The Ace of Base Interview

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As we all know by now, Swedish supergroup Ace of Base are well and truly back in music. After an eight year hiatus, they’ve come back with their fifth studio album, ‘The Golden Ratio’. It was released in Germany last month where it’s already become a top 20 hit, and it got its release in their native Sweden last week. We reviewed the album back in September (and you can read our full thoughts here), and since then it’s been on hugely heavy rotation for us – it really is a fantastic pop album that gets better and better with more plays. So, we wanted to meet up with the group to have a chat about it. Why have they been away for so long? What are their thoughts on the new album? How did they get that perfect balance of sounding like 1994 Ace of Base and 2010 Ace of Base? How long are they back for? Tour? International?…..

Although there was also something at the very core of the band that we needed to discuss too. As you can see above, the band looks quite different now than to how it did when they were promoting their 4th album. There are two new female vocalists fronting the group now. Longterm member Linn officially left the group earlier in the decade, but they’d continued without her as a trio, with other longterm member Jenny as the sole vocalist. And how it went from being Jenny in the group to new girls Julia and Clara being in the group, is where the confusion lies. Rumours have been spread amongst fans that Jenny had been unceremoniously dumped from the group. Others said that she’d held up the recording process so much by not committing to anything, that the boys had no choice but to recruit new girls. And swipes have been exchanged publicly by both Jenny and the boys from Ace of Base themselves, via their own twitter and facebook pages. Not just swipes too, but accusations and legal threats also. This has also split most of the group’s fans into two camps – team Ace of Base and team Jenny. The former are happy to have the group back albeit in a new form, and are lapping up the new music. The latter refuse to accept that it’s Ace of Base, and are being fiercely protective of Jenny and how she claims to have been mistreated. So there’s been a lot of uncertainty about the whole thing, and it hasn’t been the happy comeback it should have been. And this is all the more complicated given that Jenny, Jonas, and Linn are brother and sisters.

So yes – we needed to get to the bottom of that. If only so that everyone can just move on. And so we go into it in detail in the interview below.

We met up with all four members of Ace of Base, Ulf, Jonas, Clara, and Julia, 10 days ago in Stockholm.

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scandipop: It’s been eight years since your last album. What on earth have you been doing since then?!

Jonas: Ha! Raising kids. How about that?!

Ulf: Yep, Jonas has four kids now, and I have three kids. So that’s taken up some time of course. But also, we needed to have a break from the music industry to try to focus on different things. Personally, I’ve still been kind of involved in the music industry, but from a different angle. I’ve been advising large consumer brands in their entertainment strategy – when it comes to fashion, music, film. Which has been challenging, but interesting to work with music from a different angle. I’ve been producing some tv series’, and been in the movie industry as well, on the production side. I think in the early part of the 2000’s we kind of lost the spirit of it all, and it wasn’t fun anymore. And even if we tried to write music it wasn’t really…..

Jonas: There were too much politics there – ”I want to be involved in your song, and you have to sign me in on your song”….

scandipop: Like on co-writing credits?

Jonas: Yeah, and all kinds of messy things.

scandipop: Between you and Ulf?

Jonas: Not so much me and Ulf. But all in all. With my sisters, and then companies who would say ”oh you have to do it like this, and you have to do it like that’‘. All kinds of things, it becomes too heavy. In the end, it ended up that we were only really happy with some songs on each album. But the first album we did exactly what we wanted. And with this album we have been able to do that again. It’s very nice. Without compromising, with me and Ulf working, it’s all very positive. We have the energy back! It was kind of, not lost, but everything was too heavy before, it was too….aaaarrrggghh!

Ulf: With the first album, we locked ourselves away in the studio for almost three years. We were completely fearless as to what people would say or not say, because we were just making the music we liked. There were no record companies involved, no producers, nothing. And we became quite successful with it of course. The second album – we’d been number 1 all over the world, so suddenly we had record company executives from all over the world, from every single country, that had an opinion. Releasing in over 100 countries simultaneously – you have 100 CEO’s, 100 A&R people, 100 promo guys – and everyone had their opinion.

Jonas: Everybody wanted to put their thumb on it. And it doesn’t help the music production one bit.

Ulf: We had to then mass navigate around all of that, and prioritise. For example, the head of A&R at the label in Vietnam, wasn’t as important as the head of A&R at the label in the US. And someone like Clive Davis who is of course very inspiring, was also very difficult, because he had a lot of opinions about everything. And I think it took away a little bit of the fun part, of the playfulness. It all got a little bit lost on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th albums. So what me and Jonas said was that if we’re gonna do this again, we’re gonna do it properly. For the right purposes. It has to be real and fun.

Jonas: Fun music must be fun to do!

Ulf: We had to be inspired by the right reasons and the right things, in order for us to do this again. But yes, we’d definitely needed a break from it all – from the industry, and a little bit from each other as well. I mean, we’d worked together every day 24/7 for fifteen years, so.

scandipop: Yeah, you became a Berggren I imagine!

Ulf: Ha ha, yep!

scandipop: Ok, so ‘The Golden Ratio’ is of course the new album. A huge labour of love. But for those who know and love the old Ace of Base sound, how would you describe this new album in comparison?

Jonas: I would say it’s a mixture of 1994 and 2010. You take the best parts of each and put them together. We wanted to do the music that we love, which is around 1994 music wise. And we wanted to add some 2010 spices to it.

Ulf: But it’s also really inspired by most of the inspirational sources from the first album, which is the early eighties. So I think it’s a mixture of early eighties, early nineties, and 2010. It has a very typical Ace of Base sound on some songs, the reggae beats and so forth. And then it has a really heavy dance influence to it as well. But we also have a couple of songs on there that are more towards the rock side, a little bit acoustic. There’s a little bit for everyone on the album, but with of course the poppy choruses. And we’ve been working a lot to enforce the girls’ vocals, to really show the girls’ vocals as naked as possible, because they sing so amazingly.

scandipop: Yeah I noticed that tracks like ‘Black Sea’ and ‘Doreen’ have that dance sound. And then songs like ‘Bla Bla Bla (On The Radio)’ and ‘One Day’ go back to your very early sound. And then tracks like ‘All For You’ and ‘The Golden Ratio’ seem to be Ace of Base with a 2010 stamp on them. So which of those three sounds do you prefer making, and will perhaps be your sound going forward?

Ulf: I think personally that ‘Black Sea’, ‘Doreen’, ‘Vision In Blue’….they’re really Ace of Base 2010. They’re inspired by the early eighties, ‘Sweet Dreams’, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk sound. Trying to mix live drums with the synth world, with the analogue world. Going away from the too computerised sound, we used old analogue synthesisers and instruments, guitars and live drums. And I think that’s the new Ace of Base sound. It’s as much rock inspired as it is dance inspired, even though of course it’s got dancey beats to it. And then traditional songs like ‘Bla Bla Bla’ and ‘One Day’ is really the signature of Ace of Base. ‘All For You’ and ‘The Golden Ratio’ are more like a 2010 dance sound.

scandipop: And of course there are two new vocalists in the group now. Did you guys find the writing experience very different now to how it was before, now that you’re having to write for two new voices?

Jonas: One thing is very different, yes. We can now have long notes. It wasn’t very easy before, but with these girls, there’s a big difference.

Ulf: We’re not so limited anymore. We have much more options now, with these vocals, which is amazing.

Jonas: More tools in the toolbox!

Ulf: And I think for the next album, we’re probably gonna stretch it even further, to try out new things. Although a lot of this new album was still written with the old Ace of Base in mind. But I think with the next album, it’s going to be very interesting to see how far we can stretch things. The sky’s the limit when it comes to these voices. It’s very cool. Although sometimes when you have too many creative options, it makes it even more difficult, ha ha, you can’t decide where to go!

scandipop: And Julia and Clara, the new members of Ace of Base – you’re new to everyone really. So can you maybe tell us a little bit about yourselves, and what you were doing before Ace of Base, as an introduction to you?

Clara: Yep! I’m Clara, I’m from the North of Sweden, and I’m 19 years old. I’ve been working with music all of my life, as I’m from a musical family. So I’ve grown up singing and playing the piano, and even recording in studios a lot. And I’ve done a lot of singing competitions and shows. And because I went to a musician school and have mainly a background in jazz, I think that’s a part of my sound really – jazz and soul. Jazz is the foundation in all music, and I’ve learnt to improvise a lot. And that’s what helped me a lot in the studio when I worked with Jonas and Ulf, the fact that I can improvise. And also, I was in the Idol competition in 2009! That’s where Ulf and Jonas first saw me.

Jonas: We prayed that she was going to be voted out, ha ha! But we said to ourselves that there was no chance. That she would definitely win or come second. But by some strange accident, she was voted out. But ha ha, we were then very grateful for that!

scandipop: Ah, so you made the live finals then?

Clara: Yep, the live finals!

Ulf: And it was a very tough competition that year. Which turned out to be good for us! Because otherwise, she wouldn’t have been able to join us.

Clara: Yes, I would have been stuck in the Idol contract for a very long time.

scandipop: And how about you Julia? What’s your story?!

Julia: Well I’m 27 years old, so I’m a bit older than Clara. I’ve grown up singing with my Mom and my sister. My Mom plays the guitar and she would always get us to sing together. I’ve never been to a music school or studied music, but I’ve always had it in my heart.

scandipop: And I suppose it’s always been around you if your family are so musical too, right?

Julia: Yeah. We had a piano at my Grandmother’s house in the countryside, and so I used to sit there and play, and create my own melodies. Plus I’ve been in recording studios a lot too with other people. I met Martin Dodd that way.

Ulf: And Martin Dodd was the guy who signed us, who founded us back in 1990.

scandipop: So it was him who introduced you to the guys then Julia?

Julia: Yeah. I was working there a lot around that time, and he called me.

Ulf: Martin Dodd through our work in the early nineties, got to know Denniz Pop and also later on Max Martin. And so that’s the reason why Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and so many other American pop acts came to Sweden to record. Because Martin was the head of Zomba Records. So he would sign them and bring them to Sweden to record, before they were even famous. So that’s Martin Dodd – in the pop industry he really is a cult figure.

scandipop: Ok, cool. Ace of Base are obviously a legendary pop act here in Sweden, and they’ve done great things for Swedish music internationally. So what did your friends and family think, Julia and Clara, when you arrived home that day and were all like – ”oh yeah, so erm, I’ve joined Ace of Base today!!!”?

Clara: I think they were quite shocked. But also very happy. Very supportive.

Julia: Yeah, the same here.

scandipop: It must have been mental for them, because in 1994 when Ace of Base were experiencing their first peak, Clara for example, you were three years old. And your Mother never in her wildest dreams would have thought, ”oh when my daughter grows up, she’ll be in that very same group”!

Clara: No, ha ha. No!

scandipop: And girls, what was your impression of the Ace of Base legacy before you’d joined? Were you big fans of the music, or had you just got a good admiration towards what they’d achieved? Or did you actually think that they were just a bit cheesy and best left in the nineties?!

Both: Ha ha ha!

Jonas: A mixture of all three probably, ha ha!

Julia: Well I had a friend who’s a huge fan of Ace of Base, and we would always listen to Ace of Base whenever I was there. And we’d dance together to ‘The Sign’ and ‘All That She Wants’. I remember that really well. I liked it!

Clara: And maybe I was a little young to be a fan of their music, but I was a fan of pop music. So I liked them, and I grew up with them. Everyone in Sweden knows Ace of Base.

scandipop: Speaking of Ace of Base’s reputation and credibility, a lot of successful modern artists have actually started to namecheck Ace of Base as influences in their new music. Artists like Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, and Britney Spears have all acknowledged that they’d like their music to have an element of your sound. So it must feel pretty good to be in fashion again, after perhaps the last decade where you’d been considered a little uncool.

Ulf: I think that comes with trends in the music industry. When we released our first songs and albums, pop was really out. And we kind of opened up those doors again, especially in the US. It got pop onto the radio stations again. Everything comes down to timing really, when people are ready for a new pop movement, and a new dance movement. And at the end of the 90’s in the US, urban music had taken over. And the problem is, that when one music style gets popular, every band then tries to sound like that. And then that lasts for a few years before people get very tired of it, and then they’ll start listening to something else. Right now, pop seems to be back. So timing wise, it’s perfect.

scandipop: Ok. And like I said before, Ace of Base are quite legendary in Sweden. So how do you think Sweden will take to your new album, ‘The Golden Ratio’? Do you think radio will play it, and press will write about it?

Ulf: I think the press have started to write about it already. Let’s see what happens. I think we have to get the correct forums to communicate that we really are back. We’re back to continue for a while. We’ve been focusing on the album a lot in the studio over the last three years, and next year we’re gonna tour. So it’s a longterm project. And I think that’s really important to convey, because there’s been a lot of nineties acts that are strong brands like 2Unlimited, Culture Beat, you name it, that have come back, but with no original members, they have nothing to do with the band at all. They’re just standing there fronting the brand, it’s not serious. So of course all of those comeback have sort of damaged the idea of the comeback from the nineties, so we have that to work against a little bit. So we need to show to the audience, to the radio, and to the tv that we’re singing and performing music again, to prove ourselves again. But of course, that’s the way it should be. It’s not that just because we’re Ace of Base, everything will always be open. There will always be people who wonder – hmmm are they really back, is it really serious.

Jonas: Especially in Sweden! They’ve always been very very hard on us. We’ve always got the worst kind of reviews possible, ha ha. A zero out of ten was one grade that we got for the first album! Although on this album we’ve had some good reviews, for the first time actually. So hopefully it’s going to turn out good. The album is released on Wednesday in Sweden. And the single got sent to radio yesterday. So it’s all very fresh in Sweden still.

scandipop: So it’s out in Sweden next week, it’s already been a top 20 hit in Germany…………when is the UK gonna get it? And the rest of Europe?

Ulf: France is following now in November. France, Spain, and Italy combined. And Holland and Belgium will probably be around the same time too. Eastern Europe will follow, in Poland it’ll be launched around new year’s eve. The UK is always a seperate territory, and that’ll probably be some time next year, we’re still working on dates. So I think that the UK is definitely gonna be the last country in Europe to get the release. The rest of Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa will probably all get it before the UK. Because they need around 6 months to work it, and they haven’t even decided what the first single is gonna be yet. But we don’t wanna push it too much, because it needs time. And maybe we’ll even end up doing something specific for there. Some specific remixes for the dance charts, and just working it a little bit differently. But we’re very focused on the rest of Europe right now. The UK is always a special one, and we’ve had so many hits there, but it really is a difficult market. And you have to respect that as well. You don’t want to push it or force it there, you need the right angle for the market. It all moves very fast.

Jonas: We’re releasing ‘The Golden Ratio’ as the single in Sweden, and then in the rest of Europe up until now we’ve released ‘All For You’ as the single. Which song from the album to you think would work best in the UK?

scandipop: I do really like ‘All For You’, the melodies are strong and it’s a catchy song. But I also think that something like ‘Bla Bla Bla (On The Radio)’ and ‘One Day’ could be a good choice. In the UK right now there is a great affection amongst pop fans towards you guys. So something like those two songs, which has your earlier sound could go down quite well, due to nostalgic reasons alone. And I think that radio would pick up on the fact that it pays tribute to your earlier sound too, and would play it for the same reasons – that nostalgic affection.

Jonas: We’ve had some debates about ‘Bla Bla Bla’ though. The German label in particular weren’t sure about that one as they thought that radio might find it offensive towards them – the association of ‘’bla bla bla’’ with ‘’on the radio’’. But it’s not really about that at all. We aren’t saying that radio’s speak ‘’bla bla bla’’, more that ‘’bla bla bla’’ is my song, and I want to hear it on the radio. So how do you see it? Do you think it would be a problem to have ‘Bla Bla Bla (On The Radio)’ in the UK?

scandipop: I can kind of see how people could make that connection, but I don’t think that would be enough to make radio not play it, as that would just be ridiculous. But you did actually name it ‘Let It Play (On The Radio)’ before that, why did you change it?

Ulf: Actually, the original was ‘Bla Bla Bla (On The Radio)’. And the idea was to have this as the first single in Germany. So we tried several different wordings on the chorus, and ‘Let It Play’ was one which we recorded. But the Germans didn’t think it was as strong as ‘Bla Bla Bla’.

Jonas: Yeah, as it’s kind of a gimmick to say that. ‘Let It Play’ could be a little bit too cheesy and ‘’hey, c’mon’’!

Ulf: A little bit TOO flirty for the radio on the other hand. But it also depends on what culture you’re in, and if you speak English or not. And most countries don’t speak English very well, so it comes down to how you understand the lyrics then. ‘Bla Bla Bla’ is a very international word, everybody understands that, even China. But maybe ‘Let It Play (On The Radio)’ could be the single in the UK.

scandipop: Ok. I don’t think you need to worry about the ‘Bla Bla Bla’ thing too much for the UK though.

Julia: That’s good to hear, thank you!

scandipop: You’re very welcome, thank you for asking me! So, the new album ‘The Golden Ratio’ is the return of Ace of Base, but it’s also the introduction of Julia and Clara as the group’s new vocalists. But girls, it must have been quite daunting to front an album from an artist, whose fans have been used to two different vocalists for the last 15 years. So how did you deal with those fears and those concerns?

Clara: Well we’re not here to take someone’s place, or anything like that. Me and Julia have just tried to do a good job, and do what we love, and just sing.

Julia: Yeah, I don’t feel like we are taking someone else’s place. They were also Ace of Base but in another form, and we are a new form of Ace of Base. It’s not like we are the new Jenny and Malin. We are totally different, we are just us. And we love their sound, and they are amazing people I think, from what I’ve heard and seen. So it’s not like ‘’oh shit, we have to fill their shoes, how do we do that?’’. They were wonderful and now we are something new, something else. We’re just trying to be ourselves.

scandipop: That’s a good way of approaching it. Because if that was me, I’d have been so scared. Fans can be the harshest critics, can’t they?!

Julia: Yeah, yeah.

Ulf: And we have very very fanatical fans, ha ha!

scandipop: Yes, I was just about to ask you about those! With regards to your old fans taking to your new music, they really do seem to have split into two groups. Those that love the new album, they’re happy with it, it’s Ace of Base back finally! And then those that are like; ‘’this isn’t Ace of Base’’, and are refusing to accept you in your new form, because of perhaps a loyalty towards the older formation of Ace of Base. So I wanted to know if you were aware of that? Have you been reading all of this online?

Jonas: Yes, we’ve been reading it online. I would say that maybe some of them are dreamers. For example, my sister Linn didn’t want to be a part of the group for a long long time, and some fans had been complaining about that also. Many of them want to think about their youth, and they want to keep Ace of Base as they were when they were younger, and they don’t want anything to change. They want it as it was when they were 20 years old, even though they’re 35 now for example. So they’re fighting that really, they’re fighting for their youth. But their youth is where it is, you know what I mean?

scandipop: Yeah, so they didn’t want you to move on?

Ulf: It’s not so much us moving on. Some of the people criticizing are the same ones who still haven’t accepted that Malin left the band a long long time ago, she didn’t want to be in the band from 1995. It was her private choice, she didn’t want this. She hasn’t been in the band a long long time, but some people still haven’t accepted that. So those that still haven’t accepted that in all this time, well they’ll probably NEVER accept us in this new shape and form. But it’s quite interesting to see the whole debate, because there’s a lot of emotion there.

Jonas: Yes, there’s a huge passion. And if we were still 27 years old, and if my sisters still wanted to be in the band, then it would be a different ball game. But we’re older now and it’s different. But in a perfect world, we could be 27 again and the way it was. But we can’t be! But we still want to make new music and new albums. Without politics etc.

Ulf: We’ve been longing for this for so many years. And the fans have been complaining about this for so many years, that we haven’t released an album…

Jonas: The same fans!

Ulf: Yeah, the same fans. But it also comes down to, they have to gain a respect for the new girls. That’ll take some time, but I think that over time people will accept that we have moved on, but that we are still making music and we are still making music that they like. But of course there will always be a group of people who will never accept this new formula. And we can’t really convince them either that this is a formula that they should accept.

Julia: I think it’s like that with a lot of things though. When you’ve seen something in one way for so long, then you want to see it like that, you have gotten used to it. And it’s strange if it changes.

Clara: If your favourite band changes their singer, then of course you’re gonna be disappointed. But you get used to it after a while. A lot of bands do it.

Jonas: I have a couple of bands that I like, where they’ve changed line up. And of course I would love if they were always the original line up, but I understand that they wanted to move on, and I’m not going to hate them for it or dislike them. I might prefer the original line up better, but I’m not going to go to war over it.

scandipop: Yeah there’s no question that people need to move on, because not only are you guys making your music, but previous members of the band are making their own music too. But I think what would help fans move on and get some closure on it all, would be if all these rumours were cleared up. You know, the rumours spread amongst fans, the stuff that you’ve said on your facebook and twitter, the stuff that Jenny has said on her facebook and twitter. The perceived story is basically that you guys wanted to start making music again, Jenny was taking too long, she didn’t really want to do it, then the record label stepped in and said ‘’it needs to be Jenny and a new girl, a younger girl’’, then Jenny left, then you guys recruited the two new girls…….

Jonas: It wasn’t so much that it had to be younger girl, but yes, they wanted a new girl, a new lead vocalist.

Ulf: When we write songs, we write songs for two girls. That’s the dynamic we always want to have in the songs. The harmonies.

Jonas: They missed Linn’s voice very much, the record label. Jenny can’t sing like that, so they wanted us to get a lead vocalist in. And it’s hard to tell your own sister that. They didn’t say it to her, they said it to us. That we need to have a real lead vocalist. So yes, it was pressure from outside.

Ulf: We wanted to continue working, but the record label demanded that we have two girls singing. They were not interested in releasing anything otherwise. So it’s not like we had a choice either. And Jenny wasn’t interested in doing that, plus she wanted to move forward with her solo career. So the only way for us to continue was to get two new girls, because Jenny didn’t want to sing with us. She wanted to focus on her solo career and on her family, so there were not many options for us.

Jonas: It’s sad. At first Jenny said ‘’yes, I can do that’’. But then it was always no. And what she wanted to do was impossible, for all kinds of reasons. You say yes, but then you have so many terms, and it has to be this and this and this and this, that you actually really mean no. You can act like you’re very very positive about it all, but you really mean no. And then we found out from the record label that she had gone and recorded her solo album, and that caught us by surprise. She had told us that she was just going to record some church songs, but this was a proper album, so we were really caught by surprise.

scandipop: So did she ever actually officially leave?

Ulf: Now she has left, yeah.

Jonas: She never officially said ‘’I quit’’. But to the record company, she was a leaving member. And they cancelled her contract. But she never said ‘’oh, I don’t want to be in the band’’.

Ulf: But to be in a band, you have certain responsibilities. You have two work with the band, not just be in the band and not do anything. It’s very important. We are all individuals.

scandipop: Yes, at the end of the day, you have to do your job.

Ulf: Exactly, you have a responsibility towards the band and the other band members. I mean, if you wanna do a solo career, that’s great, nobody stops that. But it didn’t really help the band, you know. And we were in the middle of recording an album, and she went and did the solo record. So there was not much choice, no.

scandipop: And how are relations between yourselves and Jenny and Linn now?

Jonas: I meet Linn as she lives in Gothenburg also. So we meet often, and she likes my kids, and we hang out. But as for Jenny, I would say……..if it were just me, Ulf and Jenny playing together in the band, all would be fine. But there were so many factors from outside, some that we’ve just mentioned, but a lot of other ones too. If it was up to just the three of us, we’d still be playing together. But I don’t want to talk too much dirt about people, but it really was totally impossible to continue.

Ulf: We tried. We tried everything in our power to make this happen, but it didn’t work out. But now she can do what she loves to do, to work and do her solo career, which is great. And we can do what we love.

Jonas: We wish her all the luck in the world. There’s no problem on that side, from our side.

scandipop: And the fans who’ve waited eight years for an album, get an Ace of Base album, and a Jenny Berggren album!

Ulf: They get double! Ha ha. And it’s a good album, she did a great album, so we’re very happy for her.

scandipop: Well thank you very much guys, that clears a lot of things up. And good luck with the album.

All: You’re welcome. And thank you.

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