In a nice new lengthy interview in Swedish publication ‘Mitt i Stockholm’ Benny reflects upon his childhood, the ABBA years, Olof Palme, his wife Mona and the impact of his success.
Benny took time out from rehearsals of his new musical Hjälp sökes to talk to a Stockholm newspaper in the kitchen of Stockholm’s Orionteatern. As he spoke he picked small pieces of straw and sawdust from his sweater. Downstairs, the stage has been turned into a farm complete with two special Simmental cows, two mini-pigs, a goat, a horse, a Danish-Swedish farm dog, two Chinese Crested dogs and four geese.
The show which tells the story about what happens when two middle-aged brothers put an advert in the local paper seeking help for their farm, premieres in just a couple of days time, on 8 February, but Benny’s hair almost reaches down to his shoulders?
“I cannot cut my hair before a premiere,” he explained. Is he superstitious? “No, but I never cut my hair before a premiere,” he repeated and smiled wryly over the top of his glasses.
Whenever there was a break, I went up and played Boogie-Woogie on the piano. I thought I can do this well.
Both Benny’s father and grandfather played the accordion, so it was natural for him to play too. In the summer months, Benny lived with his grandparents on Mjölkö outside Österåker. “Grandfather sat on the porch and played, so I took my accordion and played with him,” said Benny. “It was a blast. It was mostly Jularbo and other old accordion tunes.”
As a ten-year-old Benny also began to play the piano. The family lived in an apartment on Härjedalsgatan at Vällingby centre. Benny told how he often went to the local youth club, where a band played every Wednesday and Saturday. “Whenever there was a break, I went up and played Boogie-Woogie on the piano. I thought I can do this well.”
Benny said he was encouraged as a child. “If you have talent, whether it be music, painting or anything else, it’s nice if someone tells you how good you are. I think these things are important.”
Speaking of his creative process, Benny explained, “When I write music it is just my brain that works, however the feeling when something good occurs is clearly physical. But it takes time to sit at the piano. If only I knew why it takes six months to create ten minutes of music. There is a constant abrasion of unnecessary tones to be removed. When I do something I think is good, I feel euphoria.”
The first time Benny experienced such a feeling was on just his 2nd attempt at songwriting during a tour with the Hep Stars in 1965. Sunny Girl went to number one on the Swedish charts, and when it happened he thought, ‘this I can devote myself to. It may be possible if I know what I’m after.’
Benny said “I am fortunate not to have been a modern jazz fan. It is a very narrow genre, otherwise I may not be where I am today.”
Asked how he would sum up the years with ABBA, Benny replied, “As a great time. You see, we wrote music, played it and then got such a huge response. It was beyond our imagination. I was hoping that people would like our music, but I was not expecting it to that degree.”
However, he said that it was not an unreal feeling. “It was very labour intensive. After the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974, we knew, now is the time to start working. But inside me, nothing happened. The Hep Stars had already been popular, so it was a huge boost, but not a new experience. More like ‘Okay, now I know what this is like’. I was also relatively old, at 28 years.”
It is a bit ugly-beautiful. I have it at home right now, but I will take it to my studio on Skeppsholmen and find a home for it between my Grammis and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards
At a recent ceremony attended by 2800 people in Stockholm’s boutique hotel Berns, Benny was presented with the Guldbaggen award for ‘Best music’ for his score to the documentary film Palme.
He said that it was a great honour to have been awarded the prize. “It is a bit ugly-beautiful. I have it at home right now, but I will take it to my studio on Skeppsholmen and find a home for it between my Grammis and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards.”
Benny spoke of how he had met Olof Palme in real life on a few occasions, as his grandfather Efraim Andersson was a much-liked figure who was active in a union, and said that he had admired Palme greatly, both as a politician and as a person.
Benny wrote the music for the film after watching the documentary. He said that he thought it was so sad how everything had ended in chaos. “When I heard Olof Palme’s sons tell the family history, I felt a knot inside of me. I used that feeling when I was writing the music.”
There is always someone who will ask ‘weren’t you in the Beach Boys?’
Soon Benny Andersson will have been writing music for five decades. He has sold over 380 million records and in 2005 he became Sweden’s first pop-billionaire. But despite this Benny is humbled by his celebrity status and says that he does not really know how success has affected him.
“I do not know what it would be like otherwise. But it is clear that it is shaped by what you feel. I know that people recognise me, it’s been that way for the last 40 years. There is a certain security in the fact that people know who you are, but I also think it’s quite nice when people do not have a clue or give a damn who I am, when I can sit in any restaurant in Minneapolis for example. But then there is always someone who will ask “weren’t you in the Beach Boys?”
Benny said that whilst he is political, he does not belong to any particular political party. However he is a supporter of the Feminist Initiative and likes to stand up for what he thinks is important.
“I get a little upset about the plans to redevelop Slussen. They have planned a new building and not thought through what the result will be. I was so flabbergasted when I heard a presentation about it, so I figured I must say something. I do not know if it helped at all, but it helped me to say publicly that I think this is really wrong. And many agree with me.”
Speaking about his past problems with alcohol, Benny said, “I have given it up. Ten years ago, everything has its time.”
And of the love of his wife Mona? “She means the world. It would be a useless life if she did not exist. Mutual respect and humour is everything, I think.”