Part one of the interview with Bo Rune Madsen in Soundvenue
The sun shines on a stack of cassette tapes on the windowsill. Bo Madsen gathers them up and presents them. ‘Sushidemo’ and ‘Mew’ are written on them. One of them is decorated with a photo from 1993 which shows a group of young guys in lumberjack shirts with shoulder-length, Kurt Cobain-esque, greasy hair holding giant guitars in their scrawny teenage arms. He produces a CD with the title ‘I Should Have Been a Tsin-Tsi (For You)’.
“Look, our first single,” he says with a smile and puts everything back in place in the sunlight. “I like to have my history with me,” he mumbles in the meantime.
Bo Madsen invited us for homebrewed coffee at his office in Hellerup. A little cave with loving vibes and Kilim rugs on both the walls and the floor. It is here that he has spent a lot of his time after he left his guitar and identity as Bo from the successful rock band Mew behind him and suddenly became just Bo.
For twenty years he had lived the boyhood dream with his three childhood friends Jonas Bjerre, Silas Graae and Johan Wohlert: Got an international record contract for five albums and toured large parts of the world with their grandiose and progressive rock led by Bjerre’s characteristic falsetto. But a few days before the band’s concert at Roskilde Festival’s Orange Stage last year, Bo decided to part ways with his friends.
From the ceiling large posters are hanging with some of his art doodles, which after further inspection, depict, amongst other things, a man’s face with large ears and a baby with a dummy in its mouth. On other drawings he’s repeatedly written Mew with a fat line through the w. With a past as a full-time musician, Bo is used to expressing himself, but today it is visual art in particular which has become his preferred medium. The works constitute some of the illustrations in the art book ‘Jordbo’, which he has worked on since he turned down the volume on the rock music until it became completely silent.
“The book is a personal collection of my own drawings, my children’s rainbow drawings, photographs, aphoristic observations and poems, which concern themselves with life, being a dad, and yeah, the meaning of it all. I try to be honest about it not being very easy being human. It’s actually often not very easy if you risk yourself and are open,” Bo explains, when we’ve sunk down into a sofa and an armchair with the coffee.
“I know that it’s dangerous to ask questions of life, especially if you’ve thought to answer them honestly, because it is quite heavy. But it’s also really nice, because you then find out that there are some things which have to be completely different, so you don’t hang onto a load of old choices you made, when you didn’t know anything at all.”
In ‘Jordbo’, Bo, who is a father of three, takes the reader all the way back to childhood summer nights at Hellrup beach, for a visit to his family’s hectic idyll, and inside touring life’s eternal rootlessness, where “you run around in absolutely nothing in that trashed hotel room in Asia and miss love and endlessly feel far away from home.”
Meanwhile he doesn’t just reflect on the existential questions which pop up when you’re suddenly an adult and nearly 40, but also on the cause of the big riddle which took the attention of both the media and fans last summer: Why did he leave Mew?
Rock Star Bo
“It’s basically the story of a friendship which didn’t survive,” Bo begins.
“It was me and Jonas who found each other in 8th grade and became an odd couple. I’m the extroverted, footballing type, and he’s the thoughtful, introverted type. We are completely and utterly different and when you work together as a group, you need to take decisions all the time. You sort of spread yourself over the spectrum, so all the opinions are covered, and Jonas and I each ended up just positioning ourselves on our own end. I am a very passionate person, who fights for what I believe in. Over the years I ended up maybe deciding too many things, and that made it more and more difficult to work together.”
On the carpet in front of him there burns a little campfire in the form of a tealight in a ceramic dish. Bo calmly warms his fingers over the fire. Then he rolls a cigarette while he continutes.
“Mew was this monster, which swallowed you whole. It’s stuff like that which becomes very frustrating when you get older, because you suddenly have a lot of other interests. It becomes harder to accept that one’s own life is on the backburner. The train just departs and you need to be on it.”
Is it not also the fans and an audience which you need to placate?
“Yeah, it’s mad. Suddenly a huge eye is looking at what you do. It’s both the media, fans and labels, but almost also girlfriends and friends, which begin to interfere, and it’s impossible to keep everyone else’s opinions out. You can also not fight against being cast in different roles, so it’s actually a lot of things which skew the harmony.”
Which role did you get?
“The role of the rock star and that’s actually the last thing I’ve felt like. It’s the role of the extroverted, superficial pretty boy, and the one with women, but I was actually very central in our creative process. It doesn’t bother me anymore but it was irritating for a while, because it becomes a sort of skewed picture”.
Can you remember a particular situation where you thought: Now we are where we’re supposed to be?
“No, because that’s something you never are. As soon as you achieve that which you dream about, you’re done with it, and then you have to move on to the next goal. I would say to people, who want to make music, that you actually can get it over with quite quickly, because you never ever will get more of a buzz about playing a concert than the very first one. You can play in all sorts of stadiums and on the Orange Stage, and I’ve enjoyed many concerts since, but there’s a special, virginal joy you get from the first experiences. It’s like that with everything in life.”
Anything else, Gustav?
Too Many Battles
You mention in your book, that you realised that you’d become part of a brand?
“That’s to do with the fact that you start by just playing, and then there’s meetings you have to go to. You stand and pose together in photos and have to do all sorts of strange things, which you never really feel for at all, and which have nothing to do with the creative process. You become more and more alienated and get further away from the friendship.”
How was it when Johan Wohlert came back?
“It was nice. Johan fits in well because he’s extroverted and more upbeat, and that’s how I am too, while Jonas and Silas Graae are a bit quieter. So when Johan wasn’t there, that threw things off balance a bit. When he left the band we thought: That’s just a bass. But we realised that a bass isn’t just a bass, because we had found a way of doing things together, and I don’t think we could’ve made that last record (+-) if we hadn’t been us four. The record became a huge project. Just things like getting the guitar sound right took half a year, and at that point you’re just on the verge of tears and doubt everything, so it was really a battle to realise the ambitions we had.”
The ambitions increase all the time, right?
“Yeah, but what should you finish with in the end? I can guarantee that there’ll never be a record in Denmark which will be anywhere near as expensive to make as our last one was. At the moment I think it’s some of the best we’ve made, but it left us in a situation where our personal relationships, and especially mine and Jonas’s, were worn out. There were too many battles.”
“In the end I let go of the last ties to Jonas. When there’s nothing left, you just can’t work together anymore, and so that has to be that. When you realise that, you’re a bit shocked because you know that your life will change markedly, but I haven’t felt a loss of identity as a result. I treat it more like a defeat because I feel I was the one who got the band together, and I couldn’t keep it together anymore.”
A marriage with four people
How were you the day after it was made public?
“It is of course strange to see it in text but the thing that hits you hardest is how others react. People have to be turned around, clean their glasses and see you from a different angle, and that’s difficult for everyone. There were also a few days which were a bit strange, when I was going to play at Roskilde with Africa Express, but at the same time it was very cool to make an appearance in different company.”
How’s life been since you’ve been Bo Madsen and not Bo from Mew?
“It’s been great, right? In some ways I feel I can sense much more since letting go of such a central part of my life, looking at life with slightly more critical eyes, and asking questions. But it is a more vulnerable place to be. I can’t rely on routine. There are a lot of things which have run automatically before, which I’m forced to face, but I want to do that, so it’s also a very exciting time. The universe and the potential to feel are bigger, but it’s always connected to a danger and a risk, because if you can get to be really happy, you can also get to be really sad. But basically I’m very happy and relieved that I can use my life for other things.”
Have you had to find yourself in relation to who you are alone?
“I am a person who has always sought development in my life, but it has always been the hardest thing for me to get things changed in that band, and I almost didn’t succeed in that. You have to imagine a marriage with four people. You’re so tightly woven together, and it goes so far back. I have a photo of myself from my first day at school where Jonas is running around in the background. It’s been nice to be free from those roles, and finally be able to be the person I am now.”
And scary maybe?
“It’s obviously a fierce process and a final development of my dreams, but I’ve felt happier than I’ve been for a long time. I can become almost more afraid when others come and say “Are you alright? What are you going to do now?” because personally I think: Hey, it’s cool, it’s gonna be alright.”
‘Jordbo’ has just been released. Read more at borunemadsen.com
It’s bittersweet. Nice to get an explanation (well timed with the book release, of course) and that he feels good, but sad to hear of how the relationship between them dissolved.
I wonder if we will now get a proper comment from Jonas, Johan and Silas.
where’s part two? I can’t reach it… 🙁