Danish pop dreamers Mew have been making maximalist, crystallised soundscapes for over 20 years now. Part indie, part prog-rock, the band create songs that are unclassifiable to the point of being unmistakably theirs. That hasn't changed for album number seven, entitled Visuals, although the circumstances surrounding it were a considerable shift from its predecessor. Shortly after the release of 2015's +-, guitarist Bo Madsen left the band and the remaining members to carry on as a trio. “I think the way that we work has always been pretty much the same,” says bassist Johlan Wohlert – who himself was out of the band from 2006 to 2013.
“We'll bounce ideas off each other, and we'll get together in a room to hash out the song structures. We're always working together, and it was business as usual for this album. People might have thought it would have been different because there was three of us when there's usually four. In a way, that's true - but the method itself is the same as it's always been. I suppose that the key difference between this album and the last one is that this record wasn't written with guitar as its main focus. I suppose that's natural for writing a record without a sole guitar player in the role.”
Guitar parts were played partially by Wohlert, singer/keyboardist Jonas Bjerre and the band's current touring guitarist, Mads Wegner. “We wanted to have an outside perspective on how the guitar should sound. He really brought those parts to life for us,” says Wohlert of Wegner's contributions. As for whether Wegner will end up as a full-time member of Mew, however, Wohlert is a little hesitant.
“When you've been a band for 20 years like we have, it's not really a question of whether to take in new members,” he says. “I don't think it really works when you've been together that long. Mads has been a great part of our touring ensemble – as has Nick Watts, who's been playing keyboards for us since God knows when. We might bring them into the recording for a technical standpoint – they're incredibly proficient players – but I think we're all pretty clear and understanding of what the band is.”
Visuals was recorded throughout various stints in 2016, shortly after touring was completed for +-. Similar to the writing process, the recording of the album was a mix of what has become tradition for the band - as well as some minor contextual shifts that, perhaps unintentionally, assisted in making the sound of the record what it was. “The main difference in the recording of this album was that a lot of it was home-made, in a way,” says Wohlert.
“We recorded a lot of our parts at home, in makeshift studios – although what we were playing through and recording on was a lot of the same equipment. Interestingly, I would say that the one difference in terms of instrumental gear was that we used a wider palette of guitars. Even though this isn't so much a guitar record, but funnily enough we had more people actually playing guitar on this record than any of our previous ones. I think that may be why there was a broader selection being played.”
The touring version of Mew – Wohlert, Bjerre, Wegner, Watts and drummer Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen – are currently on the road in support of Visuals, which will bring them back to Australia this September for only the second time in their entire career. Fans can expect to hear some new songs – but, as Wohlert stresses, not too many.
“We're very conscious as to not going overkill with playing new material,” he says. “We've definitely seen our fair share of shows from bands that have just put out an album where they play 90% of the record, then two extra songs and that's it. We're a little easier on fans, I think. We look at a band like U2, and the way that they treat their shows – they'll never shy away from playing their best-known songs. The new record might be in the setlist, but it's never forced or made the central focus of the show. That's sort of the way that we like to do things.”
Mew are touring Australia in September. Visuals is out now via [PIAS] Australia.