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ABBA is back with new music and plans for a high-tech stage show

Nov 5, 2021

From the 1970s to the early '80s, ABBA scored a string of massive global hits with songs like "Mamma Mia," "Dancing Queen" and so many more. They were pioneers in many ways — one of the first groups to make music videos, sell their work on CD and, later, to create a Broadway musical based on their hits.

It's taken a while, but Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad are back with a new album, the appropriately titled Voyage, and plans for a high-tech new experiment in London.

Björn and Benny joined Morning Edition's Rachel Martin to talk about their beginnings, their peak and their new album — including its futuristic approach to live performance.

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The pair started writing songs together, trying to make it as a duo, when things started to get really interesting...

Read edited and condensed highlights from the interview below, and listen to the broadcast version of the story in the audio player above.


Björn Ulvaeus: I met Anita [Fältskog] at a TV show and it was more or less love at first sight.

Benny Andersson: Yeah, around the same time I met with Freida [Lyngstad].

Rachel Martin, Morning Edition: The ladies, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, were both successful singers in their own right. So it was really only a matter of time before the women were asked to join them in the studio.

Benny Andersson: They came in and they sang, and it was glorious. Then we said, "Maybe we should try to write some pop stuff in English. And let them sing instead of the two of us." I'm not a singer, I can tell you that. Not like the ladies.

And when both couples eventually got married, well that was just part of the charm.

Björn Ulvaeus: People thought, almost, it was a gimmick you know? But the fact is Benny and I met these two ladies who could sing like goddesses.

Rachel Martin: And it works very, very well — you win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, and then you just crank out hit after hit after hit as ABBA. You must have been riding sky-high.

Björn Ulvaeus: Yeah. But we had had success before, so the glamour of the pop life wasn't exactly something that attracted us. But on the other hand, to be able to write full-time for one group, for four people, that was such a luxury.

Rachel Martin: May I ask what has happened over the last 40 years, with the four of you? You were married, and then you all went your separate ways. I mean, the two couples divorced. How often have you been in touch?

Benny Andersson: Well, I'd say constant. Björn and I work together constantly. I've had a band for 20 years called the Benny Andersson Orchestra. We do Swedish stuff.

That was a not-so-sly way for me to ask what your relationship has been like with the ladies?

Björn Ulvaeus: Oh, with the ladies. Well...

Benny Andersson: I knew you meant that, but I didn't want to answer. [Laughs]

Björn Ulvaeus: [ABBA] didn't split up because we got divorced. We split up for other personal reasons.

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Björn and Benny say there were no hard feelings, but also no real reason to get back together, until a producer approached them with an idea. To create a new show, featuring digital 3-D avatars of the band as it looked back in 1979. The avatars will sing the group's recorded vocal tracks, with a live band accompanying them. The shows will play in London next spring. And Björn and Benny decided the event required some new songs.


Benny Andersson: Because if we were to go out on the road for real, we would have added a couple of new songs to that tour. So we said let's try to do that. And that was a wonderful feeling, knowing that okay we're gonna write music for ABBA.

Rachel Martin: Explain the shift that took place then. When you realized oh this isn't just writing a song based on "an inspiration I have." It's writing an ABBA song.

Björn Ulvaeus: We know that these songs gonna be sung by these two ladies. And they agreed, and they were very happy to do it. And they sounded the same, which was a wonderful thing. Of course, we didn't know that beforehand.

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Rachel Martin: Were you nervous?

Björn Ulvaeus: No, I wasn't nervous exactly, but I was prepared for all of us to say well, maybe this is not a good idea. Maybe, you know. But it turned out so good.

Rachel Martin: Can you tell me about the song, "I still have faith in you."

Björn Ulvaeus: Melody comes first. Benny played it to me in a studio.

Benny Andersson: In my room.

Björn Ulvaeus: And I knew it had to be about us, about the four of us, because it was so epic. And it was like, it reflected those 40 years that had gone, and the joy of being together again and the feeling that we can do it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It took 40 years, but guess who's back?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMMA MIA")

ABBA: (Singing) Mamma mia, here I go again. My, my - how can I resist you?

MARTIN: From the 1970s to the early 1980s, ABBA scored a string of massive global hits with songs like "Mamma Mia," "Dancing Queen" and so many more. They were pioneers in a lot of ways - one of the first groups to make music videos, sell their music on CD and later, to create a Broadway musical based on their hits. It's taken a while, but today, Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Frid are back with a new album and plans for a high-tech, new show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T SHUT ME DOWN")

ABBA: (Singing) And now you see another me. I've been reloaded. Yeah. I'm fired up. Don't shut me down.

MARTIN: Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson recently joined me to talk about the reunion.

Your first album in 40 years. May I say that this is just very good news for the world. Thank you for doing it (laughter) on behalf of the world.

BENNY ANDERSSON: You're welcome.

BJORN ULVAEUS: The world is welcome.

MARTIN: For those who don't know, the ABBA story begins with these two guys back in the 1960s. Bjorn and Benny were both well-known in Swedish bands when they started to bump into each other on the road. Here's Benny.

ANDERSSON: And I knew that Bjorn was writing some songs for his band. He knew I was writing for my band. And we said, maybe we should try to do something together, you know, eventually.

MARTIN: Yeah, you know, give it a whirl, see what happens.

Benny and Bjorn started writing songs together. And they were trying to make it as a duo when things started to get really interesting.

ULVAEUS: I met Agnetha at a TV show. And it was more or less love at first sight.

ANDERSSON: Yeah. Around the same time, I met with Frid.

MARTIN: The ladies, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, were both successful singers in their own right. So it was really only a matter of time before the women were asked to join them in the studio.

ANDERSSON: And they came in. And they sang. It was glorious. Then we said, maybe we should try to write some pop stuff in English and let them sing instead of the two of us. I'm not a singer, I can tell you that, not like the ladies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERLOO")

ABBA: (Singing) Waterloo, I was defeated. You won the war.

ULVAEUS: People thought almost it was a gimmick, you know? But the fact is that Benny and I met these two ladies who could sing like goddesses. And it just happened.

MARTIN: So it works very, very well. You win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. And then you just crank out hit after hit after hit as ABBA.

ANDERSSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: You must have been just riding sky high.

ULVAEUS: Yeah. But we had had success before. So the glamour of the pop life wasn't exactly something that attracted us. But on the other hand, to be able to write full-time for one group, for four people, that was such a luxury. And we were writing and recording all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING QUEEN")

ABBA: (Singing) See that girl. Watch that scene, digging the dancing queen.

MARTIN: May I ask what has happened over the last 40 years with the four of you? You were married. And then you all went your separate ways. I mean, the two couples, you divorced. How often have you been in touch?

ANDERSSON: (Laughter) Well, I'd say constant. Bjorn and I work together...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ANDERSSON: ...Constantly. I've had a band for 20 years called the Benny Andersson Orkester. We do Swedish stuff.

MARTIN: This is a not-so-sly way for me to ask what your relationship has been like (laughter) with the ladies.

ULVAEUS: Oh, with the ladies.

ANDERSSON: Oh. I don't know. Well, I knew you meant that, but I didn't want to answer.

(LAUGHTER)

ULVAEUS: And we didn't split up because we got divorced. We split up for other personal reasons.

MARTIN: Bjorn and Benny say there were no bad feelings, but also no real reason to get back together until a producer approached them with an idea to create a new show featuring digital, 3D avatars of the band as it looked back in 1979. The avatars will sing the group's recorded vocal tracks with a live band accompanying them. The shows will play in London next spring. And Bjorn and Benny decided the event required some new songs.

ANDERSSON: Because if we were to go out on the road for real, we would have added a couple of new songs to that tour. So we said, let's try to do that. And that was a wonderful feeling, knowing that, OK, we're going to write music for ABBA.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST A NOTION")

ABBA: (Singing) Just a notion, that's all.

MARTIN: Explain the shift that took place, then, when you realize, oh, this isn't just writing a song based on some inspiration I have, it's writing an ABBA song.

ULVAEUS: We know that these songs are going to be sung by these two ladies. And they agreed. And they were very happy to do it. And they sounded the same - yeah, which was a wonderful thing. And we - of course, we didn't know that beforehand.

MARTIN: Were you nervous?

ULVAEUS: No. I wasn't nervous, exactly. But I was prepared for all of us to say, well, maybe this is not a good idea.

(LAUGHTER)

ULVAEUS: Maybe, you know...

ANDERSSON: Yeah.

ULVAEUS: But it turned out so good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU")

ABBA: (Singing) I still have faith in you. I see it now.

MARTIN: Can you tell me about the song "I Still Have Faith In You"?

ULVAEUS: Melody comes first. Benny played it to me in his studio.

ANDERSSON: In my room. Yes.

ULVAEUS: And I knew it had to be about us, about the four of us, because it was so epic. And it was like it reflected those 40 years that had gone and the joy of being together again and feeling that we can do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU")

ABBA: (Singing) We do have it in us. New spirit has arrived. The joy and the sorrow - we have a story, and it survived.

MARTIN: There's always been such optimism about your music. And I feel the same sense when thinking about this crazy concert you're going to give with digital versions of yourself onstage. It's very cutting-edge. Where does that belief in possibility come from?

ANDERSSON: Well, the thing - you just said it, because it is cutting-edge, because it hasn't been done before. That's exciting.

ULVAEUS: It's a new frontier. Something is going to come out of this that we don't know yet beyond the ABBA voyage. It's going, perhaps, to change the course slightly of the music industry. Who knows?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU")

ABBA: (Singing) I still have faith in you.

MARTIN: Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA. Their new album is called "Voyage." What a thrill it has been for me to talk to you. Thank you so much for making the time.

ULVAEUS: Nice talking to you.

ANDERSSON: Nice talking to you, Rachel. Take care.

ULVAEUS: Bye.

MARTIN: Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU")

ABBA: (Singing) Do I have it in me? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.