“The whole sort of notion of art being free is absolutely ludicrous, to be honest,” Mew bassist Johan Wohlert said to me over the phone as he cooked dinner at home in Denmark. “I don’t see it benefitting art in any way that it’s all of the sudden free. To me, that’s just dead wrong.”
Having been around for over two decades, Mew has been witness to the ever-changing landscape of the music industry. Their debut album, “A Triumph for Man,” was released in 1997 (and produced by Swirlies’ Damon Tutunjian), and since then they’ve released six more, including this year’s “Visuals.”
Unlike many bands of their stature, they haven’t let the changing landscape stymie them. Instead, they’ve adapted and embraced new sounds and styles, all the while balancing accessibility with technicality.
“You want something to be catchy, but at the same time you want it to sound like nothing you’ve heard before, so that requires twisting things in what may seem at first a bit of an impossible direction,” Wohlert explained.
For over 20 years, the result has been an interesting mix of dream-pop, shoegaze, progressive rock, math-rock and electro-pop. In less capable hands, that blend might seem overwhelming and confused, but Mew have always found ways to integrate it into something all their own. (It also helps that their fans tend to be pretty adventurous, according to Wohlert.)
Much of their sound might have to do with their musical upbringing, the good ‘80s pop -- David Bowie, Kate Bush, Talking Heads -- and angsty ‘90s rock -- Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, Husker Du, Nirvana -- bands that showed Mew they could make pop music quirky without being flashy players, Wohlert suggested.
“We didn’t have to be great musicians to make good music,” he said with a great deal of humility.
However, despite Mew’s evolutionary style, Wohlert still retains some nostalgia for certain time periods of music -- especially when it comes to the tactile consumption of it.
“I think I preferred it when things were physical -- I prefer buying an LP than listening on Spotify. I like the physicality, putting it on, paying attention to it, devoting 45 minutes of my time to listening to what I’ve bought,” he said.
For all of the twists and turns that the music industry has taken, Mew have managed to survive as an innovative, uncompromising force (albeit without Bo Madsen this time around), and that’s both a testament to and also a reflection of Wohlert’s optimistic graciousness.
“It’s a beautiful way to go through life … What a tremendously wonderful job,” he said.
Mew headline Observatory North Park on Thursday, Aug. 24. Get tickets here.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. Whoops. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.