Q

'It's on our terms': Björn Ulvaeus on Abba's 1st new album in 40 years

After a 40-year hiatus, Abba is back with its ninth and final studio album, Voyage. Founding member Björn Ulvaeus spoke with Q’s Tom Power about the band's return, its lasting legacy in pop music and what the end of Abba means to him.

The Swedish supergroup is back with its final record, Voyage, and a new virtual tour slated for 2022

From left, Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson. (Baillie Walsh)

When Abba announced its ninth and final studio album, Voyage, many fans nervously wondered if it could meet the enormous expectations built up by the band's 40-year hiatus.

Now, the wait is over. Voyage may be the Swedish supergroup's most mature and retrospective record, but it's still very much Abba. In an interview with Q's Tom Power, founding member Björn Ulvaeus noted that Abba has always stayed true to its vision, but it's also grown with each new release — and this latest one is no different.

"I hope it has a sense of depth to it that comes from 40 years of living, experiencing things, both in [the] voices and in the writing," he told Power.

Ulvaeus added that the group didn't attempt to follow trends or reinvent itself with a new sound to appeal to modern tastes. "We are not looking at what Drake is doing or what other people are doing," the singer-songwriter said. "Either the music is relevant for some reason or it isn't. But it's on our terms and it's organic."

WATCH | Björn Ulvaeus's full interview with Tom Power:

Despite the fact that Abba didn't take inspiration from today's pop artists, each new generation seems to fall in love with its hits anyway. Its legacy is a gift that keeps on giving.

So what's the secret behind Abba's sustained relevance? Ulvaeus said he suspects TikTok, YouTube, streaming services and the success of the Mamma Mia! musical and films have something to do with it.

"I know that we were very careful, very disciplined, in our songwriting," he added. "We didn't write more than 12 to 14 songs a year because we were not satisfied until every element of the song was the way we thought it should be…. I don't think people write them like that anymore."

Abba seen in Stockholm in 1974. (Olle Lindeborg/TT News Agency/The Associated Press)

What to expect from Abba's virtual tour

Initially consisting of two married couples, Abba disbanded in 1982 after Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson divorced. Over the decades, the bandmates received numerous offers to reunite on stage, but as milestone anniversaries came and went, it seemed increasingly unlikely.

"I mean, we've never actually been against recording together again," said Ulvaeus. "It just never happened. The only thing we said was never to tour again. That's another thing."

But to say Abba will never tour again is not quite the full story. Fans will be able to see the Swedish "super troupers" return to the stage as digitized versions of their younger selves in a unique virtual concert series slated for 2022.

WATCH | Abba announcement awes fans:

The life-size digital avatars (or "Abbatars") were created by George Lucas's visual effects facility, Industrial Light & Magic, using cutting edge motion-capture technology. The group will perform via their avatars accompanied by a live 10-piece band in a purpose-built arena in London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park that can hold 3,000 people.

"You will be, like, in the middle of this fantastic musical experience," explained Ulvaeus. "And it will create an illusion, we think, that you will make an agreement with us on stage that yes, [the avatars] are real…. That's the object of the exercise."

Abba will return to the stage as digital avatars of their younger selves. (Industrial Light & Magic)

Ulvaeus said he's been thinking a lot about what these digital avatars mean existentially — that his digital persona may live on eternally after he's gone.

"For me, I look at myself as an avatar from '79 and I don't think it's — I don't even think it's weird," he said. "I have in fact been looking at myself from that age, you know, for 40 years now because I've been reminded about Abba almost daily.…

"That's the way I look at myself now, as almost like another person.… And from an existential viewpoint, that is very interesting."

When asked if Voyage is really Abba's final album, Ulvaeus said he hesitates to say never, but he doesn't see it happening.

"The four of us have experienced something that no one ever has before," he said. "And the kind of bonds that [form] are formidable: 100 per cent loyalty and solidarity and friendship. That is, you know, they can't take that away from us."


Listen to the full interview with Björn Ulvaeus of Abba near the top of this page.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Kaitlyn Swan.

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