Mew are learning that there is often a big gap between initial goals and end results. “We wanted this album to have shorter song titles, and for the album title itself to be shorter, just a few words, something concise,” explains lead vocalist Jonas Bjerre. He’s referring to their latest release 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
. “But what do you know, folks? We just couldn’t do it,” Bjerre confesses sheepishly.
“We couldn’t think of a shorter title,” Bjerre further elaborates. “So one night Bo (Madsen) called me up and said, ‘You know those lyrics for ‘Hawaii Dream’? They sound like a poem. We should use that poem as the title for the album.'” And just like a tropical vacation vision, that’s how it happened.
Mew also set a goal of recording their fifth studio album more quickly than past efforts. But much like the best-laid plans of mice and men, time wasn’t exactly on their side. “We did not accomplish that goal. We failed miserably,” admits Bjerre. “Haste does make waste, but in our case it is borderline psychotic how long we spend on things. We’ve definitely found ways of writing and recording which work for us and the result [we feel] is as good as it can be. But sometimes we dream of being a band that puts out a new record every six months; [one] who spends a day writing a song, etc. But I doubt that will happen.”
As Harry Callahan once wisely advised, “A man’s got to know his own limitations.” And working quickly is just not a skill in Mew’s skill set.
This latest album is Mew’s first since bassist Johan Wohlert left the band. However, steady touring helped prepare the group for its sudden membership shrinkage. “It feels pretty natural now,” Bjerre explains. “But it has been three years since Johan Wohlert left and we have toured a lot without him.” Touring is one thing, but writing and recording required just a little more adjustment. Complete adjustment has never been high on Mew’s operational to-do list.
“Writing was a bit tricky at first, but we soon found our footing,” notes Bjerre. “We never truly find our footing though; that’s one of the things that makes our band what it is. If you feel totally at ease and comfortable with making music, I find that it rarely becomes very interesting.”
Although creating music can sometimes be a little chaotic in the Mew camp, the group is never short on imagination. Consider, if you will, that the act wrote these songs at home in Denmark and recorded many of them in Brooklyn. Yet quite a few of these fresh tracks feature song titles that allude to vacation paradises — “Beach,” “Hawaii Dream,” and “Hawaii.” “We did not write the songs while vacationing,” Bjerre clarifies. “Rather, we wrote them in our place in Copenhagen and at home. Perhaps we were dreaming about beaches and far-away places.”
“We had been writing the album primarily in Denmark and focusing a lot on it during winter, which is long, cold, and dark in Denmark,” he continues. “So I think it had an uplifting impact to finally head over to New York in June, where it was summer and light, and finally get started on recording. Our producer, Rich Costey, knew a studio there where we did most of the drums and bass, as well as over-dubbing of all these weird instruments they have there. Then we went home for a while and recorded there, and then we went to Electric Lady in Manhattan, which is where we finished it.”
And dare we say it; these aural tropical delights are also a tad happier than songs in Mew’s past and show off another side of the band. “Our last record was dark,” Bjerre admits. “We wanted this one to be really colorful — as a counter-reaction to the last one. It’s a natural progression, I think, to move a little bit away from your last work. We move in zigzags and it becomes something different each time.”
Whether wordy or concise, quick or slow, or happy or sad, Mew are a band that sounds like no other. However, there are times when Bjerre comes off like he is Jon Anderson fronting The Beach Boys, which is a most unlikely combination.
“When our last record came out all these prog rock comparisons came about,” says Bjerre. “Yes was one of the bands people mentioned, trying to describe our sound. Funnily enough, we never really knew that scene. The only prog-ish band we listened to was Genesis; Lamb Lies Down On Broadway-era. But then we got curious and had a listen to Yes and liked a lot of it. But I think the whole prog thing grew out of a general curiosity about music. We were never trying to be prog, as such, we just wanted to see how we can bend the rules, how far we can take songs. I always loved Pet Sounds, so being compared to Beach Boys is okay with me.”
Watching how they slowly but surely bend rules, and seeing how far they can take songs – sometimes to epic novel lengths – is what we love most about Mew. This band is a vacation spot for the mind.