Abba's Benny Andersson tells us about the band's reunion plans, and his special relationship with his bandmates.
It’s not every day we get to meet a songwriting genius and so spending time in the company of the man who wrote such classics as Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes it All, Voulez Vous and countless others, is something of a ‘pinch-us’ moment.
We’re here to discuss Piano, Benny Andersson’s solo album, released at the end of last month. On it, the self-taught keyboard maestro plays a selection of compositions from his 50-year career. We’re talking songs from the Sixties, the Abba years, the musicals Chess and Kristina and more current work with his own band, Benny Andersson’s Orkester.
But first… have there been times since the Swedish supergroup split in 1982 that he and Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida have really not got on? “No, not really,” Benny smiles. “We’ve always been, and always stayed, good friends. We’ve met up over the years, now and then, for different occasions and also in the studio, and when we’re together the years immediately roll away. It feels like the Seventies again. Hopefully it will feel like that when we get our exciting new project off the ground.”
Abba is reforming?
“In a sense,” Benny goes on. “The entrepreneur and producer Simon Fuller came to see us in Stockholm about a year ago with an idea to create an Abba-esque concert tour – with a band, singers, dancers… and digital versions of the four of us. It will be a kind of augmented reality and we may appear as holograms or like an avatar form. Everything will be live – except us – but it will be us performing our songs rather than tribute acts.
It’s incredibly hi-tech and the four of us are very excited about it. On stage, on screen, we’ll all be 35 again instead of 70! But it is an incredibly complex process and it has to be perfect otherwise there’s no point in doing it. That’s why it’s taking so long to put together and it won’t happen – if it happens at all –until the Spring of 2019.
"So… let’s talk about Piano.” Yes let’s! Benny has described the album as a kind of memoir in music form. What exactly does he mean? “Well, I can recognise myself in the music all the way through,” he replies. “It’s like an autobiography but in music rather than words. This isn’t what I set out to do when I started. It almost came about by accident, actually. I try to write new music every day but sometimes I get fed-up and play old stuff.
“I found myself playing a song from Chess on the piano one day and I liked the way it sounded. So, I decided to record some of the songs I’d written over the years but as simply piano music. It was a very laid-back experience for me to go into the studio with just a recording engineer. By the end I had about 25 songs recorded which I cut down to 21. I wasn’t planning on releasing them but thought of it as something to give my grandkids. Then I played it to the head of Universal Music in Sweden, who is a friend, and he suggested I release it – so I have.”
Will he be touring? “At the moment I’m too busy working on our augmented reality concert tour and also the movie Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again,” he replies. “I’ve recorded all the music for the film like I did for the first one and we use some of the same musicians we used back in the Abba days. The film is a kind of prequel but also a sequel to the first film. The principals from that production are back with us, plus some new stars.
Downton Abbey actress Lily James is playing the young Meryl Streep and has an absolutely beautiful voice with a very special quality to it. She sings the song I Wonder and I just melt.” And will Pierce Brosnan be singing again? “Yes!” Benny laughs. “What is it with you Brits and Pierce’s voice? Other countries don’t have a problem with it. It’s just you! He’s definitely singing. Pierce has a good voice and it has a very fine timbre to it. Maybe you react in the way you do because you don’t expect him to sing.” Maybe that’s what it is!
Meanwhile what does Benny, who’s been married to Swedish TV presenter Mona Norklit since 1981, enjoy doing when he’s not working? “I shop for food and cook every day when I’m at home in Stockholm,” he says. “I walk the dog each morning and last thing at night. Actually, I’m very good at not doing very much at all. Just ask my wife!”
- Interview by Alison James
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