For months on end, ABBA has been working on the album ‘The Visitors’. Too long, according to them. “Too much is expected from us. Maintaining that level isn’t easy,” is how Björn Ulvaeus is putting ABBA’s creative problems into words. Together with his friend Benny Andersson he’s now doing completely different things besides ABBA. Just like Frida Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog. Does this mean that ABBA will break up in the near future? ME got the answer from the Swedish superstars...
Compared to Holland, Sweden is almost the North pole. Over there, the temperature has dropped to far below zero. Snow removers are working almost incessantly to keep the roads driveable. A large BMW is sluggishly working its way up Hamngatan, then parking in front of a modest, but stately building on which the words ‘Polar Music’ can be read in small lettering. The driver gets out of the car and, dressed in a long, dark fur coat, he almost seems like a grey wolf, that’s having a hard time working his way through the snow to the front entrance.
A while later, Benny Andersson, still wearing his coat, is sitting in the executive office of ‘Polar Music’, the headquarter of the multi-million ABBA company. Only on the mantelpiece, there are some things that reminds one of ABBA. Awards for their output from all over the world. In the rest of the building, there’s no trace of ABBA to be found. No music, no pictures, just people that are working hard. And also an ABBA-member in the flesh, who has just finished yet another ABBA-project. ‘The Visitors’ album is out in the shops, and Benny is very pleased to announce ‘fantastic sales figures’. As if he expected anything different.
Benny says: “That’s what you are saying, but even if your name is ABBA, it always remains a gamble. You’ll have to prove yourself time and time again. Actually, we’ve been working on ‘The Visitors’ for more than a year. Too long, but the songs don’t come as easily as they used to. Those days are gone. It isn’t easy to maintain that level. It gets harder and harder to come up with hit songs. So much is expected from us. Although we are ABBA, I’m sure that’s not a guarantee for a hit. Only the quality of the song is.”
According to Benny, the rumours about the possible break-up of the world-famous foursome are “without any foundation. And when I say that, you should believe it. Look, we would be able to continue indefinitely this way. Especially if we keep on writing songs of the same quality. Actually, ABBA only exists in the studio when there’s an album to be recorded or a couple of videos to be made. Apart from that, we only see each other occasionally at meetings. But don’t think we’re not having fun. We certainly are. But privately we’ve obviously grown apart to some extent. We run into each other every now and then on our children’s birthdays, but otherwise it’s not really necessary.”
Can we still call ABBA a group then?
Benny: “Why not? We have never been secretive about the fact that we don’t like live performances, but we do like recording music. As a matter of fact, that hasn’t changed at all.”
The foursome is spending quite some time on other projects as well. Can Benny tell us a bit more about that?
Benny: “Yes, Björn and I are working on the musical completion of the ABBA-musical that we have spoken of for years now and furthermore, we are producing a couple of, mainly Swedish, artists. Together with her daughter Linda, Agnetha has recorded a Christmas album, as a present for Björn, but apart from that, she doesn’t have official plans to do other things. She’s playing housewife. Frida is working on a solo-album but I can’t tell you more about that.”
Is that a sensitive subject for him because Frida was his wife?
Benny smiles. “No, not at all. But she wants to keep it a secret, from the three of us as well. Of course, we could have helped her with it, but then it would have turned out as some sort of ABBA-product again. She didn’t want that. Indeed, she has recorded that album with people who haven’t had anything to do with ABBA before. I’m very curious myself.”
In an earlier interview with us, you’ve talked extensively about the Beatles as a source of inspiration. The new ABBA-album is full of Beatles-influences. Agreed?
“Completely,” Benny confirms. “It creeps in, without us being aware of it, I think. We only heard it after it was finished. I really like that. I take it as a compliment...”
A snowball shatters against one of the executive windows. Benny gets up, looks out of the window and smiles. Björn seems to have arrived as well. We decide to continue our discussion about ABBA another time.
Benny: “It may be slippery here in Sweden, but for the time being ABBA will not fall flat...”