Towards the end of 2010, it felt like Mew were signing off. Having fulfilled their reported four-album contract with Sony, following the release of Eggs Are Funny, they wrapped up the year, and a phase in their career, with a couple of shows on home soil. These were special shows; in theatres in Copenhagen and Aarhus to seated audiences, they manifested career-encompassing setlists with songs such as Snowflake and Symmetry which hadn’t often, or recently, been aired live. Mew’s enigmatic counterparts, Lords of Destruction, took to the stage for the encore and took a figurative bow on their behalf. The Mew world was deconstructed, temporarily.
Jonas Bjerre, Bo Madsen and Silas Graae went on hiatus for a year, engaging in other projects and courses (painting for Silas, filmmaking for Bo, while Jonas kept himself busy with multifarious endeavours, both musical and photographic). And some of these eternally youthful-looking chaps now have “children, houses, and family-friendly cars”, according to a recent article by a fly-on-the-wall journalist. There were clearly other concerns with which they wanted to occupy themselves, while taking a respite from their musical machine which had been whirring on, at times very intensely, for 15 years.
In the introductory phase of the writing and recording of No More Stories, the three-piece Mew spent a few days at a summer house in the south of France. In early 2012, it was a manor on the Italian island of Sicily to which they took their routine sojourn. Warmer climes away from their usual surroundings, it seems, can help kick start their creative process and serve as a catalyst for the rediscovery of the band’s chemistry in the exclusivity of each other’s company. Judging from the video diary they released following the trip, though, their musical toolkit had been modest. A laptop, a couple of guitars, and a pair of bongos (no drum kit in sight) might allow skeletal sketches for songs or fragments of melodic material to form, but Mew’s technicolour soundscapes usually require a lot more than that. When I See Tomorrow is evidence of that: a neatly constructed vocal melody and sparse guitar broken chords do not a Mew masterpiece make, however pleasing on the ear it might have been.
Satellites (née Klassen) felt like it might have arisen from such arrangements when it was debuted during a live dress rehearsal for their Roskilde headline slot, in front of a Copenhagen crowd at Bremen Teater. “We’re going to play a new song, even though it’s not quite finished”, Bo warned a large, captivated Roskilde audience when the aforementioned song closed one of their biggest, and on a personal level for the band, most significant shows in their history. It was sparsely and repetitively arranged, but quite how “unfinished” it would turn out to have been was unclear, and tells the story of the journey of a Mew composition from draft form to completed lead single.
In June 2014, at NorthSide festival in Aarhus, Mew had somewhat of a surprise in store. Unbeknownst to most, although suspicions may have been raised by the fact that, while the band were publicising the recording process quite regularly on social media, there was a noticeable absence of photos, or any mention, of bass guitars. Entering the NorthSide stage as a three-piece, Jonas came forward to the mic, but instead of the band bursting into song, he announced exuberantly “we’d like to welcome back an old friend, and one who hasn’t been with us for far too long: our old bassist Johan Wohlert”. Mew were officially a four-piece again, although, as it transpired, they had been working together as such in the studio for over a year prior, when they were halfway into the writing process.
As well as being an obvious career choice for Captain Woolheart, whose musical project The Storm with Pernille Rosendahl was now on hold (perhaps indefinitely), his return had been an ultimatum of producer Michael Beinhorn who had previously overseen Kites (or as Silas put it on Facebook “helped us raise our kites in the air”) and is known for having a strong work ethic, and extremely strong demands of artists (to the point of developing a peculiar reputation as a firer of drummers). It was also this attitude which drew the band to Beinhorn; he wanted to make “the best album possible”, Jonas related during a Facebook Q&A while Silas reassured fans that “he’s been as soft as a kid [to him].”
Mew’s freedom from corporate controllership (Sony) means they have much more licence to pick and choose their collaborators. Bang and Olufsen, under the banner of their new digital branch, B&O Play, was one of these. The iOS app they co-authored with the band, Sensory Spaces, contained, alongside a novelty in challenging the user to point their device towards sound sources and explore the layers of short bursts of new Mew music, a preview of Making Friends. In November 2013, version 1 of the song was released as a free download. In the place of reverb-laden major seventh chord guitar segues, which had featured in the version they had been playing live, there was a rather clunky “false chorus” (something about answer[ing] to skulls and knock[ing] off bells from carousels). But the lyrics otherwise found Jonas in pensive, and occasionally paternalistic mood. It’s a song about wanting a sense of worldliness where there is none (on this street, no one looks at the sky), but not wanting to miss out on what’s right in front of you (what if we get numb, searching for things to discover?) and fostering someone close to you who shares those philosophies (inside I looked at you, you were there making friends, wear a hat, I’ll miss you).
As Bo mentioned at Provinssirock in Finland, “we’re trying to use as much as of our emotional sensibilities and a little bit less of our brains, and I think that reflects in the lyrics as well.” Making Friends will feature on the record, but has changed a lot since then; it might be the case that as Johan became more involved in the songwriting, pieces they’d written prior to his involvement have been forced in new directions. Making Friends (13) was accompanied by artwork designed in part by Frenger and MewX contributor, Hyunji Choi. It depicted the three band members in funny egg-form, being connected by electrical wires with positive (+) and negative (-) terminals; it was a grey, ugly logo. When Johan rejoined, they revealed an updated version of the logo. This time the logo was vibrant and full of colour. The suggestion was that the circuit was complete, that as a four-piece electricity was free to flow through them, that the lights (colours) of the logo could come on.
+- is the title of the album and one of the implications is of that intrinsic connection between the four friends. It might also reflect any other kind of plusses and minuses, ups and downs, gives and takes etc, and that’s why it’s a great title. It’s at once simple, universal, and personal to the band. Hyunji Choi’s logo features on the album cover which was otherwise designed by regular artwork designers M/M Paris. At first it looks like a rushed Photoshop collage of paintsplattered plates with matchsticks outlining the band name and album title alongside the egg-design, but the more you take it in, the more it resembles a mosaic of unerringly placed tiles which will fit the album well.
Read Part II here.
Text: Gus Greijer
Photo: Paul Heartfeld