the 14th edition
MLTR: It’s about the music
Think Danish Pop Idol – the 1988 version. That could be a way to describe how a high school band consisting of 4 20-something guys from Aarhus, Denmark, started their international award-winning musical careers.
Since then, Jascha Ritcher (lead vocals), Mikkel Lentz (guitars), Kåre Wanscher (drums) and Søren Madsen (bass), have gone multi platinum all over Asia and other parts of the world.
With six albums and number 1 hits since the early 90s, Michael Learns To Rock, otherwise known as MLTR, is still going on strong since their debut in the international music market in 1991.
After the press conference for Euphoria 2004, Tiger Beer’s birthday party on October 9th, at the headquarters of Asia Pacific Breweries, Urbanwire sat down with MLTR who share that their formula for longevity- focussing on their music instead of their image.
Kåre commented, “It’s like people forget that it’s about the music really and tend to make the image much more important than anything. You see many artistes that are nothing but image, which absolutely only goes for 1 season and then the artiste will be gone. Our image is our music and that’s why we have stayed in the business for so long because the music can do the job. We never had an image that we had to change every year.”
Mikkel added, “Well, it’s always important to be shown on TV, MTV and all that, but for us we can walk around unrecognised, which is kind of nice. So, it’s (image) important these days, but music is more important.
As the last act of Euphoria 2004, MLTR went on stage with no fancy gear (the lead singer, Jascha, was only wearing an Adidas tee and jeans) but just with their musical talents and vocal abilities. For more than an hour, MLTR somehow managed to capture the attention of the crowd and enchanted them by the thousands. However, MLTR confessed that they would never be assimilated into the current pop industry.
“We never fit in,” joked Mikkel, “we never will.” Kåre agreed, “When we started playing pop music like we do many years ago, it was not a popular thing to do. It was not a trendy thing to do or anything like that. But then… all these trends they come and go and we’re kind of on the side, just doing what we’re doing… we know pop music will always be popular [and] good to sing along to its melody and stuff like that. We never thought of fitting into the music scene in anyway. We only do what we thought was our music.”
Doesn’t that make MLTR a boring band and unworthy of a headline? “Yeah, I think so!” Mikkel joked, causing the trio to burst out laughing before Kåre continued, “We’re not a very edgy band. We don’t go crazy [and] you don’t read about it in the news. We just focus on the music and that may be a bit boring if you want to make headlines, but that is what we do… concentrate on the music and trying to behave.”
Unfortunately, through their process of growing up as a band, they suffered the loss of their bassist, Søren, who decided to pursue a solo career instead. MLTR admitted that it changed their band dynamics in certain aspects but they still decided to continue and came up with hit after hit, drawing in fans of all ages in their own unique way.
“It did change our dynamics because we have different roles and we had to find new roles. We had to find another bass player. We don’t have a bass player now but for live concerts we hired a girl called Ida (Ida Christine Nelsen). It did change some things but it was not difficult… I think we got used to it and now it’s working very well,” said Mikkel.
The trio have been making music together for over a decade now and being part of MLTR is like being part of a brotherhood. “If you want to annoy each other you know exactly what to say and we also know what you don’t say… When we fight it’s because we have different ideas about music points. But in the end we always agree on the best solution. And that’s pretty much they way we work,” explained Mikkel.
Unlike the expectation of the masses, Jascha declines the role as leader of MLTR as he feels that the responsibility is shared among all of them.
“It’s very democratic. We come from a very democratic country and… we’re a bunch of people that will try to do something together. Everybody’s opinions have to be heard and we discuss how to do things and stuff. I’m not a band leader… I’m a lead singer,” he said as Kåre affirms his support for Jascha’s talents, “We’re (him and Mikkel) big fans of Jascha. We like his songs. He’s [the] creative source.”
This creative lyricist has written countless number of songs on MLTR’s albums and among them a rewritten MLTR version of Hong Kong God of Songs Jacky Cheung’s ‘Wen Bie (Goodbye Kiss)’, entitled ‘Take Me to Your Heart’.
“We heard the song, the Jacky Cheung version of it, and we thought it was a beautiful song. [We made changes] only to the lyrics and a little bit of changes here and there but mostly we just recorded the way that Michael Learns To Rock would have done that song… we’re very happy to put it on the album,” said Kåre.
If you think MLTR is going to stop here, then you’re wrong. MLTR’s latest album is expected to be in local music stores in January. Before attending Euphoria 2004, MLTR recorded their Christmas single back in Denmark entitled ‘A Part of Christmas Night’ which they performed at the Padang, getting the crowd all excited. When asked about their Christmas single, the trio lit up in excitement too. “It’s brand new,” chirped Mikkel, “That’s a Christmas present from us to you, the fans.”
Finally a burning question that many MLTR fans are dying to know… why the name Michael Learns To Rock when no one in the band is actually called Michael? Mikkel and Kåre throw the question at Jascha, who calmly explained, “We had no better idea and it was the best that we could come up with… but it works… [it’s] memorable. People remember the name because it is a sentence and it looks great on the sign (points to Euphoria 2004’s banner with their name on top of the list) Michael Learns To Rock, you will never forget that name.”