Birthday: February 27
Birthplace: Piteå, Sweden
Birthday: July 29
Birthplace: Piteå, Sweden
Boom Boom Beat song sample
No Sleep 'Til Famous (10-9-95)
Bubblegun (11-27-97 JP)
Andrew's Store (9-26-97 JP)
I would like to go away
See the world in just one day
How I wish that we could be
Sailing in a boat for two
Cross the seven seas with you
Saltwater drinks are all on me
I believe in you, though I’ll be leaving you
I won’t forget my past
And even if I do
This morning’s gonna last
And you will guide me through
Dip your toes into the Nile
Greet a hermit with a smile
How I wish that I could be
Riding holy cows with you
And bath in holy water too
The magic carpet ride’s on me
I believe in you, though I’ll be leaving you
I won’t forget my past...
© The Merrymakers
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The Merrymakers Interview
"I said to the students (with Puffy in mind) "Imagine this as a pop song for two Japanese girls" and I started to sing this little composition in a furious tempo with a high-pitched voice." - David Myhr
If you're a fan of Puffy AmiYumi, Fujifabric or Yuko Yamaguchi then you've probably already heard the music of the songwriting duo Anders Hellgren and David Myhr of The Merrymakers. When Tokyo needs someone to make that Boom Boom Beat, The Merrymakers studio in Stockholm, Sweden often gets the call. And yes the rumors are true: they really do play in an ABBA tribute band called Super Trouper.So come learn about the duo behind such Puffy songs as The Story, Oedo Nagareboshi IV and Otomemoriaru and learn what Andy Sturmer (the American musician who coined Puffy's name) thought about the band's decision to translate the Swedish word "festprisse" into the name "merrymakers."
On August 3, 2009 Anders Hellgren and David Myhr of The Merrymakers were kind enough to give an updated interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of The Merrymakers.
First off, can you tell us what you've been up to since our original interview on July 21, 2007?
David: So two years passed already!!!? It's a bit scary... but quite a lot was going on in our lives. If I answer for myself I have tried to live abroad for a while -- in Barcelona with my Spanish girlfriend Paula. But she now lives in Sweden with me and we just got married.
We also made a trip together to Japan where we had lots of fun and met Puffy backstage at a concert among many other things, including singing Merrymakers songs in a karaoke bar, ha ha...
During the year in Barcelona Anders and I co-worked on the song My Story for Puffy. Him being in Stockholm recording drums and mixing and myself in Barcelona recording guitars and bass etc. Usually we don't meet with Puffy during the production of a song but this time we didn't even have to meet ourselves...
What else!? Well, yes... a big project this passed winter was recording and co-producing the album Chronicle with the Japanese rock band Fujifabric who found their way all the way to our studio in Stockholm. It was a big and exciting project for us and we hope to have the opportunity to produce more Japanese artists in the future. Apart from all this, everyday life has been going on. Anders family has expanded even more so he now has three kids and a house. He's a real grown-up!
Rumor has it you're working on a new album of your own. Can we get a sneak peak on what fans can expect?
We've been spreading that rumor for quite a few years now... but it's actually true! It's just that other things tend to come between all the time (see above...). We'd be happy to share sneak peaks the day we see the end of the project coming up...
In addition to My Story you've written several other songs for Puffy. How did your relationship with them get started?
David & Anders: Because our connection with Andy Sturmer and Andy's connection with Puffy we had been told about them when we were in Japan in 1997. And we were also briefly introduced to them before a show we did at some convention (with Andy on drums!). Also we had learned to sing the verse "Chikagoro watashitachi wa ii kanji" or whatever the words are from their song That's the Way It Is. We used to sing it in radio interviews to try to impress the DJ's with our Japanese knowledge ha ha... But the actual working relationship didn't happen until producing songs for other artists. Puffy are really cool and a great pop act.
You've sold many CDs in Japan. Did this surprise you?
David & Anders: Yes and no. Yes because we weren't used to selling records at all in the first place. So it's always fascinating for an artist the first time it happens that someone actually goes to a store and buys your music. It was a long awaited reward that we had been working hard for, for quite a few years. And no we weren't surprised because at the time Swedish music was really popular in Japan and we read about other bands in Sweden that weren't too well known at home that had success there and we thought that we kind of deserved at least some attention. It took a while to find the right contacts but once we did it became a little bit bigger than we had expected.
Where do you typically write and produce music from when working for a Japanese group like Puffy?
David & Anders: We are based in our own studio (monogramrecordings.se) in Stockholm, Sweden and that's where we write and produce. Well the actual writing might just as well be in the TV-sofa or at the piano at home but the hard work -- making it sound right -- is done at our studio. So far we didn't work directly with Ami and Yumi. Instead we sent over the backing tracks over the internet for them to sing onto at a studio in Tokyo and then they sent sound files back to us that we put into the mix.
Can you give us the scoop on the songs you've done for them?
David & Anders: The Story (Soushun Monogatari) was originally a Merrymakers song called Tweed that we wrote for our upcoming album. Their manager Kaz liked it when he heard it being played back in our studio so it became a Puffy song instead. But who knows... maybe there will be a Merrymakers version one day as well.
David: Otomemoriaru was a melody that had been lying around on my little micro cassette recorder since many years that I thought might be worth demoing. Anders heard it and reworked the chorus a little bit in the last minute and it turned out really well.
Boom Boom Beat was born out of a request for a commercial. It was at the end of mixing Otomemoriaru which had been going on for weeks and suddenly they needed a song more or less within a day. So Anders sat behind the drums and I picked up a guitar and this riff came up and a few hours later the demo was finished. It was a very spontaneous thing. But as always the real recording and mixing is the hard work and that took a little bit more time to finish. We saw the video on You Tube for this one and we think it looks really cool!
Oedo Nagareboshi IV is a funny simple melody that was first recorded as a studio project for some talented young musicians at the "studio musicians programme" at the School of Music in Piteå in the north of Sweden where both me and Anders sometimes work as guest producers. I said to the students (with Puffy in mind) "Imagine this as a pop song for two Japanese girls" and I started to sing this little composition in a furious tempo with a high-pitched voice. They looked at each other thinking "what's wrong with this guy...?" Anyway it went well and me and Anders are delighted to see that it went on to be used for this animated series. It looks really great with the animations!
My Story. I originally made an attempt at writing the melody that ABBA never wrote. But since the demo ended up sounding so much like ABBA it didn't really make sense recording it properly so it was lying around for quite some time. But when we were asked by Puffy to produce and record the song for them Anders and I made a "puffyfied" version with a much more rockin' feel. We feel that the melody eventually has found its home with Puffy and it's a great feeling.
Tell us about the other Japanese musicians you‘ve written for.
David: The first time one of our songs was recorded by a Japanese artist was by a band called "Tokio". But that was many years ago and not our recording, just our melody. So was the case more recently with a female artist called Sarasa IFU who recorded our melody Curriculum. We have also produced two full-length albums for Japanese artists, first in 2000 for Yuko Yamaguchi. The album was called "Hotel Scandinavia". And this year, like I mentioned before, we have worked really hard as co-producers to the band Fujifabric who's album Chronicle was top 10 on the Japanese album charts in the spring.
Let's learn more about your backgrounds. Can you describe the hometown you both grew up in?
David: A very small town near the coast in the north of Sweden (40,000 inhabitants or so). Very nice and sunny (at least as we tend to remember it from childhood) in the summers and dark and cold in the winters (around -25 if it became bad) but we didn't know of anything else and were happy to play around in the snow. ;-) Not too mention sitting inside in the warmth listening to, and playing around with music...
Who would you consider to be your major musical influences while growing up in Sweden?
David: We both are like every other musician and songwriter influenced by lots and lots of different music. But if we're talking major influences while growing up I think that for me there's no way getting around the Beatles. They were always my number one reference. If I had to choose my ten favorite years in pop and rock history I would say it's between 1965 and 1975. It includes lots of other great music. In the end we're both suckers for good melodies no matter if it's a Keane song from their new album, a classic ABBA song or if it's a song from let's say Graham Nash solo album from 1970.
Anders: For me the first thing I discovered in music was a Swedish punk/pop band called Noise (yes, it's spelt with an "s"), and after that probably ABBA. Those were the days when I was maybe 8-12 years old. I had my room set up with cushions like drums and was banging away while listening with headphones. After that I was hooked to Howard Jones and Depeche Mode, that sort of thing through my teens. And Depeche (Martin Gore) is still one of my biggest influences when it comes to songwriting.
Do you feel your musical interests have changed over the years? What music do you listen to nowadays?
David: I guess it's like for everybody, that you don't listen to the exact same music year after year. But I think that there's very little music that we used to like that we despise today. It's just that it's a period that passed. What I mean is that already as 13 year olds our taste was quite developed. For instance I thought Life on Mars with David Bowie was one of the greatest songs ever and I still do. Nowadays we listen to a bigger variation of music than ever, old and new, because of the iPod era. But to name a few current examples we listen to Keane, The Feeling, Roger Manning, Foo Fighters and Shawn Colvin.
Anders: I find that many of the band/artists I listened to when I was younger have stood the test of time quite well (though not all!). I was always the kind of guy that listened more to what the music sounded like, instead of checking to see if the band had the right type of big hair-do. And I guess that pays off in time, if you want something that'll last. Today, I find that I have many women in my record collection (which by the way is a big-ass iTunes library ;-). Having kids is a sure thing for learning to LOVE silence, so the first thing I do at home is not to turn on music, but I am an avid iPod-listener. I carry it with me wherever I go and I listen as often as I get a chance.
How did the two of you meet? What led you to combine forces in your musical careers?
David: We actually met in first grade of school at the age of seven. We didn't hang out together too much during our time in school but our paths crossed now and then. For instance we both went to the local downhill skiing club for sometime and we played jazz in the same big band from the music school. But in later years we were kind of rivals (but not in a serious way) when I was in a blues/boogie cover band and later a 60's inspired pop group and Anders played in a synth band. Eventually we both started making more and more similar music. We discovered Jellyfish independently from each other, and when we had some turbulence in the '93 version of the Merrymakers it was natural to call in Anders for his great overall musicality and vocal abilities. By then he had already moved to Stockholm, something which Peter and I did a year or two later...
At what point did you both decide to make music your career?
David: I guess around the age of 23 that started to become a serious goal even if we weren't too convinced it was possible (and still are not...!)
How did you hook up with Andy Sturmer and how has he impacted your careers?
David & Anders: We were early out with a webpage when the internet was "the new thing" and Andy got in touch with us through e-mail after having found our webpage. When we sent him our first album (No Sleep 'til Famous) and the demos for what was going to become our second album Bubblegun, he suggested we should be working together. It came as a gift from above (and a shock!) for us because he was a really big hero for us. We had been listening to Jellyfish so much for five years and suddenly he was in the studio with us producing and co-writing. It was a thrill.
It meant a lot for our career as well because Andy had the right contacts in Japan because of Jellyfish and he led us to our publisher June Shinozaki who has stayed loyal to us throughout the years. Without her The Merrymakers might not have been released in Japan and without her we wouldn't have been writing for Puffy etc. We are very grateful for the Andy connection...
How did you pick the name, "The Merrymakers"?
David: We had a band meeting a long, long time ago (1991?) about changing the name when our drummer at the time, Kenneth Bergh, suggested that we should find a word that described what kind of people we are. We liked to drink a lot and party so we looked up the Swedish word "festprisse" in a dictionary and found "merrymaker". However, speaking to English speaking people it seems it has kind of a medieval ring to it and probably sounds quite corny...
Andy once told us: "You guys write serious pop music. Having that name is like putting a clown's nose on the Mona Lisa". And we thought he had a point...
In 1992 you released your first single in Sweden, "Andrew's Store." Can you tell us the story of writing, recording and releasing this early work of yours?
David: I came up with the chorus-melody while singing to myself in the car and also I made the melody for the middle-eight parts. Our bass player at the time, Thomas Nyström, threw in a nice verse melody which had somekind of resemblance to Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles chordwise (which I'm sure he was unaware of). And then our keyboard player at the time, Patrik Bergman, took upon himself the task of coming up with the lyrics during a skiing trip. He wrote this kind of fantasy oriented lyrics, probably inspired by Tolkien or something like that, because he even had a concept of this peculiar store owned by some guy name Andrew that was placed in a fantasyland called "Merrymakerland". Very "out there" I must say but we all liked the idea and we didn't ask too many questions about where the hell he got everything from so nobody knows what the title actually meant for him.
In 1995 you released your first album, "No Sleep 'til Famous." How big of a moment was that for you?
David: For us it was a really big moment! Like for every musician that have a dream all his life to "make a record". However, this has changed since then. Now everyone because of the technical evolution "makes a record" or at least has a MySpace site and I guess it's a good evolution that the border between "recording artist" and "demo group" has kind of disappeared. Anyway for us it was something we had wanted to do for years but our first record company only let us record singles, waiting to see if they "took off" or not. Which they of course didn't. When we finally were sacked by them and forgot about all the music business strategies we released our album. And of course it didn't "take off" either. Well, not in Sweden anyway. Not until a year and half later when things happened in Japan.
What memories stand out from that year?
David: Releasing the album "No Sleep 'til Famous" on John Lennon's birthday, performing on Swedish TV, and putting up a webpage for our group when the internet was still something not everyone had access to. We also worked as extras (doing the role of musicians!) in a Swedish drama series which was a fun experience. And on the side of our own career we kept ourselves quite busy making concerts with Beatles music doing projects like Rubber Soul Live and Sgt Pepper Live.
Two years later you released your first recordings in Japan. How did that come about?
David: Like I mentioned, it was Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish who put us in contact with June Shinozaki at Sony Music Publishing who in her turn put us in contact with Toshiba-EMI/Virgin and their product managers who became really interested in releasing our album. We had suspected for a long time that there was potential for our music in Japan especially at this time when Swedish pop music was really hip and happening in Japan because of bands like Eggstone, The Cardigans, Cloudberry Jam, The Trampolines etc... But no one in Sweden was able to help us with the right contacts so Andy came in as a guardian angel at precisely the right moment.
Can you tell us more about June Shinozaki and the importance she has played in your careers?
David: There's a lot to say about her of course since we have been working together for a very long time by now. We call her "the best publisher in the world" because she actually does what other publishers only talk about doing. She has a great taste in music, she's wise, she's strategic, she's nice, she's comforting, she's encouraging, she has contacts and she works really hard. Also, she's a very "international" person that speak perfect English and she's been extremely helpful many times when we've been "lost in translation" with Japanese business partners. She can understand the angle of a western person as well as (obviously) the one of Japanese people because she's Japanese herself.
Aside from being our business partner she has become a true friend.
You play in the ABBA tribute band "Super Trouper." How did this come about?
David: It started off as a project for a party at the School of Music in Stockholm where Anders and his girlfriend used to study. But the band has stayed together for ten years and we are eight good friends who get a reason to go out and play in different parts of Sweden and sometimes abroad. And it's a source of income for us being part-time freelancing musicians. An ABBA show is the ultimate entertainment at big international company conventions and dinners. So it's a lot of fun. I need to wear my Benny wig at least twice a month to feel there's a nice balance in life. ;-)
If you were to recommend three of your songs to new listeners which would you pick and why?
David & Anders: Well a good start is the ones we put up on our MySpace which are Saltwater Drinks, April's Fool, Under the Light of the Moon and Monkey in the Middle. Although that's four... Why? Because we think they're all strong melodies and describe quite well what the Merrymakers are about. April's Fool is co-written with Andy Sturmer and produced by him as well so that might be of extra interest for Jellyfish fans...
Aside from music, what do you like to do for fun and relaxation?
David: Traveling, spending time with our families and friends, hanging out, enjoying digital life with our Macintosh computers...
If there was one thing you want people to know about Sweden, what would it be?
David: That it's a different country than Switzerland.
Looking back over your career what memories stand out the most?
David & Anders: Meeting Andy for the first time in his home in Oakland, CA once it was decided that he would be working with us on Bubblegun was a great memory. Another one was everything involved in going to Japan the first time. We were doing in-store showcases and making radio interviews. Not to mention the karaoke evenings. They were great!
What do you have planned for the rest of 2009?
David: Not too much which I'm happy about since the first half was really intense recording Fujifabric, recording a CD for a "learn-to-play-guitar" book and then in my case getting married. I hope there will be time for songwriting in the spring!
Do you have a final message to all your fans?Thanks for being around and enjoying our music! Hope to see you all someday!
For more info checkout The Merrymakers's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments