The house live band of the ABBA Voyage digital concerts have spoken to NME about the experience of recreating the magic of the pop legends, and how long they expect to be playing for. Watch our video interview with some of the band above.
Premiering earlier this week at the purpose-built ABBA Arena in Stratford, East London, to a delighted response from fans, the ambitious production sees a “digital” version of ABBA (or ‘ABBAtars’) performing alongside a 10-piece live band (put together with the help of Klaxons’ James Righton).
Speaking to NME on the red carpet ahead of the performance, guitarist Dom John said that they were “buzzing, locked in and ready.”
John recalled the first time he met ABBA in rehearsals – when he looked up to find Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson watching him play.
“We played one of their songs, and I was playing both guitar parts and then looked up and realised that Benny and Bjorn were standing right in front of me!” he said. “They just looked at each other and said, ‘Ah maybe we don’t need two guitars’ – then walked away without saying hello or anything.”
As for the visual aspect of the show, John echoed the idea that this is not something that has been seen on stage ever before. “They’re not holograms, that’s old technology!” he said. “This is ABBA Voyage, it’s the future!”
Asked how long he expected to be performing as part of the show, he replied: “Multiple years, maybe. We’ll see!”
Sarah Burrell, on keys and synth, recalled first getting the call to be part of the band.
“It just seemed like a bit of a dream, really,” she said. We couldn’t tell if it was real.”
“We’ve rehearsed together quite a lot, so we’ve really got the opportunity to pick on each other’s playing and vibe. We’re just having so much fun up there. t’s been nerve-wracking playing keyboards in front of Benny, that’s for sure.”
As for how long she hoped to be playing with the house band, she added: “We’ll see. There are worse bands to play for?”
Percussionist Tuca Milan agreed that being offered the “dream job” of being part of the ABBA Voyage house band was “the best day of my life”, hailing the band as “the classic of the classic”.
“There is a vibe going,” she said of the chemistry among the players. “They must have really amazing eyes and ears to have picked up each of us. We are very happy working together. It’s been amazing to see how Benny works, and how he leads us”.
As for what to expect from the visual element of the show, she said: “What a great trip. Be ready to have the most amazing visual and sound trip of your life. It’s an experience.”
Speaking to NME last year, former Klaxon James Righton spoke of the challenge of selecting the members of the house band.
“I had to go through my mental memory bank of musicians that I’d played with or that I’d known,” Righton told NME. “I’ve been making music and involved in it for quite some time now, so I know a lot of musicians who’d be able to play this music. I had to put the feelers out very tentatively and confidentially for people who’d be up for the task of being in ABBA’s band.”
Asked about what it took to make the cut, Righton replied: “You not only have to be an incredible musician and professional, but you also need feel, character and groove. It’s really important to find a band of personalities and people with style. When you look back at ABBA footage from the ‘70s, they were always brilliant and had amazing players – like if you go see LCD Soundsystem now, for example.”
He continued: “It was a challenge, but a fun one. I care as a fan of their band. If I was going to be a part of it, I wanted to get it right. This band had to step up as being as good as the original line-up.”
Little Boots was also set to part of the band, but it missing out on a number of the opening shows for now after having a baby. “Incredible opening night at Abba Voyage for mum’s first night out,” she wrote on Instagram after attending the premiere. “So happy to support my incredible band family who absolutely smashed it.
“Cannot WAIT to be up there sharing the stage with you very soon! So proud to be a part of this game changing project that will bring so much joy to so many people. GO AND SEE THIS SHOW (preferably when I’m off maternity leave) it will change your life.”
NME also spoke to the producers, director and choreographer of the show about how it all came together. Asked about how long ABBA Voyage could be set to run for, producer Svana Gisla replied: “I don’t want to jinx it, but if this is a success then we can be here for a few years. We’re on borrowed land, we didn’t break any ground, the arena is moveable and we can pack up and leave when we aren’t wanted anymore.
“I hope the audience wants us to stay for a bit, because we feel like we’ve made something really special.
And could this be the last we see of ABBA now?
“I think this is the final thing,” replied Gisla. “They’re quite genuine in that, but they’ve said that before. I think this is it. It took a lot to make and it was hard work, from us and from them.”
All four members of ABBA also spoke to NME on the red carpet, telling us about the experience of reuniting and what might be on the horizon for the band.
When asked if the concert was a parting gift from the band, Björn Ulvaeus said: “I think this is it. It’s sad to say that but then again, you can always take it back, can’t you? So the answer is, it could be yes, it could be no.”
Meanwhile, Benny Andersson joked: “This is what you’ll see, this is what you’ll get. Then we’ll go home and we’ll sleep.”
In a five star review of ABBA Voyage, NME concluded: “Ageing rockers and poppers are bound to imitate the idea, but it’ll be a struggle to come close to the experience of ABBA Voyage. We for one welcome our new ABBAtar overlords, if only for giving these songs back to us in a totally new and joyful way.”