David Myhr took his first steps into the music business with the The Merrymakers, a band that remained a well-kept secret in their home country, but gained influential fans around the world.
It all started in Piteå (a town in northern Sweden), when the young David was lucky enough to get lessons from a piano teacher who was unusual in that he actually encouraged improvisation, as well as harmonising around melodic themes. ”I was free to try out things. All of a sudden I had the keys to pick out favorite songs, as well as writing my own, instead of just having to reproduce them from sheet music”, David recalls.
David’s passion for music was truly ignited when he discovered the music of The Beatles.
”…and this is what makes me different from every other pop musician in history from 1964 and until now. As far as I know, no one else has ever mentioned The Beatles as their initial source of inspiration”, he jokes. Since he wasn’t around during the band’s existence, he had to mourn John Lennon alone in his room, and create his own personal Beatlemania during the Eighties, while all his friends listened to synth bands or heavy metal. ”You can never listen too much to The Beatles. Their seven years as an album making entity covered so much ground that they’re almost a genre in themselves”.
The difference between David and people who are merely trying to sound like their favorite bands, is that his songs are full of his unique fingerprints. He may work within a well-defined tradition, but his personality shines through. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight.
He grew up in a town totally dominated by boogie and the blues. Even so, it was inevitable that young David discovered that he preferred melodic pop music. Against all odds, he found some kindred spirits of his own age. The first incarnation of The Merrymakers was born. They started out as a band consisting of four frontmen, who were all songwriters. ”A bit like the Traveling Wilburys, without any previous individual success to speak of. Or later, for that matter”, adds David with a self-affacing smile.
The Merrymakers made a demo, “Andrew’s Store”, that was so superbly written, arranged, and produced that it immediately resulted in a record deal with industry legend Ola Håkansson’s newly launched Stockholm Records. The single received a lot of airplay and attention, but soon enough the band was dropped in favor of a ”younger” band, The Cardigans.
”We were deemed too old …at the age of 23! David sighs.
Undeterred, The Merrymakers streamlined their line-up, making their debut album, No Sleep ’til Famous, as a trio. ”We did everything ourselves. The end result was a perfectionist pop album, full of good songs, but showing few signs of human life. Each bar was individually programmed, and it was virtually impossible detect any moment when two people had actually played together. Also, our timing was not the best: we wanted to write happy pop songs with hooks during an era when gazing at your shoes, while looking slightly detached, was the flavor of the year”.
Hope returned when they read that ”pop bands from northern Sweden with sixties roots” were starting to make waves in Japan. ”We realized that there was something going on, something we could – and should – be a part of”. When The Merrymakers, as one of the first bands in Sweden, created their own website, proof arrived that they had international fans, One of them was Andy Sturmer, singer/vocalist of American band Jellyfish, who in turn were one of The Merrymakers’ favorite bands (if not THE favorite band) of the nineties. One day, an e-mail arrived: ”Can I get your music here in San Francisco?” It was signed by ”Andy Jelly”. Sturmer soon became a friend, and helped The Merrymakers get in touch with industry people in Japan, and other places.
The band ended up selling more than 100 000 albums in Japan, where the song “Monument of Me”, sung by David, became a huge radio hit. Soon, The Merrymakers where sought-after as songwriters for a line of Japanese pop stars. ”It was fascinating to watch Japanese efficiency at work. We visited Japan a few times and could see how everyone strived towards the same goal, until they reached it”.
Following the band’s Japanese success, Andy Sturmer suggested doing something together. It all resulted in him co-producing, as well as playing drums, on The Merrymakers’ sophomore album, Bubblegun –a stronger album than its predecessor in every respect, and to this day an album held in very high regard among the international power pop community.
One of numerous gems from Bubblegun was “April’s Fool”, co-written by Andy Sturmer and sung by David. During their collaboration the former Jellyfish member also shared stories of working with legends like Brian Wilson and Ringo Starr.
Bubblegun was released by an American label. College radio picked it up, and touring ensued. But just when the album started to make waves, the label was acquired by a another company, and Bubblegun ended up in limbo. An all-too-familiar ending to a promising start.
At this point, The Merrymakers was a duo, consisting of Anders Hellgren and David. They decided to build their own, Stockholm based studio – Monogram Recordings. ”Instead of writing material for our own band, we focused on building the studio, as well as writing and producing for other acts. Before long, the record industry was showing signs of ill health. During the same period, we started discovering that there were other things to life, like having a family. We also had to find other ways of making a living, in this case teaching music production”.
Slowly, but surely, David and Anders grew apart, until they came to realize that they had ceased to bring out the best in each other. ”Instead of inspiring each other, we tended to dampen each others’ enthusiasm. I would present songs for him that I was really proud of, but nothing seemed to get him excited”, David remembers. Parting came as relief for both of them. They sold their equipment, and had a funeral feast for the studio at a local bar. The Merrymakers were history.
THE NEW ALBUM
When The Merrymakers decided to go their separate ways, David suddenly found that he had enough strong material for a solo album. He also realized that he could approach any musician or collaborator for the recording of this album. ”The Merrymakers had been very attached to the idea of doing everything ourselves. Now, I could contact anyone I wanted without asking for approval. I could follow any impulse, or spontaneous idea that came into my mind”, David enthuses.
Andreas Dahlbäck fell for David’s well-crafted material, and volunteered his studio and drumming abilities. Before long, Dahlbäck was co-producing the album. Anders Pettersson (The Perishers, the Deportees), and Rikard Lidhamn (Oh Laura!) joined them on guitar and bass respectively. It all happened fast and without complications. At long last, David’s music had the organic feel that The Merrymakers had been lacking.
The combination made sense: Driven musicians and well-written songs, brimming with the thing David loves the most: melody. ”I realized that it didn’t have to be so complicated, A good song is a good song, and it can take a thousand different shapes. We merely chose one for each song”.
Since then, David has arranged and sung backing vocals, as well as adding guitars and keyboards on his own. ”It felt good to know that nothing I did would change the fact that the core of the sound is human beings playing together – the feel of actual performances”.
In addition to his Swedish friends, David asked another American power pop hero of his to make a guest appearance: Michael Holt of The Mommyheads. ”Michael plays Wurlitzer on the album’s first single, among other things. That was also a case of everything coming together easily. It was all very playful, and then Michael made chicken fajitas for me and my wife”.
Additional lyricists include his old friend from Popsicle, Andreas Mattsson, and Peter Morén from Peter Bjorn and John. The result is a genuine and life-affirming pop album that brings together the best bits of pop history with David’s personal tone and approach. And it will sound as fresh ten years from now, as it does today.