Mew’s Jonas Bjerre On Humanity In The Digital Age

“Appreciating things is the road to happiness”

by laura studarus

Since their 1997 debut, A Triumph For Man, Denmark’s Mew have been painting a very pretty musical picture. Now seven albums deep, their sound is canon. Sweeping prog-rock anthems. Falsetto vocals. Lyrics that come across as equal parts fever dream and abstractionist poetry. Mew’s newest offering, Visuals, doubles down on the band’s loud-soft dynamic, coupling spiky guitar passages, twisted horns, and plenty of moments of ethereal bliss. 

In addition to writing his band’s most enigmatic lines (see: And the Glass Handed Kites single “Zookeeper’s Boy,” where he croons, “Do the clouds kiss you/ With meringue-colored hair/ I know they cannot”), frontman Jonas Bjerre is also responsible for much of Visuals’ visuals, from the nightmarish creature on the album cover to the dancing birds-meets-kaleidoscope video for single “Twist Quest.” It’s not a new move for the singer, either. In the past, he’s designed merch, fashioned a “disco car” (which is as cool as it sounds), and even created an animated sequence of Billy Bob Thornton for the upcoming movie London Fields

Computers have allowed him to have both a connectivity and a career. But, it comes at a price. Like anyone in the digital age, Bjerre admits that he sometimes feels shackled to his computer and smartphone. Where does humanity start and stop when dealing with the digital world? Here, he unpacks his thoughts on life in the value of boredom, fans with cameras, and learning to appreciate our strange, technology-saturated era. 

On boredom: I think a lot of good things came out of being bored when I was a kid. I remember staying at my grandparents’ cabin; I would spend the summer with them. I would bring a bunch of comic books, but I would read them all in a couple of days. And then, all of a sudden, I’d have three weeks to go! What to do? I would spend the time and think a lot about stuff. I’d draw. I’d run around in nature. I don’t know if I would do that if I was a kid today. I’d probably stay connected with my friends on my iPad. I think it develops our mind to be bored sometimes. 

On technology: Even so, I’ve always been very attached to computers since I was a kid. I always used computers very creatively. I didn’t just play video games. I had ambitions to create something. What you can do today is pretty amazing. I use my computer a lot to create visuals. And I use it for recording music. It is a little bit weird now that you’re always looking at a screen, no matter what you’re doing, if it’s social life, or social media, or your work, there’s always a screen involved. When you take a walk, you have your phone with you. You get a notification. Alarms go off all the time. And then you stare at the screen again. Sometimes I want to look at things that are far away. 

On phones: I got my first smartphone a while ago. I resisted it for a while. I had one of those simple ones where you could just text. I didn’t really want to get sucked into the thing. Recently, I was sitting with my friend in a café. We had coffee, and he excused himself to buy another cup. As I was waiting for him, the first thing I thought of was reaching for my phone. I think there’s a fear in us; it’s like being lonely or being scared to not be stimulated for a little bit. The worst thing that could happen to you while you’re waiting for a train is your phone runs out of battery. What are you going to do with your time? You can’t just sit there and stare at the wall.  

On social media: It’s a lot like cocaine when you get a like for something on Facebook. Your brain releases dopamine. It’s a psychological effect of being recognized for something. “We know that you exist, and we appreciate that you exist.” You feel this connectivity with other people. But it’s so superficial. You cannot make up for the actual connectivity. But it can act like a pat on the back. Sometimes when I lose track of what we’re doing it or why we’re doing it, I can go on Facebook and see someone from Mexico saying, “Please come back to Mexico.” It just makes me happy. I think sometimes when you’re going through a tough time in your life, you can see things a bit bleaker than they really are. Just a reminder that there are all these people out there, waiting to see us come on tour. They appreciate what we’re doing. It makes the whole thing make sense. But it doesn’t beat when you’re there playing for an audience. 

On touring: Being on tour, a lot of fans record our shows. I think that’s cool. It’s an expression of appreciation, the way I see it. There was a time when I thought, Wow, you know, there’s a certain romantic feel about some of the heroes we’ve had. You can’t find a bad picture of Kurt Cobain. It just doesn’t exist, really. But if people had cell phones at shows, there would be so many pictures of him with his eyes half-closed. That’s a vanity thing—you can’t really create a mythology anymore. You just to have to accept that you’re presented in the world exactly how you are. There’s a certain honesty in that. 

On happiness: Technology is so amazing. It’s amazing we can talk from a great distance, and there’s almost no latency on the line. It’s like telepathy. But you so quickly take it for granted. It’s like that with everything in life. That is a big problem; appreciating things is the road to happiness. You can have the most amazing things in life happen to you. But if you don’t appreciate them, it’s almost like they didn’t happen.