Saturday, 16 August 2008

Hitkrant, February 1983: Björn Ulvaeus reveals: "Without ABBA, I would have left Agnetha as well"

You can tell that Dallas was a very popular show around this time, as the Ewing-empire is even compared to ABBA's in this article. And yet another interesting spelling of Frida's name: Anni-Fred.“People have the tendency to overestimate the ABBA-fortune,” says a relaxed Björn. “No-one talks about the enormous effort it takes to live up to that status. Also, there’s never any gossip about the substantial losses that every well doing company has to endure sometimes. Our investments in the oil industry almost led to our downfall. Three million pounds down the drain.”
Just like the unthreatened Ewing-empire, ABBA often has to bear a setback as well. Financial and emotional trouble that wouldn’t be out of place in an average episode of Dallas. Still, Sweden’s number one export product keeps its steady market value. Who of the four members has the secret recipe?
“To keep on developing is undoubtedly one of the essential ingredients to survive in this business,” Björn claims. “ABBA has left the casual pop behind as well, to show more creativity, and also to become more personal. When we started out, we just rhymed the words together and put them on top of the melody. It didn’t really matter then, if they made sense. Three years ago, I felt that we couldn’t go on like that. I was fed up with all this rhyming. Too much emotional confusion was seeking an outlet. ‘Under Attack’ for instance, is very challenging lyrically.”

It’s obvious that the internal ABBA-kitchen, where things can get to a boiling point any second, remains an endless source of inspiration. Has it ever been hard on Björn to air that dirty laundry publicly?
“No, I may say it was even therapeutic. Your sadness and problems have to come out somewhere. It also did the group a lot of good to finally deal with real emotions, the problems that kept us awake at night. The latest songs are a mishmash, an extract – and not rarely a bitter one – of our own confrontations and tensions.”

Was the ABBA-pressure on your shoulders the cause of the two divorces within the group?
“The separation between Agnetha and myself was of a complete personal nature. The crucial problem had nothing to do with the group or our career. The same goes for Benny and Anni-Frid. The past few months I have pondered a lot about that question. But even if I were a carpenter and Agnetha and office employee, the inevitable would have happened as well.”

Wasn’t it terribly hard to keep on working together in those circumstances?
“There have been several rumours about that, but they were complete nonsense. A long period of talking and contemplating precedes a drastic decision like a divorce. I was very confident when I finally made the decision and the others were convinced as well that this would be the best decision for ourselves and the survival of the group. We just kept on going as friends and colleagues. When you claim to be completely professional, you should be able to handle something like this.”

Still, the audience has the impression that both men are calling the shots, and the girls have very little say.
“Not completely true,” Björn claims. “We often have to make a comprise to Anni-Frid and Agnetha, to make things work. That’s what we do in several areas. But artistically, someone has to take the lead. That happens to be Benny and me.”

This and other basic rules that, despite the fact that they’re not much fun, are still maintained, have made ABBA very successful. Since the Beatles there hasn’t been any other group that achieved this amount of success. Of course, having a lot of money is rather nice but even an overwhelming bank account often causes problems.
“Our children are threatened with kidnapping continually. For us, being famous is not always fun either. The amount of threats and abuse aimed at myself has increased alarmingly the past few years. Our wealth has increased gradually. Every year we did a little better. That’s why it’s very difficult to tell if that abundance has really changed you. Firstly, money means a lot of freedom. Other people, who don’t have these means, often have to look for an inferior alternative. We don’t know that feeling. Apart from that, it’s not my style to collect ten fabulous limousines when I don’t have the time to actually take them out for a nice drive. And we make mistakes as well. Just like any other successful Swedish company, we are obliged to invest a part of the money we’ve made in the national industry. Otherwise, it all goes to taxes and that’s even worse. We also took a gamble on a brilliant future for the oil industry and in hindsight that didn’t turn out too well. The immense amount of money that we wasted on that, has been made up for in the meantime, but still it’s a big shock when three million pounds disappear from your bank account all of a sudden!"

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