Benny Andersson talks to icethesite about collaborations

Benny: "The new ABBA songs will be credited as Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus just as they always were"
Benny Andersson: “The new ABBA songs will be credited as Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus just as they always were”

It seems that recording your solo album in conjunction with the Deutsche Grammophon label was a really enjoyable process?

Very much so, it exceeded my expectations, almost overwhelmingly so. I know that they are very happy at Deutsche Grammophon too with how it turned out.

I actually asked them, “Are these good sales figures for you?” I mean, I have no clue really how to assess the sales of ‘classical’ releases on a specialist label such as DG. They told me, “Oh yes!”. They think that they have had a great success with Piano. Let’s just say that it sold more than a couple of copies!

I am very glad I did Piano with them and actually, one of the reasons that Piano came about of course is that the people commenting on icethesite were saying when are you going to do a piano album? It wasn’t the only reason but it did get me thinking, yeah maybe it is a good idea, maybe I should do one and I’m very pleased with it. I haven’t listened to Piano for a long time but when I last did, I thought yeah, this is not so bad!

What was the deal with the Deluxe version with two bonus tracks, Money, Money, Money and Jag hör?

The label asked me if I could add another song or two that they could release before Christmas and I realised I could. It’s marketing stuff. They are good people and I try to support them and so that’s how that came about.

It’s the same as going over to do X-Factor last November, because Polydor were releasing the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again DVD that week. They said to me, we could do a Mamma Mia! week on the show IF you come over, and I said, yeah, that’s cool, I can do that and I can do a workshop with the singers. Then Björn said, well I could do the live show and that’s how things work. One has to support the people that work with you.

I might spend a lot of time composing music on my own, but actually it’s the collaborations within the business that help bring it to life. And of course, I don’t mind at all, Deutsche Grammophon in Germany and Polydor in the UK are good people to work with.

Do you have any further Deutsche Grammophon collaborations planned?

We are in the early stages of talking about something else, yes. They are coming to Stockholm in the Spring to talk about what feels like a good next project. I don’t think I want to do another piano album, I feel like I’ve done that, although I know better than to never say never these days!

There are still songs that feel good to play on the piano but it would be nice to do something else, something involving other people, maybe some choir pieces like Vilar glad. I din famn would be a good idea, I’m not entirely sure yet.

Of course, we can’t talk about partnerships without mentioning Mr Ulvaeus!

Well, I just don’t know what’s happening to him lately, he is so fast! I can send him a BAO song for example and next day there is a lyric. And not just any lyric, I mean a clever, witty, fun or poignant lyric, whatever is required really. I don’t know how he does that, I guess it’s age and experience.

On the BAO recordings and Kristina etc, you started to draw a distinction between yourself as composer of the music and Björn as the lyricist, so what will be the case on the new ABBA songs?

The credits for the new ABBA songs will appear as they always did, Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus because we have approached the new ABBA tracks the same as always…I play him my ideas and we discuss things through fully, maybe we should move this part to there and then remove that part just before the bridge to somewhere else and so on, we have that creative dialogue, just as we always have.

We both have to agree on what feels good, there’s no point and no fun otherwise. There would be no satisfaction in going into the studio to record something if one or the other of us is thinking, I don’t like that section. It’s still very much a solid team effort.

Talking of collaborations Benny, thank you for helping icethesite out with another exclusive interview.

It’s a nice piece!

There’s more…

A third new ABBA song in 2019?

Benny Andersson has been chatting to us about the fun that ABBA had recording the two new songs I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down for the avatars project and also exclusively revealed that a third song is a very real possibility…if Agnetha and Frida say so!

Check out the video on our shiny new YouTube channel and please like and subscribe and all that good stuff!

Björn Ulvaeus talks Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The world premiere event for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again took place at London’s Eventim Apollo.

On Monday 16 July 2018 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again received its world premiere. Released to the wider world on 20 July, the movie has already smashed box office records around the globe.

At the after premiere party in London, Björn told icethesite about the reception the premiere crowd had given the movie:

“It was absolutely fantastic. The event was really quite special with all the actors gathered on the stage before the showing. The reaction was something else!”

Scenes from the world premiere which took place on 16 July

And how was it that ‘Mamma Mia! 2’ finally came into being?

“Well the story has to serve the songs and the other way around of course. And we waited until we had a script that everyone agreed we could work with. Ol Parker did a brilliant job of weaving the story together and then we could see that there was a second movie in there after all!”

What was it like revisiting decades old songs in order to rewrite lyrics for the movie?

“Movie songs have to serve the story and where it was felt that the originals didn’t quite hit a particular moment on the head, I was more than happy to make a few changes here and there. Where in the ABBA recordings the stories were self contained, with the movie I had to ensure that they fitted the wider story.

“The new lyrics came to me pretty quickly and they felt very organic.

“For My Love, My Life to be set in a church meant that revisiting it in its new setting had religious overtones for me.”

Even though you are an atheist?

“Even though and maybe because of. Religion is a fascinating subject to me.”

Have Agnetha and Frida seen the movie yet?
“Not yet but I am pretty sure they will be very happy, as we are, when they do. It’s a good flick.”

There’s more…

Benny delighted party goers when he took to the piano and accompanied Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies in an impromptu rendition of <em>Mamma Mia. </em>Dancing queens Judy Craymer and Christine Baranski were clearly having the time of their lives!
Benny delighted party goers when he took to the piano and accompanied Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies in an impromptu rendition of Mamma Mia. Dancing queens Judy Craymer and Christine Baranski were clearly having the time of their lives!

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again update

What is certain to be a huge Summer blockbuster of a movie is almost out of the starting gate. Benny Andersson has been at work with the team in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches to the sound mix of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that will be heard in cinemas all around the globe soon.

(L-R) Michael Minckler (Chief mixer), Gary Goetzman (Producer), Benny Andersson (Composer), Bernard Löhr (Sound Engineer), Ludvig Andersson (Associate Producer) and
Angie Rubin (Music Editor).

Benny told icethesite about the movie mix sessions: “It is such a joy to work together with people who are so skilled at what they are doing. Every single one of them. Totally concentrated on their separate working stations but always with a sharp eye on the whole. An amazing experience again, just like it was on the first film 10 years ago.”

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is both sequel and prequel to the original Mamma Mia! movie and stars Lily James (Young Donna), Amanda Seyfried (Sophie), Dominic Cooper (Sky), Andy Garcia (Señor Cienfuegos), Meryl Streep (Donna), Pierce Brosnan (Sam), Colin Firth (Harry), Christine Baranski (Tanya), Stellan Skarsgård (Bill), Julie Walters (Rosie), Cher (Ruby Sheridan), Jeremy Irvine (Young Sam), Celia Imrie, (Vice Chancellor), Hugh Skinner (Young Harry) and Josh Dylan (Young Bill). The director is Ol Parker.

Those close to the production have revealed that ABBA songs featured in the new movie include One Of Us, When I Kissed The Teacher, Angeleyes, Waterloo, Fernando, I’ve Been Waiting For You, Why Did It Have To Be Me?, Kisses Of Fire, and My Love, My Life among others.

The film which is distributed by Universal Pictures picks up the story ten years after the original film ends when Sophie learns all about how her mother Donna met her three ‘dads’.

The entire movie mix gang!

The world premiere of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again will be in London on 16 July. The film will officially open in most territories on 20 July.

There’s more…

Watch the final trailer:

‘After ABBA’ exhibition opens at ABBA The Museum

On Monday 7 May, five years to the day since it first opened on the Stockholm island of Djurgården, ABBA The Museum unveiled its new, much anticipated, ‘After ABBA’ exhibition.

Scenes from the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum
Scenes from the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum

Celebrating the musical careers of the four ABBA members since their ‘break’ in 1982, the exhibition, which occupies the space that previously housed The Swedish Music Hall of Fame, features individual areas dedicated to Agnetha and Frida’s after ABBA careers, plus sections for the Benny and Björn musicals Mamma Mia!, CHESS, Kristina från Duvemåla and Hjälp sökes. Also featured of course is Benny’s latest band, Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO).

As in the original section of the museum, the post-ABBA journey begins with a short video montage. Once inside, visitors are surrounded by beautifully lit costumes, scenery and props from the musicals, gold discs, rare photographs and memorabilia plus never-before-seen videos.

There are also a variety of interactive activities including the chance to conduct a virtual orchestra playing music from the CHESS score, dancing to BAO on a wooden dance floor alongside strings of coloured lights (just like the real BAO shows), singing along with Benny collaborator and BAO member Kalle Moraeus, repainting Donna’s villa on the set of Mamma Mia! and trivia quizzes.

More views from the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum

Museum Director Caroline Fagerlind said: “We want to tell the full story of the band. We want to show visitors that ABBA have kept their creativity alive, that they are still around us today and that their story continues to grow.”

As you leave the exhibition, which is a permanent addition to the museum, the words ‘To be continued…’ are inscribed along the wall.

Last Monday’s official opening ceremony, attended by Björn Ulvaeus, was followed by an evening party for 200 invited guests including Benny Andersson, Görel Hanser, Helen Sjöholm, Peter Jöback, Tommy Körberg, Ingmarie Halling, ABBA’s costume designer Owe Sandström, sound engineer Michael B Tretow, guitar player Janne Schaffer, photographer Anders Hanser, Benny’s son Peter with wife Nanne and a handful of lucky fans. 

During the celebrations, to the delight of the party-goers, Benny took to his accordion and together with a few of his BAO bandmates played two instrumental tracks, BAO’s ever-popular Cirkus finemang and The Soviet Machine from the musical CHESS.

Afterwards, Benny told icethesite how he has been actively engaged with the project from the outset: “I’ve read through all the analogue and digital texts on display and watched the videos,” he said.

“They also asked me to choose the music for the virtual conductor and I thought that the instrumental introduction to Bangkok would be tricky enough,” he laughed.

However, despite this involvement Benny said he has yet to see the finished exhibition: “I’ve seen some pictures though and I think it looks really nice,” he told us.

A new compilation CD ‘after ABBA’ released to tie in with the launch of the exhibition and which features the brand new Arturo Sandoval/Frida cover of ABBA’s Andante, Andante is available exclusively at the museum shop. 

Part of the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum
Part of the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum

There’s more…

  • Check out the ABBA The Museum website for tickets to see the new exhibition for yourself.

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus onboard for Mamma Mia! sequel

News recently surfaced of a sequel to the movie smash Mamma Mia!. And yes, ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have given the project their seal of approval and will also serve as executive producers.

The sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again will be set once more on the Greek island of Kalokairi, and reunites the producers from the original film, Judy Craymer (who created and produced the stage show) and Gary Goetzman.

Ol Parker

New this time around is Ol Parker, who has written the new movie and will also direct.

Ol is best known for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Now Is Good (2012).

The new Universal Pictures movie will feature ABBA songs that weren’t included in the first film and also reprises some of the most popular.

Mamma Mia! The Movie, which was released in 2008, was a huge worldwide hit, making $609.8M in global box office sales. Until this year’s Beauty And The Beast, Mamma Mia! was the biggest grossing live-action musical ever.

The original cast, including Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper are all expected to return for the second outing of the musical.

The news of the new movie has divided ABBA fans, much like the original stage show and movie did. One thing that no-one can deny is how phenomenally successful those two showcases of ABBA’s music went on to become.

Look out for much more news about the new film which is set to hit the silver screen in July 2018, ten years after the original was released.

‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ Sneak Peak!

‘Writing The Tunes’ is an essay from the eagerly awaited, revised and expanded book  ‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ by ABBA historian and acclaimed author Carl Magnus Palm. It is a fascinating account of the roles and responsibilities that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus take on during the songwriting process. Here is an exclusive sneak peak…

Carl Magnus Palm
Carl Magnus Palm – Photo: bjornfotograf.se

The start of a songwriting period was always the hardest for the team: getting over the initial threshold. “After we release an album we don’t write for two or three months,” Björn explained at one point, “so when we start again it’s really hard and nothing helps but hard work.” The discipline of working day after day, hour after hour, Monday through Friday during office hours, was crucial for these particular writers; it was their method for getting the creative juices flowing. Björn was very firm about it in a 1982 interview. “There is nothing bohemian about [writing songs]. It’s a job that requires good character and discipline, like every other profession. That thing about writing when inspiration hits you, and usually in the middle of the night: both Benny and I quickly realised that it’s just a myth.” Like most songwriters, then, Andersson and Ulvaeus had concluded that if they would just wait for “inspiration”, they would never get any work done: the magic feeling of being possessed by something of an almost spiritual nature would emerge only through the work itself. “Inspiration comes at the exact moment when you hear that you’re on to something that’s good,” as Benny once phrased it.

So what would happen during these songwriting sessions? It was quite a simple set-up: Benny would be at the piano, or whatever keyboard instrument was handy, with Björn sitting beside him, armed with an acoustic or electric guitar. Then they’d start playing chords, humming ideas for melodies, throwing riffs and fragments of songs at each other, grabbing hold of the other person’s idea and take it to the next level. “All of a sudden,” Benny explained in a 1974 interview, “one of us will sing something that turns you on and then you play that thing, trying to develop it.”

The melody lines they’d be working on didn’t necessarily originate during the songwriting session: they would bring ideas to the room where they both were sitting, but those ideas would more often than not have emerged when they were alone. Rarely, however, would those melodies pop up while they were out walking or shopping, or were simply busy doing nothing; it was when actively playing music that the ideas would come. “You don’t write a good song in an hour,” explained Benny many years later. “You need to have two months [of] trying out ideas, before writing the good song in that hour. … If you don’t sit there and if you don’t work on it really hard, trying to achieve something and trying to make something good, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen sitting in the car, thinking, ‘Oh I have this good idea’, nothing like that. I have to sit at a piano or a keyboard and play through the rubbish, and get rid of that, and sometimes things will pop out and I can say, ‘This is good.’”

As many have witnessed and he himself admits, Benny always found it hard to resist playing a piano wherever there was one available and it was through sitting at the keyboards hour after hour, just playing away, that all the music he’d ever heard in his life, combined with his own tastes, temperament, inclinations and feelings, would suddenly result in brand new melody lines travelling from his brain and out to his fingers. “I actually think that this is what ‘composing’ is really about, that the music has to exist before you play it,” he says today. “It’s not about sitting there improvising, as it were, it’s about sitting at the piano and wait for this thing that already exists to arrive. You want to watch your hands play something that you haven’t heard before, but which really is structured, in some way. And that takes time – usually you have to wait a very long time.”

Coming up with melody lines that felt right, that were worth developing, was a completely intuitive process. “I don’t know what it is that makes you choose like you do,” Benny says. “If I’m playing for four hours straight, trying to arrive at something that might be used for something, which I believe that I’ve invented, then I can’t really say why this melody line or these four bars in particular are what I decide to keep instead of all the other ideas that have come up. I just don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it feels right.”

What Björn and Benny would be doing once they got together, was to piece all those ideas together into a coherent song. “We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs; we just play around,” said Björn in a 1977 interview. “We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get.” Rarely would they try to write a specific kind of tune: whatever came up during the writing, that they liked, they would go with. “Of course,” Benny admitted at the time, “if we’ve written eight songs for an album and we need two more, and all those eight songs are ballads, you don’t aim for writing two more ballads. But they may turn out to be anyway.”

If they were lucky, the process of coming up with a cohesive tune could in itself be relatively quick. The normal course of events, however, was that it took a lot of time, since their quest for the strongest possible melody ensured that at least 90 percent of their ideas for melody lines and song fragments would be discarded. “Sometimes it takes you a week and there is no song at all – or two weeks,” Benny explained in a 1980 interview, “and sometimes it takes four hours and there is almost a complete song there”.

They would be ruthless against themselves: just a catchy chorus wasn’t enough, they wanted the entire song to be solid, in all its parts, from start to finish, “never leaving a song until we feel it’s the best thing we’ve done,” as they once put it. But there wasn’t a fixed pattern as to the order in which the song would be put together: for example, they didn’t necessarily start with the chorus and then build the rest of the song around it. Says Benny, “You start at one end, with whatever you’ve come up with – four bars, or eight, or just a phrase you like – and then you use that as the starting point. And that could be any part of the song.”

Although Benny has always been, in Björn’s vernacular, “the musical motor” in the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, supplying most of the ideas for their songs, this does not mean that Björn never contributed anything. By the time his and Benny’s collaboration truly kicked off, towards the end of the 1960s, Björn had already proved himself as a tunesmith, having had a dozen of his songs recorded, several of which were strong, catchy tunes. Clearly, such an ambitious songwriter wouldn’t just sit and wait for Benny to come up with ideas. It is true, however, that as the nature of their collaboration evolved, Björn would take on the role of “editor” of the ideas that flowed from his colleague, essentially being Benny’s sparring partner. Parallel with this development, his interest in lyric-writing grew, and today’s Andersson/Ulvaeus songs are strictly music by the former, lyrics by the latter.

While Benny remembers several melody lines for ABBA songs coming to him, today Björn can’t remember any specific parts of tunes that he himself contributed. “Benny provided most of the music even in the early days,” he admits, “but it’s awfully difficult to say exactly where things start and end during the songwriting process.” And, as Benny points out, the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership has never been about that type of issue. “It’s an interesting question, to pinpoint who does what in a song. It might be that one of us brings along a song that is complete: both of us feel that it’s complete, so that’s what it is. But let’s say that the song is complete, and then one of us says, ‘Wait a minute, what if we do it like this at that point in the song?’ and then we both agree, ‘Yeah, that’s really great!’ Who has written the song then? Is it the work of one person or of two persons? In other words, if we agree on a thing together, then both of us have been equally involved. In that respect there’s a tremendous difference between being alone and being together.”

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions cover
ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions

The book ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions by Carl Magnus Palm is a must for every ABBA fan. Pre-order your copy at abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com.

ABBA and Simon Fuller create cutting-edge digital experience!

ABBA returns! World’s favorite pop act teaming up with Simon Fuller to launch new digital experience!
ABBA returns…the world’s favorite pop act teams up with Simon Fuller to launch new digital experience.

All four members of ABBA, entertainment entrepreneur Simon Fuller, and Universal Music are partnering together in a groundbreaking venture that will utilise the very latest in digital and virtual reality technology.

Fuller came to prominence through managing pop group the Spice Girls.

He went on to create the Idol franchise and has managed the careers of some of entertainment and sports biggest stars, including Victoria and David Beckham, Annie Lennox and Lewis Hamilton.

In 2008, he was certified as the most successful British music manager of all time by Billboard magazine and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The aim of the link up between Fuller and the ABBA members is to create an original entertainment experience, which will enable a new generation of fans to see, hear, and feel ABBA in a way previously unimagined.

Simon Fuller has been quietly invested in virtual reality technologies, developing hyper-realistic digital humans in the field of entertainment, for several years.

Frida
Anni-Frid Lyngstad

About the project, Frida said: “Our fans around the world are always asking us to reform and so I hope this new ABBA creation will excite them as much as it excites me!”

The collaboration with ABBA will fully realise the possibilities of virtual reality ‘ahead of the curve’ – and in the process hopes to transform the face of popular entertainment.

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The members of ABBA will be involved throughout the creative process maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the band’s original vision within this exciting new realm of possibilities.

Simon Fuller
Simon Fuller

Simon Fuller: “Having seen over the past few months the creativity and ideas flowing from the members of ABBA, it fills me with great excitement.

“This new technological world we are exploring, with Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence at the forefront, allows us to create entertainment and new content in ways that could never previously have been imagined.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group said: “I’m thrilled to be involved in this innovative new project that will introduce the band who are responsible for some of the greatest songs and melodies in pop music to a new generation of fans.”

A press release to herald the new project states: Nearly 35 years after their last public performance together, the members of ABBA are preparing to give their fans around the world what millions of them have long dreamed of but considered impossible: A new entertainment experience.

Benny Andersson
Benny Andersson

Benny said: “We’re inspired by the limitless possibilities of what the future holds and are loving being a part of creating something new and dramatic here.”

icethesite hopes to be able to share a few more details of this exciting and pioneering collaboration, with the full backing of Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Björn, soon – but the full details of the project and where and when you can see it will be announced in 2017.