A few people for whom watching or listening to the icethesite video interviews with Benny has been physically or technically not possible have asked if they can be transcribed and presented as text on the site. My enormous thanks go to Anne who painstakingly wrote the interview out, which has in a couple of instances been altered slightly to flow better as written text.
Benny Andersson interview part 1 – 2014, The Year Ahead
Are ABBA themselves planning on anything to celebrate 40 years since winning Eurovision?
Benny Andersson: For some reason, people have this view that ABBA is celebrating 40 years next year, which we’re not, that was 2 years ago right? But, I mean, it is 40 years since Brighton and Waterloo, so, well, I should think in most people’s eyes, that’s when it all started.
I don’t know what’s going to happen really. We had a meeting here the other day. The four of us, sitting down and sort of looking at things because, yeah, a lot of people want to do a lot of things and we decided, we don’t, so we are not going to do anything, ourselves, that is.
But I think Universal is going to launch some stuff. It’s going to be the Waterloo album, sort of deluxe thing and er, possibly a live album – the full, a whole concert from Wembley in ’79. So Ludvig has been working on that together with Bernhard [Löhr] in the studio. Listening through all the concerts, picking which one he thinks is the best and we’ll try to do it exactly as it was, with everything in it, no fixing, nothing, just solid live. Not adding things that are missing, so, mm, it’s not too bad, I’ve been listening to some of it. It was very fast I think, some of the songs, but that’s adrenaline kicking in when you are on stage.
So that might happen. We don’t know about that yet, but it might.
And for 15 years of Mamma Mia! on London’s West End?
BA: 15 years, yeah, they are going to celebrate that, I know that. So some of us might pop over to be there. I don’t know who.
Mamma Mia! is to open in Helsinki, hot on the heels of Kristina…was it always the intention to put on the two shows there?
BA: Kristina belongs to us here in this house, while Mamma Mia! is Littlestar and they have their machinery going you know, so not really. It was just Johan the chief of the Svenska Teatern that wanted to do this, or they approached him, I don’t know. I don’t know how it happened.
The original concept recording of CHESS is 30 years old in 2014…any plans to mark that milestone?
BA: We went a couple of years ago just to drag out all the recordings, the multi-tracks, to see if there was anything we could do for that.
Firstly we should try to sort of tidy-up and do a re-mastering of the old one and also, possibly add stuff because we took like 5 or 6 things out of the first concept album because there wasn’t room. We had to make three albums then and that was sort of tricky to handle, so it was a double album. Now we can squeeze it in on a CD, that’s not a problem.
So we are going to listen through that, and do a re-mastering and add some stuff that is not on the original record. Just for fun. And maybe the videos of One Night In Bangkok or I Know Him So Well. There’s some footage, there was a Swedish documentary made here by Jakob Dahlin, we might, I don’t know if they could put that in too. We don’t know, but we are working on that. Yeah that’s nice.
It was a good record actually, and lots of energy, you know, as compared to what it would have been if we instead of that had done another ABBA recording. That’s what it takes, you need inspiration you need challenges, you need things that are a little too difficult for you, in order to achieve something, and in order to sort of use 100% of your capacity.
1974 to 1984…what a phenomenally creative and diverse decade!
BA: Yeah, right! You’re right! I hadn’t seen it that way, but yeah, that’s right, very productive!
Any new recordings to look forward to in 2014?
BA: I’ll keep on working and doing a new album with my band. We are definitely going to do the single Det föll en sten från mitt hjärta.
What made you decide to do One Man, One Woman with BAO on the 2013 Summer Tour?
BA: I tried to think is there anything that sort of suits us well…Helen and Tommy and the band as such. In this case we had this new song, Det föll en sten från mitt hjärta, ‘You Took The Weight Off My Shoulders’, it means, which has the same mood in a way, in a way. So I was playing that song, and then I saw there was the ‘no smiles not a single word…’ and I thought well, maybe we should put them together and we did and it was good. It was nice to have a man and a woman singing One Man, One Woman.
So we are going to record that. We are actually in the middle of doing that, both songs. I haven’t had time yet, but we’ve done some of it, we’ve done the backing tracks.
Can we look forward to another BAO album in the future?
BA: Yeah, I should think so, sooner or later. I have some songs it’s just a matter of getting the time to do it. We’ll do that, but I don’t know, because I as well as Ludvig are totally absorbed with the movie, The Circle.
Tell us more about The Circle and RMV Film…
BA: We formed a film company in order to make a movie out of the novel Cirkeln/The Circle, which is a fantasy novel. There’s three novels actually, it’s The Circle, there’s Fire, then it’s The Key, and the last one just was released here last week.
So we green lit ourselves here like 3 weeks ago and all of a sudden we are a whole bunch of people working full steam ahead. We start filming first week of April, there’ll be a break and then we’ll continue during the summer and it will be in the can before next Christmas. With a release date, that is not set yet, but could be February, could be October. We don’t know. We have to sort of see if there’s a nice slot for it so that we don’t compete with the new Bond movie or the new Hobbit or whatever, you know.
And that’s extremely joyful, to be involved in actually producing a film from thin-air into what it will become. And it takes a lot of mind work. It takes a lot of preparation. We’ve been working now for more than half a year and we’ll have another four months before we start filming. And then it’s the whole post-production process.
So yes, to get your teeth into something that you do not really know how it’s done is good for your brain I think. And for your everything.
And, er, yeah, I might write some music for that. I haven’t decided that yet really, as it’s all up to me now! It is better if someone comes and asks and you can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Now I have to ask myself! So we will see. I don’t know. Probably some of it. But I have a feeling it should be more contemporary. It should be music that relates to the audience, which is mainly between 12 and 25 I should think. And then you need young guys with real rock and pop music.
Part 2 – 2013, The Year Just Gone
Kristina från Duvemåla finished its run in Helsinki in 2013. It was so nice to see it back on stage…
BA: It was nice to work on it again, because I mean we did the workshop in New York, what’s that, 5 years ago, when we tried to scale it down a bit to accommodate for the situation on Broadway. I mean you can’t have 70 people in the cast and 45 in the pit, it’s out of the question. And as it didn’t happen, we said we have to present it someway, you know. So that’s when we decided to do the concerts at Carnegie Hall and then Royal Albert. Just to present it once in the English language. More for the fun of it I think than for anything else, but you never know.
And it was a good thing to do – apart from the ash cloud! What happened there was that the morning after the Albert Hall [show], we woke up to find that nobody was able to get out of England. And that absorbed everyone, so we didn’t have a chance to talk through and feel through the Royal Albert Hall experience, which was really nice, you know. So it sort of vanished into the ash cloud.
You ended up catching a coach back to Sweden didn’t you?
BA: It took for-bloody-ever, you know, but we made it!
After huge productions like CHESS and Kristina, Hjälp sökes was a much smaller style of a musical…
BA: Yes, which was one of the reasons that I actually was keen on doing it. Small format. Almost like having a pop band in the studio. Almost. But in this case 3 actors, 5 musicians. Really nice work. Nice to work with, easy to work with, easy to change things, take things out, say maybe we can play that instead of this. Yes, and it became very good, and it was sold out for the whole period. I think it’s coming back in Autumn of ’14, for maybe a run of another 90 performances, or 100 perhaps.
SVT recorded Hjälp sökes for TV…
BA: Yes, but again, the whole thing…the whole idea of bringing animals into a theatre looses a bit when you see it on screen, right? Because it’s the thing of being in the same room as those enormous cows, the big horse and the pigs and chicken and whatever, you know. You can see what’s going on on the screen, I’ve seen it, it’s alright, but it’s not the same. Still Good.
Kristina från Duvemåla is on her way back to Gothenburg and Stockholm…
BA: That’s right. So they’ll do a collaboration, it’s Blixten and Co., the same guys that work with our tours. They do a lot of theatre here too. And so they will produce it at the Cirkus Theatre and the Gothenburg Opera will produce it down there, but there’s a lot of things that they can sort of split costs [on], like stuff, you know, everything on stage.
With the same principles as played in Helsinki?
BA: Yes, which helps a lot, because we like them so much. So we have known for a long time that they wanted to make themselves available for Gothenburg and Stockholm. So what we’ve done is, we’ve done an audition anyway, because we need covers and we need all the other roles like Daniel, or Fina-Kajsa. So we’ve done that, it’s all in the can now.
Your racehorses did rather well in 2013?!
BA: Yeah, they did well this year. They did actually, yes!
You are lending a hand trying to raise money for Sweden’s Royal College of Music…
BA: I’m one of a bunch of people, sort of an advisory group board trying to raise money. That’s why I said I would help, because they were doing this kick off thing what’s that a month ago? And they said do you think your band would like to come and play. And I said yeah!
So we did, but only for 45 minutes. But it was nice. Nice concert. Lots of music students in the audience also, as well as presumptive donators.
Any plans to commit your ‘rhapsody for organ, choir, flute, piano and violins’ to CD one day?
BA: No, I don’t think so.
We might take the actual song out, En skrift i snön, (Written In Snow), um, perhaps. Maybe Helen can sing it on our next album or something. Just the song with the lyric, not the rest that surrounded it, as that was actually only for the occasion.
You won a ‘Guldbagge’ in 2013!
BA: Right! Not bad. Yes, for the music for the Palme movie. Yes, I was surprised actually, but very pleased. It’s nice. It’s the Swedish equivalent of an Oscar.
Or a BAFTA in Britain…
BA: I was at the BAFTAs because I was nominated for the music for the Mamma Mia! movie and I was just so nervous and I was hoping ‘don’t pick me, because I will not be able to make a speech here, now’. And luckily I didn’t win!
Björn and you teamed up with Avicii on ‘We Write The Story’ – how did that come about?
BA: The head of the thing, the Eurovision Song Contest at SVT approached me and asked if we could do something, and I said yeah, maybe, as it is in Sweden.
So, er, yeah, we just did that and then we had a chat with Avicii and tried to do something of a collaboration. And he did sort of an arrangement of We Write The Story, the song. It begins with that, I don’t know if you saw that, it has a sort of butterfly thing flying from Azerbajan or whatever. And then it comes into the song as it is actually.
So, well, it was nice to work on.
ABBA The Museum opened in 2013 – with a pretty spectacular show…
BA: Great performers, they did a really, really, really nice opening, using the whole hotel, all the windows and the rooms. And did a great show I think.
Have you given the ‘red phone’ at the museum a ‘Ring Ring’ ?
BA: I have called the red phone, and I have played [my piano] here. I have to call them though. We tried to organise it so that when I play my grand piano here, the little piano in the studio at the museum will play exactly what I do. It’s electro-magnetic stuff, it’s [by] Yamaha , called a Disclavier. So, this is one of them here behind me and then they have one at the museum. So ideally I should just push a button here and then I play and then they hear it there. But it’s more complicated than that, so we have to call someone at the museum and they have to go somewhere and press another button, and then it works, you know. But I did it last week and it worked and it was fun.