Fri, Jul 06, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Michael's learned to rock

The Danish trio has been together 20 years and their popularity in Asia is undiminished as they produce catchy tunes and easy-to-learn lyrics

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pianist/singer Jascha Richter, drummer Kare Wanscher and guitarist Mikkel Lentz, of Michael Learns to Rock, revel in their wholesome images.

PHOTOS: COURTESY OF EMI

Easy listening could be taken as a disparaging term but with Michael Learns to Rock it's a compliment. The ballad band avoids messy beats or loops that get in the way of a memorable melody and an emotionally effective verse-chorus-verse song structure.

As a result MLTR is massive in Asia, but struggles to be heard in Europe and the US. The three-piece from Denmark is preparing to celebrate two decades in the music business and sales of over 9 million records.

At the beginning of this year it released a live set recorded in India, and here in Taiwan there's a greatest hits collection called All the Best, timed to coincide with a three-country tour of the region.

The group will play two gigs from tonight at the Taipei International Convention Center (台北國際會議中心), before jetting off to Thailand and then Malaysia, where it's acclaimed as the biggest-selling international band of all time and will receive an award for selling 1 million albums.

"I don't mind being called easy listening," said Jascha Richter, the songwriter, pianist and lead vocalist of MLTR, at a group interview in Taipei earlier this week. "I'm from a family with a background in classical music and to me that was too boring. Rock was too hard so I took the middle route."

"But I wouldn't describe ourselves as 'Scandinavian glow meets the international pop song,' which is what we've been called. Listening to us you wouldn't know where we come from," Richter said.

MLTR formed 20 years ago in Aarhus, the oldest and second-biggest city in Denmark. High school friends Richter and drummer Wanscher asked the guitarist Mikkel Lentz to join forces after seeing his band the Rocking Studs. Later, Soren Madsen (who left in 2000) was picked to play bass.

Performance notes

What: Michael Learns to Rock

Where: Taipei International Convention Center (台北國際會議中心), 1 Xinyi Rd Sec 5, Taipei (台北市信義路5段1號)

When: Tonight and tomorrow, starting at 7:45pm

Tickets: Priced from NT$1,000 to NT$4,200. Visit Era Ticket at www.ticket.com.tw, or call (02) 2341-9898

Further information: www.dadaarts.net/michael/rock.html and www.mltr.dk


Pianist and lead vocalist Richter wrote some songs that were made into a demo and in 1988 they entered a local talent show, which they won. This was when they needed to come up with a name.

"I think [Richter] was thinking of Michael Jackson, because he was called 'the king of pop' and it was kind of funny, because it was like, what would he sound like if he learned to rock? It was wordplay," Lentz said in a telephone interview from his home in Denmark a couple of weeks ago.

"Yeah, it was like Johnny Hates Jazz and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Sure, I've regretted calling ourselves this many times since, but we were successful so quickly we had to stick with it and over time I got used to it," Richter said.

It took three years to release their eponymous first album but it gave them time to find the classic rock groove they would plough in the future.

"I played reggae and country, pop just wasn't hip at the time," Wanscher said. "So it was a bit of fun and a challenge to do it. In the back of our minds I think we knew that we were a commercial band so that is what we did."

"From the start the focus was on writing and to be true to [Richter's] songs. We did a lot of experimenting, but when we recorded the ballads they were the best songs and became hits," Lentz said.

Unlike many bands they've stayed true to their influences, such as Supertramp, the Eagles, Bill Joel, Abba and The Beatles. At times they sound like The Carpenters without Karen (That's Why (You Go Away)), or Genesis when Peter Gabriel was at the helm (Strange Foreign Beauty).

"Ok, it's 30 to 40 years ago but that's classic. The goal is not to be absorbed by new trends, be up-to-date, experimental or new wave. No, the idea is to create the perfect love song."

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