50 Years Old and a Pop King? - Per Gessle Starts from the Beginning

50 Years Old and a Pop King? - Per Gessle Starts from the Beginning

After Roxette’s success over the planet, Per Gessle took back the throne as Sweden’s pop king with his summer songs about life in little towns, as well as about love. So why does he put on a rabbit mask and dance disco one month before he turns 50? 

Per Gessle

Born: 12th of January 1959

Family: Wife Åsa, son Gabriel, 11 years old

Job: Song writer and pop star

Lives: in Stockholm, as well as in Tylösand

Amount of disks in his shelf: about 7,000

Amount of songs in his iPod: 17,750

The latest disk he has bought: “All or Nothing” with The Subways

In a green painted industrial place, Per Gessle lies on his belly on a chair and pretends that he swims. He looks curiously around, as he had been under water.

In the loudspeakers you can hear “Silly Really”, the first single from his 7th solo album “Party Crasher”, an easy-going disco song with groovy rhythm.

The air in the studio is sultry and under the black suit, the shirt is full of sweat. The girl who is responsible with make-up improves the thick amount of powder on his forehead. The song is played again and Per is asked to pose freely.

- Think about Mick Jagger 1967, the director shouts.

Per Gessle measures a rock beat in the air, puts his hands on the hips and makes some rigid dance steps. The video will be done in a karaoke bar and the leading words are “tacky, arty, party”. The aim is that the video becomes careless and cheerful, but it should look like being done at home.

- I want the video to fit the playful feeling on the disk, says Gessle and sits in front of the mirror in the lodge.

- Dimman, where is my bag? 

Manager Marie Dimberg has been working with Per Gessle since 1986 and is known as a professional in the branch. She points to an old grey leather bag which is on a chair near the table with fruit.

 While the girl from make-up is trying to straighten his whiskers, Per Gessle is searching in the big handbag, where he keeps everything from nail polish, plectrum, eraser and USB from the latest number of King fashion magazine. He picks up images for album covers. They are colourful, collage-like, far away from Anton Corbin images which have dominated the covers of the latest Gessle-albums. In the single he makes a big kissing mouth and his eyes are transformed into the eyes of the disco queen, Donna Summer.

- Cute, isn’t it? I didn’t really want to have a photo session, so I started to look for some family photos in my computer. Then I was also thinking about Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Model”, where he has put a picture of himself on the cover, a picture that had been taken by himself. So I stood in front of the mirror in my wife’s dressing room and took some pictures of myself, wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket.

Soon 50 years old, Per Gessle has released a totally electronic album in English. The songs have titles like “The Party Pleaser” and he talks happily about the fact that they inspire from   Bee Gees’ ‘70s mixed with Human League’s ‘80s, all these together with a punk attitude.

Instead of having a rest after such a big success that he has had with the latest solo albums in Swedish – and we don’t talk here about Gyllene Tider’s successful comeback -, he began to experience a new way to write songs.  

- How will it be if I write a dance album?

I was really curious about that. If there is somebody who can’t do a dance album, that one is me.

Exactly like he did the latest years, Per Gessle travelled to Skåne and got help from Clarence Öfwerman, who he has been working with since 1986, and Christoffer Lundström from Brainpool – two persons who have never done dance music either. In the studio he listened to songs like “Le Freak” with Chic and on his iPod he played old songs with Giorgio Moroder. Totally concentrated, the trio took notes and got influenced by these songs. 



“I have never intended to be a celebrity, I rather despise it. I don’t like to walk on the red carpet.” 

Gyllene Tider

Founded: 1978

Discography: Gyllene Tider (1980), Moderna Tider (1981), Puls (1982), The Heartland Café (1984) and Finn 5 fell! (2004)

Others: They have broken the audience record in the summer of 2004 when they played for over half a million people.


Founded: 1986

Discography: Pearls of Passion (1986), Look Sharp! (1988), Joyride (1991), Tourism (1992), Crash Boom Bang (1994), Have a Nice Day (1999), Room Service (2001), Rox Box (2006).

Others: They have sold about 75 million disks. Among the Swedish artists, it was only ABBA who have sold more.

Even contemporary artists like Timbaland and Nelly Furtado started a new rhythm.

- Damn, how strange it sounded. But we have borrowed some things from there as well.

The result is a disk that reminds more of the most commercial sides of Roxette than of that Per Gessle who, with a convincing voice, sings about the Swedish life in small towns, summer and love. On one side because he wanted to do something different and on the other side because he saw that the market had been saturated with his albums from the previous years.

- I was obliged to change my style totally so that it doesn’t sound like a backlash. Sweden is very little for artists like me, who sell 150,000 – 200,000 tickets for a summer concert. Well, you can’t do this every year.

That’s why Per Gessle’s plan is that “Party Crasher” is released in the whole world and gets an international success. The idea is by far obvious.

Seven years have passed since the latest Roxette disk “Room Service”, a disk which was warmly received. Outside the country there are quite few people, who associate the name “Per Gessle” with Roxette, and the same amount of people who associate Roxette with their mega hits because they have always been anonymous artists. Just to get an international record contract is very different nowadays than it was some years ago. He says that his well-established network is wiped out because the people from the record companies change a lot.

In other words, this is the perfect challenge.

- All the time I search things that make me stand on my tiptoes. Of course that I am totally aware of the fact that there are very few chances to have success in the pop world outside the country when you are 50 years old. On the other side, it was a miracle that it worked before.

Waiting for the video team to install the cameras, Per Gessle is checking out his haircut in front of the mirror and talking to Marie Dimberg about the more or less successful haircuts along his career. They work a lot together, the same as Per Gessle works with all his old co-operators. She annoys him like a sister for everything he does.

- Although I have become much better, he protests.

- But you still change the paper roll in the people’s kitchens if it is in the wrong direction, she contradicts him.

Per Gessle is laughing. The director of the video comes in with a rabbit mask that Per Gessle puts on. He looks very funny and all the members of the video team take pictures of him with their mobile phones before he goes to the green stage to dance a bit.

Marie Dimberg is watching him from the side of the stage.

- This is the loneliest job in the world. To succeed to stand there and do your best requires a lot of self-control. But Per’s self-control has diminished in time.

When Per Gessle was 7 years old, he asked his mother to sew some black motives on a red velvet blazer. He wore that coat together with a flounced shirt and some black boots with metal buckles during a visit at Liseberg in Gothenburg. On his shoulder he had a black suitcase with his savings – 30 – 40 coins of 1 crown each. People were staring at the little fat boy and he describes the feeling as being a fantastic one. Exactly that way life should be.

In the fat book “Att Vara Per Gessle”, written by Sven Lindström, which was released in 2007, Elisabeth Gessle says that her youngest son has liked order and has been really interested in fashion since he was little. Elisabeth has bought both dolls and toy-cars to Per, who used to spend hours to arrange them, to dress up and change the clothes of his Barbies.

With the help of his two elder brothers he discovered pop music quite early and enjoyed it totally. The Kinks, Hep Stars, Beatles and The Monkees offered a totally new world to him and competed with all the other things. Per Gessle wanted to be the best, the same like with all the things he was interested in – tennis, hockey or car race. He used to read English music newspapers, made some statistics with songs in the charts and when he was 10 years old, he already had a collection of 100 disks.


Per Gessle includes pop references in everything, from song texts to answers in interviews, like a way to test his audience. How often do people understand it? – Quite seldom.

Solo career

Discography: Per Gessle (1983), Scener (1985), The World According to Gessle (1997), Mazarin (2003), Son of a Plumber (2005), En händig man (2007) and Party Crasher (2008).

Others: He has also released an album with the group The Lonely Boys in 1996.

In the class photo from the 4th school year Per Gessle had a pot haircut and fat curls, exactly like Buddy Holly. In spite of the fact that it was difficult for him to get some friends and always felt pushed away, he didn’t want to have his hair cut in another way, as well as change his huge glasses. Elisabeth Gessle tried to bribe him with a record to make him change his haircut, but he didn’t want to hear that.

He got deeper into the pop music instead and dreamed about his picture on a disk cover with promises from other worlds, far away from Halmstad’s suburbs.

- I always felt that I was wrong. In the pop culture there were no boundaries, everything was possible. At the same time there was a forbidden world with toys for adults. Just to have long hair was really exciting. You could meet something that you didn’t understand.

He began to write songs while he was a teen-ager, but he had some limits because he could not play any musical instrument. Only when he met Mats “MP” Persson at the secondary school, he thought that he found his “soul mate”. MP was a musical genius, very intelligent when it comes about music, but he didn’t have the ambition to make something from that music. Per Gessle was the entrepreneur, the director and the visionary with great ideas about how to dominate the world.

- Without MP I would have stood in a CD shop today. He has put colour in my black and white film.

Together, they founded Gyllene Tider.

1980 the debut album “Gyllene Tider” was released and four years the band filled in the Swedish teen-agers’ rooms. When they split up after an unsuccessful try to get well-known outside the country, Per Gessle had already succeeded to release his first solo album and he was working for another one. “Scener” was released in 1985, but was a failure. Suddenly he was neither in a band and nor as a solo artist and got to write songs for other artists. Lena Philipsson got the second place with “Kärleken är evig” (=Love is eternal) at The Music Festival in 1986.  

The same year he convinced the singer Marie Fredriksson, who he had been admiring for a long time, start a band. Two years later Roxette had a great success with “Look Sharp!” album in the whole world. The recompense was enormous.

Today it can be considered as normal, but when Marie Fredriksson was diagnosed with brain tumour in 2002 and Roxette were forced to stop for the moment, many were laughing at Per Gessle’s plans to make music in Swedish again. The result was “Mazarin”, which was sold in 370,000 copies and it implied both a career new start and a personal one.

- WHEN Marie got sick, I had three alternatives: to stop, to continue in the same rhythm in English or to do something in Swedish, which I hadn’t done for a long time. Then I started to work with Christoffer Lundström and was satisfied with that. Suddenly everything became really exciting. I was obliged to change my style of writing and of dealing with music. It was incredibly sensational.

The following year Gyllene Tider came back to celebrate 25 years and broke the audience record when they played in front of half a million people in the summer of 2004. 

Obsessed. “Everything I do comes from my deep love for music. I would have done my disks even if nobody had bought them. I could have released them during night time I could have stood in a CD shop.”

Later, after he had been very successful with two albums, Per Gessle was sitting in The Modern Museum restaurant, pointing at the house he lived in, on the other side of the water.

Just a few days earlier he had been in London  to receive a prize because “Listen to Your Heart” had the same success as “It Must Have Been Love”, having been played for over four million times on the American radio.

Do people recognize you at such events?

- This time there were many young song writers who wanted pictures with me. I was thinking “wow, now I start to get old”. Time has passed and Roxette have become legendary. It is strange that we were very successful among teen-agers here, at home, although we were over 30 years old when we became successful.

It’s amazing how little one knows about you, although you are one of Sweden’s most well-known artists. 

- I haven’t offered too much information about that during all these years.


- I don’t think that somebody has to do with that. I have never intended to be a celebrity, I rather despise it. I don’t like to walk on the red carpet.

At the same time it feels like you have a strong side, taking into account the fact that you care a lot of your look.

- Yes, I really hate that. I don’t like to be in the centre during a lunch, for example, I hate to be the first who speaks and that is because people, inclusively me, have so high expectations that everything should be perfect. But it’s a big pleasure to be on stage. I could never be part of a group where it’s not me who plays the mail role. In the ‘70s I played a few times in a project called Martin Örn, but it didn’t function for me.

How comes?

-  I was just yawning and thinking about something else. I was thinking about conquering the world.

You joke a lot about your pride. When did it appear?

- It appeared when I started to play in Gyllene Tider. I saw a picture of myself and thought: “oh, God, I really have to lose weight!”

Hadn’t you noticed before that you were fat?

- Yes, I had. But it was a life style. My family is a classical family of workers. When I was born, my parents had just bought an own house and started a new life. After two children, I was the one who completed the typical Swedish family. I always got one more cake. If I wanted candies from the shop, I always got them.

Were you careful with your look when you were little as well?

- I remember that I wanted all my buttons to be sewed on my jackets and shirts. If I found a button in the house, it should have been used somewhere. I am that kind of person who likes both shoe laces to be in order.

Can it lead to extremes?  

- I have become less obsessed of this during the years that have passed and I am happy about that. Everything came from music. The great success with Roxette in the ‘90s made me become locked in song writing. When we left the classical Roxette recipe, with “Fingertips”, it was the first time when a single didn’t reach a high place in the charts. Perhaps it was a feeling that I am the best when I work in a certain way. Sometimes I was feeling that it was not possible that everything is so perfect and so well done. I lose that spontaneous element that can do music exciting. 

The Art of Pop Music

In front of a painting by Ed Ruscha, at The Moder Museum. Per Gessle doesn’t want to be called a collector, but he owns a few hundreds of artworks of different well-known artists.

Was it easier?

- I was bored both of myself and of my way of working. When there appeared a possibility to test something else and to break through from another perspective, “Mazarin” was released. On the other side, you can’t be so finical when you have children. Nowadays I am a more flexible guy than 15 years ago.

But you still turn the paper roll – even in other people’s houses. Which direction should it come from?

- From the left. I take it like that.

Do you go by underground?  

- I haven’t done that since the ‘70s. I always avoid crowds; I prefer to walk on the other side. I see immediately if there appears any situation that I should avoid. It’s part of me. But I go shopping like normal people. I live a quite normal life. The only time when I see a lot of people is in summer, when a lot of Roxette fans come to our hotel in Tylösand. We don’t go out too much, we go to select restaurants and we often take our child as well. I don’t sit in a strange bar, waving a black American Express card.

You are a kind of pop nerd; have you never felt the need to play with the “rock myths”?

- I did that when I was little. But you learn to estimate other things in time. Your health, the Golden Lion from Djurgården. It’s a more quiet life, but it doesn’t mean that you become less creative. I feel that I have done a really long personal journey. I am not the one I was before. But that cannot stop me to think that I still do good pop songs.

How do you feel before turning 50 years old?

- I don’t feel that I was better or felt better before. My impression is that every year is the best and I don’t have any kind of problem with getting old. I am very trustful in my life and in my relationship.

You seem to be really in love with your wife.

- Yes, I am. We have been together since 1984.

Very few artists like you succeed to have such a long relationship. Which is the secret?

- We are different, but in spite of this, we are very much the same. Åsa has always encouraged me a lot. She has also started to develop her interest for design at our hotel. She has started to design lamps, as well.

Not many persons succeed to live like this, in somebody else’s shadow.

- No. I could never sacrifice myself for Åsa as much as she did for me. But it’s rather a problem of personality than of gender.

Do you never quarrel about gender equality?

- I don’t think that these words have ever been mentioned in our house.

Perhaps because there is no equality.

- Or because there is. I don’t have a bigger place at home. Åsa has a strong ego and this dominates our family very much. She doesn’t live in my shadow in our everyday life.

Your son, Gabriel, is he mother’s or father’s boy?

- Of course he is mother’s boy, the same as I was. Gabriel is very much like me, regarding both good and bad things. There are many things about me that I succeeded to remember when he started school. Difficult relations with the classmates, all those little groups that exist at school, among children. But he has a much stronger self-confidence than the one I had at 11 years old. 

Your father died of prostate cancer when you were a teen-ager, what kind of influence did it have on you?

- Good, I think. This is what my mother says, anyway, that he would have never liked the idea that I didn’t have a normal job. He had been sick for a long time. He had been lying in our kitchen for more than one year. What is interesting is the fact that my father died the same day when the first article about Gyllene Tider was published. Mats Olsson wrote about us in Expressen. It was like changing a chapter.

Was it sad that he couldn’t see it?

- If it had been like my mother said, that he would have never encouraged me, it would have become even sadder. I don’t know where it could have led.

It sounds quite indifferently.

- Yes, but this is it. When I think about that, I am really glad that this situation has never occurred. But of course that it would have been nice for him to have the chance to be happy for my success. He could have come with me on tours and watch the girls, the same like Keith Richard’s father.

How much influence did the fact that you became a father have on your way of writing songs?

- You get another relation to yourself and you reflect more. For example I can’t understand how bad I was to Marie when I took her on a tour one whole year, when her daughter was a baby. I couldn’t understand why the child was more important than Roxette. Today I understand how stupid it sounds, but that time I could not accept that. She also has a strong artist ego and decided to follow me.

You are known as having a strong wish to succeed. Where does it come from?

 - It has always existed. If I play tennis, of course that I want to win the match, because I should be able to do that, I think – the opponent is just an usual person. It will never happen to release something that I don’t think is good. It’s valid for all my disks. And it becomes difficult for people to understand me if I feel that I am introduced in a wrong way, for example interviews or TV-programs.

 Have you been bad to people just to see your dreams come true in your career?

- I don’t think so. On the contrary, there are other ways to get what you want. I have always been generous to the people I work with. A good proof is that almost all of them are still members of the band. If any of them thinks that I have been a ‘pain in the ass’ – what can I do against it? It was the same with the guys from Gyllene Tider, there are sad memories about money, but just for a short period of time. It was over. I am not very good at business, but I wanted to owe the rights of my songs quite early. The same with Roxette. I was always there to quarrel with the record companies because they should do their job. Why did Richard Marx get more promotion than us?   

At the same time you didn’t seem to want to see that Roxette’s carrier declined in the end.

- Of course not. The industry doesn’t function like that, it’s enough with a fantastic hit and you are on the top of the world again. We have sold 11 million copies of “Joyride” and 9 million copies of “Look Sharp!”, which means that there were a lot of people who knew who we were and who were interested in what we had done. I can expect that a disk is sold in fewer copies – like “Have A Nice Day”. It will be better next time, I thought, but “Room Service” even fewer. But if we ever make a new Roxette album, I assume that it will be sold in 10 million copies. Of course.

How far away is it? How does Marie feel?

- Marie feels well. There are some days when she is exactly as before and some days when she is very tired. We don’t meet very often, just a few times in a month. The only things we have done are a few songs for some different Roxette hit collections and she also sang with me a song on “Mazarin”. 

Do you miss working with her?

- It’s a difficult question. Sometimes I miss Roxette times, the co-operation we had. At the same time, Marie didn’t have a special interest for Roxette the last years before she got ill. When I remember those moments from the studio, I don’t want to get back that side of Marie. We love each other like two brothers; we have a wonderful child called Roxette. At the same time I know that she lives another life today. She works a lot with her paintings and that is something else. I don’t know if she really wants to be in TV-shows or other kind of shows again.

Haven’t you talked about that?

- Perhaps it sounds funny, but no. At least not since she got ill. We have talked only about some singles that we have recorded. We shouldn’t have recorded them at Clarence’s and Christoffer’s studio. I think that Marie didn’t feel too confortable there.

How often do you get offers to come back?

- Every week we get big offers, for a lot of money. Everything from birthday parties in Ukraine to festivals in Israel, South America and Germany. We could have won much more money today than in the past, because the industry of live shows offers a lot today. I don’t know where we are now and what we are waiting for. Perhaps a phone call from Marie? Meanwhile I have built my own world with Christoffer and Clarence who offered me something different from what Roxette could do.

What do you mean?

- I have got a totally different musical self-confidence. I sing better and I dare play more. In Roxette I played almost nothing, just some funny solo parts somewhere. Today I play much more by myself. I am convinced that there will be more Gyllene Tider and I am more convinced that there will be more Roxette as well. Good luck that I don’t have to choose, we just have to wait.

“Of course that no critic will like it; it’s a complicated disk for sure”

Are you disappointed if “Party Crasher” doesn’t have big success?

- It doesn’t matter if I buy one more car or not. It’s just something for entertainment; it’s cool to succeed, anyway. The third place in the charts in Germany would be nice. But the most important of everything is that I like the disk a lot. I place it quite high among the disks that I have done. 

Love present

Before the tour from2004, Per’s wife, Åsa, brought her contribution to her husband’s plectrum collection with this special plectrum: “Ta mej…nu är jag din!” (= Take me…now I’m yours!) The quotation is from a song with Gyllene Tider.

Do you think that there is the possibility that the album is a failure?

- No, I couldn’t understand that. It has everything that a good, commercial pop music should have. Of course that no critic will like it; it’s a complicated disk for sure.

You are a creative person: Per Gessle will be 50 years old soon and makes an electronic disco album.

- Exactly. And who should do such an album if not me? I have always tried to make things that are easily accessible. I love this one a lot.

It’s very stifling in the radio studio but Per Gessle still wears his black jeans jacket. He always feels cold. Blood pressure is low, 100/60 according to the health examination of last week. His wife, Åsa, will complain that his feet are cold when he is in bed.

It’s time for “Silly Really” to be played on the radio for the first time and on the timetable it is written “visit different radio stations”.

The first on the list is the morning program Rix Morgon Zoo where Gert Fylking is one of the program presenters. A producer with headset starts the program and explains that a listener has donated a chair which has been in Per Gessle’s room when he was a child. The idea is that it will be sold by auction at Rosa Bandet gala and Rix FM wants to be sure if this chair has really belonged to Gessle family.

The producer brings a leather chair with a steel frame. Per Gessle looks really confused.

- This chair I haven’t had in my room, for sure. But it looks quite familiar. 

He calls his mother to check out. She used to offer old furniture to somebody else instead of throwing it away. And the same happened to this chair long time ago. The listener bought it for 20 crowns at Home Association in Halmstad and now this person hopes to get a lot of money for this chair, which he will offer to breast cancer research.

- Say that I have written “The Look” on it, says Per Gessle and signs the leather with a black pencil. I offer 4000 crowns right now! Shouts Gert Fylking and gives him a hug.

Rix Morron Zoo broadcasts also on TV and Per has a lot of powder on his face not to look too pale in front of the cameras. It’s time to broadcast now. Per runs to the toilet and powders his face one more time.

The first question: “Are you on Facebook?” Then Fylking wants to know how much money Per Gessle gets for every sold disk and if Ferrari is still his favourite car. Answers: “No”, “I don’t know”, “Yes”.

At 08.46 there is the premiere for “Silly Really”. While the song is being played, a lot of happy e-mails arrive to the presenter of the program – from fans all over the world, even from Uruguay, Japan, Chile and Argentina. Per gets some copies of these e-mails and goes home, where he starts to pack the disk to send it to them.

At the same evening he travels to USA to recruit a publisher and meet his lawyer for a negotiation of an international contract for “Party Crasher”.      

While he is there, “Silly Really” succeeds to get on the first place of the Swedish single list.

Sweden has managed. Now it’s the world’s turn.

Ika Johannesson is editor at “Filter”.

Magnus Bergström is photo editor at “Filter”.    

Monday, 12th of January - Per Gessle turns 50. Where and how he will celebrate, he avoids to tell.

Source: “Filter” Magazine