A couple of questions with David Myhr of The Merrymakers
ALSO: The Merrymakers were featured in our The Best Albums You've (Probably) Never Heard feature.
Bullz-Eye: For those just learning about No Sleep ‘Til Famous now, can you give a nutshell summary of your career prior to its release?
David Myhr: We were a bunch of ambitious young musicians from the north of Sweden, a little town called Pitea. We were hungry for fame and success, and we dreamt of becoming pop stars…or at least to make our living from it. We were inspired by melodic pop in general, and for me and my song writing partner, Peter, the Beatles were the main influence at the time. Our band had four (!) lead singers and songwriters, which made our music a bit too schizophrenic; you couldn’t really tell what the Merrymakers were about…and we couldn’t, either! It was mainly just the pure joy of writing and recording our own music that kept us going. We released a few singles on a Swedish label called Stockholm Records, but they dropped us in favor of the Cardigans because they were “young” and had a clear musical vision. It was true…but I must admit it was a bit depressing knowing that we were 24 years old and already too old...! It wasn’t until Anders Hellgren had joined the group, and all the other members quit for different reasons, that the band had a clear musical vision. Anders was mainly a synth guy in his teens, but through Crowded House and Jellyfish he had come to love the melodic guitar pop as well. So when we got the chance to record our first full-length album it was obvious that we were striving for instantly hummable, catchy and hooky pop songs. That was our goal. And we borrowed one or two arrangement ideas from among others Jellyfish, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that Andy Sturmer from Jellyfish discovered our existence and we started to discuss recording together. That led to his contributions as producer and drummer on our second full-length album which was to become Bubblegun…but that’s another story.
BE: Do you recall any anecdotes from the recording of the album?
DM: What I remember most of all is how the circumstances forced us to do everything ourselves. We had been offered to record in a really nice studio (when it wasn’t booked), but apart from that there was no budget for anything. So in addition to being artists and musicians, we also had to do the production completely without external help. Anders was the sound guy, so he was in charge of that. He was also the one programming the drums on the whole album. The thing was that we didn’t actually have a band. We were just three singers and guitar players...so the drums were programmed for the most part, and then we took turns on the other instruments. In fact, there’s not one single moment on the album where two musicians are performing at the same time. It was all built up step by step from the programming of the hi-hat to the last harmony overdubs. We even wrote on the album, “This is NOT a live recording, lots of overdubs used,” just because it’s normally nothing you brag about, rather the opposite. Another truly memorable moment was when we were in the midst of some fine adjustments of the mixing, all of us leaning over the big mixing console, when a man entered the control room in a white coat with a typical hat that chefs wear. He was selling fish! He simply entered the room with a tray of fish in his hands, politely asking if we were interested in “salmon, herring, etcetera.” It was hilarious. We never stopped laughing that day over how completely unexpected that was.
BE: Did you expect the record to have a better commercial reception than it did?
DM: To be honest, we had no idea whatsoever what to expect. At the time, it seemed unlikely that any single person would go to a record store and spend their money on buying our music. But, of course, we had hopes that we would get reviews and many TV appearances and so on. We got a little of that in Sweden, but it never really took off. It drowned like so many other albums in the constant stream of new music…which in those days wasn’t as enormous as it is today, when everybody with or without talent records their own album in their bedroom with a sound card and a computer...! But the great thing was that through Andy of Jellyfish, we were able to get the right contacts in Japan. And it led to something quite incredible. Suddenly, in the spring of ‘97 (one and a half years after its original release!), No Sleep ‘Til Famous became the big priority for Toshiba-EMI/Virgin. In the end, “Monument of Me,” which was the single, became a huge radio hit with heavy rotation on almost every radio station in Japan. We sold over 80,000 copies and went to Japan three times the same year for promotion, interviews etc. That amount might not be huge by Japanese standards, but for us it was enormous, and it certainly was a welcome reward after the up-hill battle we had been fighting since we first started to look for a record contract in 1990 or so! So the answer to the question in the end is yes, we expected a better commercial reception in our home country of Sweden, but we had never dreamed of the response in Japan. As for the rest of the world, we didn’t have a clue.
BE: Are you pleased to find that it still maintains enough of a following to make its way into this piece?
DM: It’s a very nice feeling! However, I guess we would have preferred if we had something new to present that people were raving about. No Sleep was the best we were able to achieve at the time. It was a debut album. And like many other debut albums it was filled with enthusiasm, but also to some extent it wasn’t too mature. There are a few songs, especially towards the second half of the album, that we are a bit embarrassed about now. But, of course, it’s a cool thing to know that people appreciate it to this day. Let’s hope we can get our act together and release something new before the end of the year…2012. (Heh, heh.)
BE: What are you doing now?
DM: We have our own studio called Monogram in Stockholm, where we produce music. For instance, we write songs and produce for the Japanese female duo called PuffyAmiYumi, who I believe release their albums in the US as well. Also, they are cartoon characters over there, I think. Andy from Jellyfish wrote for them over the last few years, and now we’ve also got this opportunity, which is great fun. We are also writing songs that hopefully will end up on a future Merrymakers album. Apart from this, we play in an ABBA tribute band called Super Trouper…partly for the fun and to keep our live performing alive, but also to pay the rent of the studio. We thought that if we are going to end up playing in a cover band, we might as well play something with quality and that’s a bit challenging, and ABBA works really well for that. Anders plays the drums, and I’m playing the part of Benny behind the piano. We are also busy leading a normal family life and teaching music production at different schools.
Check out Merrymakers' official site for more info.