Back in the 90s it seemed like the visual aspect of rock music was withering away. (Remember the back to basics—yet not exactly flashy—grunge movement?) But bands like Mew have proven that visuals will always have a place as evidenced by the group’s album covers and music videos. Take the recent video for Mew’s song “85 Videos,” which uses kaleidoscopic lighting to create striking effects and a psychedelic vibe.
Formed in Denmark in 1995, Mew’s alt-pop style has gained a large following in areas outside of its homeland. The band’s success is seen with gold and platinum certification awards for albums including 2003’s Frengers, 2005’s And the Glass Handed Kites and 2009’s No More Stories. The group—Jonas Bjerre (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar); Johan Wohlert (bass guitar, backing vocals); and Silas Utke Graae Jorgensen (drums, percussion)—also released a seventh album appropriately titled Visuals in April.
Bjerre spoke with me about combining music with visuals before Mew returns to New York after two years for a couple of shows: August 3 at the Bowery Ballroom and August 4 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
How is Visuals similar or different to previous albums by Mew?
I think that the biggest difference in this album is it is a very internal album; it was just us making it. We didn’t have a producer and we usually take a lot of time making albums. This time, we were coming right off a tour and had these ideas for songs and visual ideas, as well. We just wanted to keep writing on that energy we had. And then all of a sudden, we just kind of realized we were halfway through making an album, and that we would be able to finish it within the year. We spent a year on it, and that may not seem super fast, but for us, it’s really fast. We self-produced and did everything on it ourselves—the music videos and the artwork. It’s almost like a do-it-yourself kind of thing. But it’s really cool to try that out and it’s been a great experiment.
You directed the two videos, “85 Videos” and “In A Better Place.”
They were all experiments. I had been working a lot with a kaleidoscope. I love if you have a sequence, you can cut out an angle and no matter how messy it looks as a clip, it will look like a beautiful, symmetrical thing. I made these different patterns with a camera glider, and then made that into kaleidoscopes. And then I started messing around with that and making them into faces and projected it. I really like this weird mixture of textures that you get from that. And I didn’t really know what it was going to look like. But it managed to look great. We were really lucky. I did all the videos in a very short frame of time, so I was just lucky with how it turned out.
The band has had quite a few hits in Denmark, Finland and Norway. What do you attribute the band’s popularity to in those regions?
I think it’s really all about the live shows. We’re not a band that has hit singles on pop radio. We’re more about a word of mouth thing. And I think just playing lots and lots of shows, and people come and it’s a little bit different from most other bands. We can always tell that the countries that we play fairly small venues are the ones that we haven’t played that much.
For those in the US that may just be discovering Mew, how would you describe the group’s sound?
On this album, we wanted to call it Visuals, because I’ve been making visuals for our shows since we started. And we did that even more on our tour. Also, we had a few ideas about the songs like the “worlds” they would take place in…scenarios that inspired the songwriting…We definitely had a picture of each song, of how it would look and feel, and what kind of texture it would have. I think it’s just great to have some kind of a starting point even if it’s just words or a sound. Just to say, “OK, we will make a song out of this.” And wherever we went up with it, that is going to be the song. I don’t know how to describe the band. I guess the music is emotional. But I would hate for people to call it “emo rock.” [Laughs] I think we’re just a weird pop band, in a way.
What can fans expect at the upcoming New York shows?
They can expect a very visual experience for a rock show. Some new songs, but also a bunch of old songs, and a band that is very happy to be on tour. It’s going to be very focused on the audio and the visual side of it.