When you think of the songs of your youth, what comes to mind? For me (and many others), the romantic ballads of Michael Learns To Rock stick out.
The Danish pop rock group’s music was part of my parents’ favoured line-up and was played loudly on our family’s comically large CD player at all hours of the day. The easy-to-sing lyrics became embedded into my conscience even before I could truly comprehend them as a 10 year old and I’m sure I can sing a verse right off the bat if I heard any of their songs now in my 30s.
That’s part of the appeal of Michael Learns To Rock’s music — it’s instantly likeable and wholesome, no matter what genre you usually like to listen to. It also helps that the band’s members, Jascha Richter, Mikkel Lentz and Kare Wanscher, might be some of the nicest musicians out there.
The trio — who are all in their 50s now — started out their career in 1988 in Aarhus, Denmark and have since sold over 11 million records, released nine studio albums and performed all over the world. They have been especially loved in Asia and have had concerts in India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and more.
The band is set to return to Dubai on December 2 to perform at the UAE Golden Year Music Festival at Dubai Festival City, as part of the country’s 50th National Celebrations.
During a Zoom call, the amiable trio spoke to Gulf News about their legacy, returning to Dubai following their 2013 gig here and their love of touring.
(The interview has been edited for clarity.)
Your music has been part of my life and the lives of so many people that I know. How does it feel to have this incredible legacy?
Mikkel Lentz: Well, it feels good. We love music. And we still play for the same reason [as] when we started out, which was a love of music. It’s a really big privilege and it makes us very proud to have a legacy like that.
How does it feel to be creating music and performing after all this time?
Kare Wanscher: It’s very natural for us to go on stage because we’ve been doing it for so many years. And it’s still fun, you know, the audience are different every night. So it never really becomes the same... and even though it’s been many years, the songs are still relevant to people and the audience want to hear the song. So it just makes it really, honestly a lot of fun playing the same songs over and over again.
You’re going to be back in Dubai after a while? How does it feel to be returning to a city where you’ve performed before?
Jascha Richter: We’re very excited about going to Dubai once again. The fans can expect to experience top tuned Michael Learns to Rock and hear all the big songs. By the way, I’m bringing my family for this trip. So I think we’re going to have a great time.
Do you have any other plans apart from performing? Is there anything that you want to see in Dubai?
Wanscher: It’s been a long time since we were in Dubai last time and I know a lot of things are happening there. So I guess it’ll pretty much be a whole new city we are coming back to. So hopefully you or our other friends down there can give us some good ideas.
Definitely go check out the Dubai Expo. That’s one thing you have to go see.
I was reading about the group and every article references the fact that your music is extremely popular in Asia and you have a massive fan following there. How did it feel when you kind of realised ‘wow, Asian people love our music?’
Wanscher: It was just really weird and very, very surprising in the very beginning. But very fast we went to Asia, we went there a lot. We travelled there so much in the 90s and we came to [many] countries in Asia. We got to know the Asian people and Asian culture... Within a very few years, we felt like Asia was our second home and we felt completely at home when we were there. And and we still do. We still travel to Asia all the time. And and now it’s just become basically the place we love to go and we love to meet our fans there... so now it’s just wonderful to have this connection with the Asian people.
I also read an interesting fact about how the name of your group was created. That was there was no real thought behind it. It was kind of a random thing, right?
Lentz: It was very sudden. I think we’d been playing together for three months. We started back in March 1988. And there was this competition in out town... and we recorded three or four songs and we needed a name. And I think Jascha came up with the name and he just wrote it on the cassette, and sent it to the contest. And then we won, we won the contest. So we thought it was too late to change the name.
In the course of your career, did you ever think ‘maybe we should change it’?
Wanscher: [Laughs] Are you insinuating something?
No! It’s a great name.
Wanscher: We tried to change it actually, we discussed it 100 times. Because we actually think it’s a little bit silly. But when we look back, it’s just a great name because people notice it. And for us, it was a kind of a tribute really to Michael Jackson because he was the king of pop back then... but now it’s just our name and no one’s gonna change it now.
Are there any songs that you particularly love to perform on stage?
Richter: Well, there are many songs that we love to perform and we have different favourites, all of us. I enjoy very much performing ‘Paint My Love’ because it sounds like an anthem when people sing along with this song. It gets so huge at the concert. So I really like the feeling.
Wanscher: It actually depends on what territory you play. Because if you play in India it’s definitely ‘Someday’ that is the best song to play because that’s the song they know the best and they love it and they sing along. If we play in the Philippines, for example, a song like ‘Out of the Blue’ is absolutely amazing to perform there. And in China, it’s ‘Take Me to Your Heart’. So it really depends on the audience.
Lentz: I always get a kick out of playing ‘Wild Women’. It’s a great song to play live... But I also like ‘The Actor’, which is slow. I just like music or songs that have a great response in the audience.
Have there been any performances in your career that really stand out?
Wanscher: I think we all remember the show we had in Shillong in North Eastern India. Back in 2005, or something like that. It was just amazing. It’s a very small city and a lot of people — so many people in a big cricket stadium up there and it was raining all the time. And people just completely didn’t care about [the rain], they just biggest party and there was an amazing crowd. And just the feeling of travelling so far up in the mountains to this small city, and performing in front of all these very happy people. I think that was amazing, it really was.
So you are really well travelled, you’ve really gone to various parts of the world. Not many musicians would have gone to all these places. Do you feel like because you have so many fans in Asia, you really want to make an effort to visit?
Richter: We love travelling and we love to experience new places and new cities. So we always think is very exciting if we get an offer to play in a city where we haven’t been before... It’s not just the money, it’s also to get these amazing experiences that makes us continue playing with the band.
Lentz: As long as we have an audience that’s a good reason to visit a lot of places.
Is there any place that’s on your list of places to visit?
Lentz: We have been all over... India and Southeast Asia. We’ve never been to South America. That would be fun.
Wanscher: We’ve never we actually never been to Australia either or the Pacific Islands. That’s were I wanna go.
What kind of music do you listen to? What are your musical tastes like?
Lentz: I think we’re very conservative, old fashioned [laughs]. I listen to a lot of old music like The Rolling Stones, Beatles. Stuff like that; Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd. When I listen to new music I like Ed Sheeran... I think he could be my favourite contemporary pop artist.
Richter: I’m a big ABBA fan so I’m so happy that ABBA is finally releasing a new album after 39 years... I’m a fan of The Beegees as well and soft rock... old fashioned style.
Do you guys aspire to have a career as long as that? Is this something you want to keep doing as long as you can?
Wanscher: We were 19 or 20 years old when we started the band and we didn’t plan to have this band 30 years ahead. So it’s just completely up to whatever happens and how we feel like living our lives. And we take one year at a time.
Lentz: I mean we don’t have anything else going on really. What we do on the side is not big things. This is what drives us. We do some some other stuff once in a while but this is like a family having been together for more than 30 years. The music is in our soul and in our hearts.
Don’t miss it!
Tickets to the UAE Golden Year Music Festival with Michael Learns to Rock and Boyce Avenue in Dubai are available on Platinumlist and Virgin Megastores Tickets. Silver section tickets have sold out, and the remaining tickets start from Dh400.