Dashes: Basing a career on melancholic music and somewhat ambiguous lyrical work that’s fairly difficult to interpret may not be the easiest way to the heart of your average Trent Reznor obsessive compulsive. From where does your lyrical subject matter tend to derive?

JB: Predominantly when we have writing sessions, we’ll come up with new parts, I’ll conjure up melodies and 50% of the time the words just form with the melody, influenced of course by the events of my life that surround me whilst the other 50% I sit and work on it for months and months, trying to make it sound right. It’s a peculiar sensation, being able to judge what feels contrived or when you’re trying to squeeze too much meaning into something or if there’s far too much symbolism in place of meaning. I think they can be two entirely different entities but actually on this record [No More Stories...] I tried to write more directly, predominantly dealing with down-to-Earth subject matter, life and things of that nature.

Dots: Even over a crackled phone line your English is obviously extremely competent. Having always produced Anglophonic music, have you ever experienced a Scandinavian backlash for that decision?

JB: No, I don’t think people care too much about that there. English is the second language as we live in such small countries that you pretty much have to learn to cope with it. When I was a kid watching TV, none of the shows were dubbed. We didn’t even dub cartoons so you had to learn what Bugs Bunny was saying without even having learnt to read so you’re subjected to the language to such an extent that it just grows on you, becoming natural. Particularly in America a load of journalists ask me why I don’t sing in Danish and of course, that’s always hard to answer as there’s a fair few reasons behind it, ambition being one of them. We grew up with English and American bands so it just seems more natural and also better that way.

Dashes: Often described as dream-pop, have any concepts behind songs or songs themselves been born subconsciously as it were?

JB: Yeah, I think especially on the last record I was particularly inspired by dreams, writing them down. It’s not always about writing down whatever’s happened to you in dreams and then transforming that into a lyric, it’s more of an inspiration. When we’re referenced as dream-pop I think back especially to early 90s shoegaze and I think a part of our sound does incorporate that but we’re more rhythmically structured and therefore more funky.

Dots: The majority of your music’s fairly impossible to pigeonhole, spanning endless genres. Do you find it tiresome having to ceaselessly explain in interviews exactly what your style is and what it is you’re striving to purvey?

JB: That’s always been the bane of our existence as a band: we’ve never fitted in with a certain musical wave so we just sit on the outside. That’s ok and we’re kind of used to that but it pains me to reel off precise genre descriptions of what we do as we’re just trying to take in everything we’re inspired by whilst being inventive as if you’re not even trying to be creative, that doesn’t excite me. Too many bands are still stuck in a rut, sounding like Rolling Stones b-sides. It’s cool enough but it doesn’t really get me going.

Dashes: Looking back over the sleeve artwork wrapping up Mew records over the years, artistic expression evidently holds a central position within the band. How deliberate have the now-evident parallels with visual experimentation been?

JB: I do a lot of animation myself, making an elaborate film-reel that we project during a fair few songs in the live setting so I keep updating that. Today I made reindeer skull-headed creations that’ll be on the screen during a certain song so the visual aspect holds an enormous significance to us.

Dots: Not slotting in with trends and tendencies, you inevitably veer away from a mainstream audience. Considering surrealist cover sleeves and expansive album titles, do you feel that you’re marginalised due to a resistance to sacrifice the creativity you want each record to contain rather than succumbing to musical commercialism?

JB: At times, we get tired of spending such extensive periods of time writing and recording and in those instances, we get jealous of bands that put out a new record every year, making catchy hooks and accessible tracks and sometimes we try and do stuff like that but if we try and make something really simple, it sounds disappointingly contrived. Beach off the latest album is a completely shameless pop song yet when some people hear it they claim it’s a little difficult to get your head around so I can’t understand that. If that song’s hard to get your head around then I don’t know how to write a pop song.

Dashes: In comparison with a record like Frengers, has No More Stories... fallen a little further off the wall?

JB: Frengers was a different type of album as it contained a fair few songs that we’d written as teenagers so years and years ago so some were re-recordings whereas this was something of a more intense writing process. We didn’t impose any rules upon ourselves so I suppose it is a little more schizophrenic this time around but I still think it fits together really well, somehow telling it’s own story.

Dots: What can people expect from your imminent arrival on UK soil next month?

JB: We’re trying something new visually that’s going to be a bit more imposing and we’re working on diverse ways of playing songs, the way in which they transgress and morph into one another.

Dashes: The debates around the validity of music as a creative product and the rights that the artist has continue to rage whereas what you’re saying seems to highlight the value of an album as a single entity, harking back to the days of 12” vinyls starting with the scratch of a needle and running right until the end.

JB: We still want to keep making entire albums as we love the idea of creating a world over a period of time, both visually and musically that fits together. It just seems so dislocated when you release predominantly singular songs but to a certain extent you have to follow the trends of the industry and let go of old ways. Maybe we’ll be the kind of band to put out a new song every month, that could be kind of fun too...

Dots: But no sign of a Mew: Greatest Hits on the horizon...

JB: Absolutely not.

Jonas and Mew kick off their UK tour on 4th November. Please go see them- they're absolutely adorable, they're Scandinavian, never a bad thing and it may well be the tour of the year.