with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA
By Makoto Hoshi
Thank you very much for taking time for us. I am so happy to see you. Why did you decide to resume ABBA’s activities after 40 years?
Benny Because there was this idea coming up that we could actually go on the road with ABBA, without having to move away from Stockholm. We can send our holograms to do that, but we soon realized that that was not going to work for various reasons. But we found another way to be able to do this. So we approached a company called ILM, who could do digital versions of ourselves, not holograms but actually screening digital versions on the stage, together with a live band with 10 people in a purpose built arena in London for 3000 seater. We could actually include all the techniques that we need in this building. So that, that's what we set out to do. And then when we realized that this was going to happen, we said “we should have a couple of new songs to play.” So we called Frida and Agnetha and said “what do you say about recording new songs for the show?” And they said “yes, let's do that.”
Bjorn I thought you'd never call.
Benny That's what we did, and there it is. So we recorded two songs, “I Still Have Faith in You” and “Don't Shut Me Down.” And we were very happy with the result that we were still able to do it. Make it sound the way that it should, the two girls could still sing it beautifully. The songs are okay and recording okay, so we said “maybe we should do a few more, just to see where it leads.” And we ended up with the full album.
Bjorn, you said you thought he wouldn't call them. Why is that?
Bjorn I said that the ladies said “we thought you'd never call” as though they've been waiting for that call, which is not true. But they were, they were really happy. I think they were a bit anxious before they came to the studio, before they started to sing, because, you know, they didn't know whether it was going to work. But once they had started to sing and came back and listened to it, we all felt really positive. We knew that it sounded like ABBA and that they could deliver as well as they ever could.
Benny, you just mentioned the new song “I Still Have Faith in You,” which the main theme was “union.” What kind of “union” did you have in your mind?
Benny Well, I didn't have anything in my mind writing the music. Music is just music. It could be, it just consists of itself. It had no lyrics, It wasn’t until Bjorn wrote the lyrics that this came into the picture.
Bjorn When I heard the demo that Benny sent me, I realized that it was very, it had epic quality that it had to be about something big, something existential. And I thought it should be about us and about all the things that we've gone through. And the fact that we were still together after all that time. And so the phrase “I Still Have Faith in You” was something we could, we could say to each other, that phrase.
Benny You could also say that it leads into the avatar project.
Bjorn And in the chorus it says “a new spirit has arrived.” And the spirit is that we have infused in the avatar.
So, the song reflects your own reunion as ABBA?
Bjorn There was a union, that means some union. At face value, you can say it's about ABBA. It could be about other unions as well.
All of you are in your 70s. What motivated you to take on this challenge of creating new songs?
Benny We wanted to do something to announce the possibilities of people wanting to buy tickets for this show for next year in London. We thought the best thing we could do must be to make some new music. That's how it happened.
Bjorn And the project itself, I think we went for it because of curiosity.
Bjorn Yes. Could this be done? Can you actually do this? I mean, to create digital selves, of ourselves. Could it be done and what would it look like? What kind of new experience would that be? That in itself is irresistible, I think.
Isn’t it tough to start something completely new?
Benny No. It would have been easier forty years ago but it was easy to make this decision.
Benny It didn't take long, because it's a thrilling experience, because no one has seen it yet. Neither have we. But we will soon see what it will become like and I think it's going to be an adventure to come and see the show.
Bjorn And we've seen snippets of what's going to happen. It looks really really promising. You know, I would love to see that show, and whether I like ABBA or not, I would like to go to a show like that. I know that.
I want to ask about the album. What was the thinking behind the title “Voyage?”
Benny Everything needs a title so you can separate it from all other titles. It came about. We didn't know what to call the show, and the producer came up with the idea “what about Voyage?” And we liked that, and we used it as the title for the concert show.
And it has been a voyage. You know those 40 years, so we haven't been together the four of us. Bjorn and I, we've been working together all the time, different projects. The girls have been on the road, but I mean, ABBA together has had a voyage. And we’re having one into uncharted waters, you know, we don't know how this will be received. We take risk, which is what people go on a voyage, without knowing exactly where they going.
How's the voyage now for the four of you?
Benny Voyage is sailing into the sunset, not knowing exactly where you will end up.
Bjorn Voyage is just a metaphor for what's happening.
Benny It's just a word.
Bjorn We're not going on a voyage, not on a boat as such.
Benny From 1972 to 2022. That's a journey.
The world is still divided due to the COVID 19 restrictions. How did this have an impact on your music making?
Bjorn And the first very first week or weeks it was very difficult, because nobody knew what it was. So, maybe a few mistakes, but after that we've been handling it. And as for us, writing songs is a lonely work anyway. So COVID-19 hasn't affected this project in the slightest. Because we managed to do everything we were supposed to do
Benny There was a little thing, like redoing our “body doubles” in London. I think it affected England more because they closed down, we never had a close down here. So they were not able to work properly for, I don't know maybe half a year. Not here, it's been okay.
Due to the restrictions of travel under the pandemic, will avatars help you with your shows?
Bjorn Yes, I mean, people are able to travel to the UK now, and people in the UK are allowed to gather. It doesn't matter how big the crowd is. So, our arena will be 3000 seater. And people will be allowed to go in there, whether it will be with a COVID pass or not I don't know, We'll see in the future but definitely people in Europe can go to concerts now.
Benny Fingers crossed that everything would cool down a bit, in seven months to opening. So we will hope that everything will be hunky dory.
Bjorn And we hope that Japanese tourists are coming to London again soon,
You're going to use avatars in the concert. This is a new challenge for you. And we're also looking forward to what it's going to be like. So, what do you think about the use of avatars in your concerts?
Bjorn I think it's wonderful that they cannot go on tour and they can play concerts every night. And we don't have to be there. And the avatars will actually be us, because we put so much into them, of ourselves. When you watch them I'm sure after a while you think that you're watching human beings.
Benny Yeah, I agree. you know, we haven't seen it yet, but we've been seeing the work being done during the way. So far so good, I'd say. A lot of work, maybe 800 people sitting right now drawing eyebrows, nose, hairs and lips and everything to a line by line by line you can zoom in to our faces. You can enlarge them by 100, you know, and still be crystal clear. It's a lot of work, and it takes skill and it takes time and it costs money. I think it'll be good.
My mother is a big fan of yours ! I think everybody is waiting for your song. Are you excited?
Benny I think we've done what we can do. We've been trying to do our best writing songs, recording songs, mixing them and deciding that this is what we will release. And the release date is on the fifth of November. We just hope that people will enjoy it. There's not much we can do, we've done it. It's done. There's nothing we can do to change anything. So it's just a matter of waiting.
Bjorn I'm really looking forward to the opening of the “Voyage” show in London, and sitting in the audience and seeing the reactions from the people. I think it will be a great experience, something that nobody has ever seen before.
Bjorn And maybe one day we can build an arena in Tokyo as well.
This will be the last question. What message do you have for the older generation like my parents?
Benny Thank you for still being around! Thank you for still enjoying what we did 40 years ago, and hopefully you will also enjoy this latest album “Voyage.”
Bjorn And look at us, we could run a marathon tomorrow! There's still, hope. There’s still life ahead of us.
And how about for the younger generation like us?
Benny Well, they are welcome. There's a lot of people if you watch Apple Music or Spotify and what age groups are into this. You can see that there's a lot of young people, they weren't even born 20 years ago, and not 40 years. So it's quite amazing.
Bjorn They are very welcome. And we're very humbled and grateful that they like our music.
The interview was conducted on October 20, 2021 and was edited for clarity.