If there is one thing that really made ABBA’s name, apart from their superlatively good music and a handy high-profile win at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, its the way they pioneered the use of visual images, in concert with now-famed director Lasse Hallström, to promote their songs as they were released.
While it was prompted in part by the reluctance of the band to be away from home for too long – Björn and Agnetha were the parents of young children and touring would have meant long stints away from them – the videos soon took on a life of their own and became a way of expressing who the band were as much as what they sounded like.
In line with that grand tradition, Australian ABBA fan Gerard Maree, who I’m happy to call a friend, has married songs such as “The Visitors”, “The Day Before You Came” and “Head Over Heels” with scenes from the golden years of Hollywood films, most notably those of Alfred Hitchcock, creating richly atmospheric clips that lend a whole new lease of life to ABBA’s sophisticated pop gems.
He kindly agreed to be interviewed for this post, giving us great insight into his fandom, his creative process and what might be next for him.
It’s obvious from the care you’ve put into your videos that you are a long time fan. When did your love affair with ABBA begin and how has it taken form over the years?
ABBA and I go back a long way to when I was four years old and “Mamma Mia” was my first record. When I was six years old I was lucky enough to go to the Friday night concert at the Sydney Show Ground – some remnants of memory of that night still remain. The music and fandom has never left me. Naturally I love the whole ABBA catalogue but the later albums are my favourites and have meant the most to me in my adult life. I may be in a minority amongst the fans for that reason.
What inspired you to create these videos which are essentially stories set to ABBA’s songs?
Some years back I got the idea of a video for “The Visitors” using Hitchcock movies. Since childhood I have also been a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan. “The Visitors” is such a dark, richly atmospheric song. It’s narrative and building tension lends itself so well to the Hitchcock suspense. Also “The Visitors” is a largely underplayed song, and with no accompanying music video and therefore no visual images that previously defined it. So it was rich, untapped territory.
Last year I finally took some time to start putting it together. I’d never edited anything of that length and detail before. I honestly didn’t know how it would turn out or if I would even show it to anyone. After I edited the first clips played over the introduction I’ll never forget the chills I felt the first time I heard Frida start singing “ I hear the doorbell ring…..” and there was Jimmy Stewart’s petrified face on the screen. Having been a huge fan of both ABBA and Hitchcock for most of my life you can imagine what an ecstatic labour of love that project was!
How do you decide which songs will work best for the video you have in mind?
The ideas came from the songs and images the song creates. As I said “The Visitors”/Hitchcock thing just seemed to gel in my mind, and each time I heard the song I would contemplate which possible movie scene could be used. But it’s generally been unplanned. After I finished “The Visitors” clip I was very happy with it but didn’t plan on another one. Then probably because of seeing the old movie clips something gelled about “Head Over Heels” and the line “she’s a leading lady”. This led to the idea of the montage of the leading ladies of the so called “golden age” of movies. For many years prior to that I had mostly dismissed “Head Over Heels” as a nothing song and I often skipped the track when playing the album. But once that “leading ladies” idea was in my head it just grew. And when it came time to collect and edit the footage I found that the tempo of the song worked perfectly with the images of the star divas strutting across the screen. I am a lover of old movies as you may have guessed by that clip so I had an idea of the scenes I wanted to use. Doing that clip also made me appreciate that song a bit more. Although it would never have been a hit single, it is still quite a sophisticated song and – if I may say so – I think my Leading Ladies clip gives the song more zest and sass!
What is your favourite ABBA song or songs and do you think they will lend themselves to your evocative visual treatment?
Well I did bite the bullet with this one when I did the clip for “The Day Before You Came (TDBYC)”. In my adult life this song has emerged and remained my favourite ABBA song. Right after I did “The Visitors” clip a close friend immediately suggested I do one for “TDBYC”. My initial reaction was no. I couldn’t. It has it’s own music video which I felt was great, with its sad love story and all four members positioned and looking away from each other as the lights dimmed on them for the last ever recording. How could I do an additional clip for that song?
But some months later the idea grew on me and I thought about how powerful a clip with movie scenes for this song could be. The song is so brilliant because it is so understated. While Agnetha’s delivery is deliberately even the whole way through as she sings about the day before the person came – the subtle changes and shifts in the accompaniment suggest what is happening now. Also Frida’a harmonies play a huge, subliminal part in the emotional impact of the song. They suggest so many strong emotions and leave so much to the imagination.
When making all three music clips and playing the songs over and over to select and edit footage, I came to appreciate the full sophisticated musical arrangements even more. Of course I was all ready very, very familiar with them but this experience brought me right up close to the background elements of the recordings.
I was also fortunate to obtain all the movie scenes and as the editing of “TDBYC” went along Brief Encounter and Brokeback Mountain emerged as the two main bookends of the clip. During the Frida’s final harmonies and the last instrumental section I had originally envisioned having a montage of scenes from each of the films used but I realised the impact was better by allowing some longer scenes to play out fully – such as the jacket hugging scene at the end of Brokeback Mountain and the departure scene in Brief Encounter.
A similar thing happened in “The Visitors” when I originally thought of a fast montage for the final chorus until I realised that letting the climatic scenes from The Birds and Psycho play out in full was much better.
What’s next? Any exciting videos or ideas in the pipeline?
Nothing definite at the moment. If anything I’d like to do another of their darker songs that reflect a bit of what’s going on with some of our disturbing world leaders – perhaps “The Piper” or “Soldiers”? “Cassandra” was also suggested to me. I’d love to do that but at this point I can’t quite envision it. I shall keep you posted.
Happy Eurovision 2017!