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ABBA singer returning with new material on 'A'

by DAVE ITZKOFF New York Times News Service on May 07, 2013 11:00 AM

Dance-floor hits like “Waterloo,” “S.O.S.” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” hardly seem to be any less ubiquitous in the more than 30 years since they were first recorded by ABBA, the best-selling Swedish pop quartet.

But if its music is everywhere, its band mates are not: In particular, it’s been almost a decade since listeners last heard from Agnetha Faltskog, the singer whose distinctive voice helped give ABBA its carefree Scandinavian charm.

This month Faltskog, 63, returns with the release of “A” (Verve), her first album of new material since 1987.

Her collection of songs, out on May 14, has a familiar ABBA sound, but its love-gone-wrong ballads (and even one disco song) ring with the decades of experience that she has since accumulated.

In a recent telephone conversation from Stockholm, Faltskog talked about her re-entry into music and why fans must accept that ABBA will never reunite.

These are excerpts from that conversation.

Question: Everything I know about Sweden, I learned from your songs and from Stieg Larsson novels. What else should I be aware of?

Answer: To start with, the climate. It’s awful. We’ve still got snow here, and winter, and we’re waiting for spring. It’s getting on our nerves right now, really.

Question: When you go almost a decade without releasing a new album, do you start to think you might never make another one?

Answer: This album was not planned at all. I thought maybe, when I did my last album (a 2004 record of covers), “My Colouring Book,” that was my last one. But now I understand you should never say never. When I heard the first three songs, I just felt that I had to do this.

Question: Were you concerned that you might be out of practice?

Answer: I get older and older, and you never know what the throat or the voice sounds like. So I said to the boys (her producing team) that we’ll have to listen very carefully. If it sounds old, I don’t want to do it. (laughs) I felt a bit rusty in my throat.

So I took some singing lessons, got back to working with my stomach muscles. It was just, more, a way of breathing — taking the power from the stomach and not using the throat too much.

When I got back to that, it worked much better.

Question: Had you done any singing during this hiatus?

Answer: I sing just for fun. Playing the piano with my grandchildren. In the shower. (laughs) But I hadn’t been doing anything big.

Question: Several of the songs on this album are about love gone wrong or people afraid of loving someone more than that person loves them.

Answer: Yes, it’s always like that, isn’t it? (laughs) In songs. There are also more up-tempo songs, but I surely like to do ballads. When I record it feels like I’m in a bubble. There’s nothing else in my head right then. It’s just that song, and I’m trying to really sound like what the song is about.

Question: On one song, “I Was a Flower,” you sing about losing your innocence and beauty. Do you really feel that way about yourself?

Answer: It’s not about myself. It’s like doing a film role. Instead of playing it with your body and face, you’re trying to sound like what it’s all about.

That song, especially, is very tragic. I think it’s easier to get that feeling into songs now, when you have such life experience, and you have a lot to give, feelingwise.

(The sound of a commotion can be heard.) Just a minute. I’m sorry, my two dogs were making noise here. One of them just escaped. I have one pug and one Czechoslovakian dog called Prazsky krysarik. So they’re just making a little noise here.

Question: Do they come to the studio with you?

Answer: I tried to do that in the beginning, but they get a little nervous, you know, with all the music and not having me all the time.

Question: There’s a lot of technology that has since come along that artists use to enhance their vocals. Were you tempted to try this too?

Answer: (laughs) We don’t need to use that, no. But it depends on what kind of singer you are. When there is a lot of dancing, that’s also nice to look at. Sometimes you have to do live appearances, and then it can be heard, that they’re not that good singers. There are a lot of artists that I love, and I think they’re really talented, and they’re good dancers as well. I’ve always wished that I could combine that. But I see myself as only a recording artist, and I think that we were that at most in ABBA. It’s not very easy to look at us, but to hear us, I liked that very much.

Question: Will you do any concerts to promote the new album?

Answer: No. Not sing or any of that. I’m not that young anymore. I don’t have the energy to do that, and also I don’t want to travel too much.

Question: Is it bittersweet to give that up?

Answer: No, I don’t miss that at all. I liked it sometimes. But it was always very, very tiring. And we did that so much. I worked as a solo singer long before we met in ABBA. So I have done that enough in my life. (laughs)

Question: Why did you decide to call the new album “A”?

Answer: (laughs) Yeah, that was not my idea. The boys came up with it — let’s call it “A.” I didn’t buy that immediately. Now I have gotten used to it, and I think it’s OK. It’s the first letter in my name and the first letter of ABBA. That’s me. Why not?

Question: Of course it leads to questions about whether you and the other members ABBA will ever get back together.

Answer: I think we have to accept that it will not happen, because we are too old and each one of us has their own life. Too many years have gone by since we stopped, and there’s really no meaning in putting us together again.

Question: But when you run into your former band mates, at events for “Mamma Mia!” or what have you, is it pleasant to see them?

Answer: Oh, yes. We have so much experience together. It’s always nice to see each other now and then and to talk a little and to be a little nostalgic.

Question: But not too much?

Answer: (laughs) No, not too much. You’re right.

Question: If you’re driving in your car with the radio on and suddenly “Dancing Queen” or some other ABBA song comes on, do you immediately turn it off?

Answer: I don’t turn it off. There were, really, some years when we’d had enough with ABBA music.

Both Frida (Lyngstad) and I had some years after we stopped when we never listened to it. But then some years go by, so it’s OK to listen to it again.

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