There’s something to be said for making an artistically ambitious album. There’s also something to be said for actually being able to play your own songs on-stage. Danish art-rock outfit Mew discovered that these two things can be tricky to balance when it came time to hit the road in support of its loftily titled 2009 LP, No More Stories Are Told Today I’m Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories the World Is Grey I’m Tired Let’s Wash Away. (The album is, thank God, usually referred to as simply No More Stories by band and fans alike.)
Recording for the first time without the grounding influence of bassist Johan Wohlert, the group’s remaining members explored what singer Jonas Bjerre, reached at home in Copenhagen, calls “clouds of ideas that came together in a weird way”.
Bjerre says the resulting album is among his favourites in the Mew catalogue, but he also notes that the long-running act had no intention of ever making No More Stories II. To help avoid that, the band called on Michael Beinhorn, producer of 2005’s And the Glass-Handed Kites. His solution? Get Wohlert back onboard.
“We needed something to happen, and Michael was missing the feeling of the rhythm section with Silas [Graae, Mew’s drummer] and Johan,” Bjerre says. “The last record he’d done with us was the Kites record, which had Johan on it. So he said, ‘Why don’t you just give him a call and invite him in to do some writing sessions at first?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ We’d actually talked about that over the years, doing some writing together. Then when he came in, it was actually surprisingly fast. It felt like he’d never left. It felt like he’d only been gone for a couple of months instead of seven years. So that was really thrilling and gratifying to experience.”
The latest Mew record, the Beinhorn-produced + -, doesn’t tone down the group’s taste for the grandiose—check out the almost 11-minute dream-pop epic “Rows” for proof—but it does bring its more visceral, urgent elements to the forefront. “My Complications”, with its churning rock attack, is as close to “back to basics” as Mew will likely ever get.
“It sounds more like a band playing, to me, whereas No More Stories, a lot of it sounded like production things,” Bjerre admits. “Some of the songs on No More Stories, we haven’t even really played live, I think. Some of them only a few times, because they just didn’t really translate to the live setting that well. So that was one of the things Michael wanted as well on this one. He said, ‘You guys have to play the songs in the practice space, and they have to sound complete before we go in the studio. Before we start adding stuff to it, it should work just as songs you’re playing. That’s the greatest starting point you can have.’ So we worked really hard on that, and the songs translate really well to the live scene, I think.”
Local fans will get to judge that for themselves this week, but those counting on seeing Bo Madsen are in for a surprise. Apparently needing a break from the road, the guitarist has taken an indefinite hiatus from the band he helped form more than 20 years ago. For this tour, his parts will be played by Mads Wegner. And in the future? Will Bjerre himself end up playing more six-string to fill the void?
“We’ve been listening to some demos on the tour bus and enjoying talking about the future and what we’re gonna do, but it’s still a little unsure what’s going to happen, exactly, so we’ll have to wait and see,” the singer says. “But, yeah, I love playing guitar. But I’m more of a rhythm guitar player, I’m not like a lead guitar player. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure we’ll think of something!”
Mew plays Venue on Tuesday (September 29).