This is my translation of an interview with Agnetha that was broadcast on Swedish TV channel TV4. The interviewer is Lasse Bengtsson. Special thanks to Tony Becker in Sweden for helping me out with a few paragraphs and thanks to Charles Pylad for the snapshots from the broadcast.
Lasse Bengtsson: ABBA is without comparison one of the worldís biggest groups, they have sold lots of records, almost 400 million. They broke through 30 years ago in Brighton with ďWaterlooĒ. The interest in ABBA is huge and not the least in Agnetha Fšltskog who is the most reclusive of the stars. I have spoken with her on and off for 4 years and the other day I had a conversation with her, a longer conversation. Please note, she didnít see the questions in advance, she hasnít seen the editing until now.
Playing parts of ďOm tŚrar vore guldĒ
LB (Lasse Bengtsson): Well, Agnetha, as I was driving the other day and listened to this song and your other old songsÖ Hi by the way.
AF (Agnetha Fšltskog): Hi Lasse!
LB: Then I thought, what good songs you wrote.
AF: Yes, I did.
LB: Where is it (that talent) these days?
AF: Somewhere in here, inside me and up here. <Pointing towards her head>
LB: But you donít compose anything now?
AF: No, I donít compose much these days.
LB: Why not?
AF: Itís as if I got it all out of me during that time. I was very productive then, with my own music and lyrics. So there was a lot to get inspiration from then.
LB: But theyíre all so sad. Why are they so sad?
AF: Well, I donít know. Later on somebody else wrote the lyrics. I became too critical.
LB: Oh, you did?
AF: Yes, I was very critical.
LB: Have you always been critical of yourself?
AF: Yes, I have. Very much. Especially when it comes to my lyrics I think. There are very many that Iím not so fond of, lyrics that I think are very naÔve.
LB: But then last spring you released your first album in a long time.
Playing video snippet from ďIf I Thought Youíd Ever Change Your MindĒ
LB: What do you think of this one when you hear it now?
AF: Itís good.
LB: How did you reason when you chose to come back again with an album?
AF: Well, it was quite a long process, it took two, three, four years from me getting the idea until we began recording. I felt that I didnít think I was all done yet, that I had to make some more music and record another album. Iím very fond of these 60ís songs and it was a lot of fun, it was a nostalgic trip for me. And old songs that I had forgotten came back to me. These songs had made such an impression on me, it was like taking them out again. And of course you remember things that took place around that period in your life.
LB: What is it that makes a song make an impression on you?
AF: I think that these songs, they came along when I was in my teens and that is a very sensitive period when youíre very open to impressions of whatís happening.
LB: What were you like as a teenager?
AF: Well, I think I was like most teens. There were guys, there were dreams and by then I already worked a lot. I began to sing with a dance orchestra as a 15 year old and we traveled around playing dance music and I started doing that when I was 15.
Playing part of ďUtan digĒ
LB: Do you remember that time, what dreams and thoughts did you have about music then? What were your goals with your music in those days?
AF: In those days I probably just wanted to perform because I felt I had a voice and it was fun seeing that people liked dancing to our music. But my ambition later was to eventually get to make a record, to become a singer, it was my dream.
LB: Why did you want that?
AF: Well, it was probably in connection with feeling that I had a voice, many others told me that. And then I knew how to compose and write songs and even lyrics sometimes, so I felt that this was probably my job.
LB: But you werenít shy in those days, were you?
AF: I was very shy.
LB: You were?
AF: Yes, I still am today. Itís probably a lot because of that I feel a bit anxious about doing an interview like this. Itís not at the top of my wish list. <Laughs>
LB: Yeah, Iíve figured that out.
AF: Yes, exactly.
LB: But still you do it?
AF: Yes, still I do it. Probably because I donít want to seem strange when I have something new to present, then I also want to talk about it. Itís when you get too close to my private life that it starts getting uncomfortable.
LB: But what was it like to break this isolation, you could say, or that you had retired and then step back into the limelight again. How did you think that was?
AF: I was a bit concerned in a way since it had been so many years so I didnít know if my voice would still be there, and it was difficult with my voice at the beginning and itís easy to build up a fear of the microphone as well, because youíre so close to it when you sing that every noise and every breath can be heard. So thereís a certain technique and a certain obstacle to overcome.
LB: Did you also feel that you had high demands on yourself then soÖ
AF: Then as well? Yes, I did.
LB: But somewhere it was demanded that you had to appear in public a bit in connection with this.
AF: No, there were never any demands. Instead I made it very clear by saying that I can do this and this, and I want to do this and that but I canít travel and appear on TV and work the same way I did in the past, because it simply wears me out. Itís too difficult for me. So I think everyone has understood that.
LB: So thatís why you didnít choose to give a lot of public interviews and hold a press conference and so on?
AF: Yes. Because it easily gets too much and I canít handle it these days.
LB: What is it that wears you out, in what way do you get worn out?
AF: Well, I donít know. There are too many nerves in a way. Itís anxiety and I also want to present a good image of myself and so on. And then it doesnít always work out that way. And then media is still in charge of the image of myself and it many times it can be rough since that image isnít right. And then I feel like ďGod, now I have to try to correct it and show how I really amĒ, and thatís a lot of strain.
LB: Do you think that youíre treated in a bad way by the media?
AF: Yes, I think so, on and off. And thereís also been a lot thatís incorrect and it gets exaggerated.
LB: Do you have an example?
AF: Well, what can I say. Iíve been through so much I think.
LB: What is the worst one?
AF: I donít really know which one is the worst. But one thing was when we were on our way home, from England and I was traveling in a bus because I didnít want to fly and there were a few of us. Then we got into an accident with the bus and the bus tipped over and I flew out through a window and it was a big story in the papers. And then it saidÖ At the time I was making a film with Gunnar HellstrŲm, ďRaskenstamĒ, and it said that I was pregnant and then they interviewed some doctor and they wrote ďCan a fetus be injured if youíre in an accident like this?Ē. But it was in the movie that I played a pregnant woman. But this was turned into reality so people were fooled to believe I was pregnant in real life. And itís incorrect stories like this which make people believe it if theyíre time after time presented with an image of someone. Itís been written about me for example that Iíve locked myself in, isolated myself out on EkerŲ, but I havenít. Instead theyíve created this image of me locking myself in since Iím not visible that often. But that is not the way it is.
LB: But since you think youíre misunderstood, how would you describe yourself?
AF: <laughs> Well, itís very difficult for me to say, but I think Iím very much the same person Iíve always been. Very down-to-earth. Of course I also have my flaws, but Iím a very nice person. Down-to-earth. Normal. Curious about life and I donít like stress. I try to keep it very quiet around me, as good as I can. Itís not so easy nowadays. But I easily get stressed and Iím also a very anxious person.
LB: What are you worried about?
AF: Everything. <Laughs> No, not everything, but I easily get anxious in various situations. Iím afraid that something may happen to someone or something. I easily take things personally. Iím a huge animal lover. Itís difficult for me to look at pictures of animals and children being mistreated, I canít deal with that emotionally.
LB: Well, Vilma notices that you are a real animal lover I have to say.
(Vilma is Lasseís dog I assume, sheís lying on the floor next to them. Claesí note)
AF: Yes, sheís mellow as she lies there on the floor.
LB: She likes you. But this talk about Garbo, you donít like that either from what I understand.
AF: No, itís not something I have said, but once again itís something that the media has created because, well, why they have, I donít know. But itís probably a punishment because I donít show myself off enough. And then I usually say that Iím rather an original than a bad imitation.
LB: I wonder what happens when you agree to an interview, because from what Iíve understood, itís not completely uncomplicated for you.
LB: Tell me what happens.
AF: Well, Iíve tried to be very consistent and I receive a lot of requests, not only from Sweden but from abroad as well. And I think itís even more uncomfortable to give an interview in English and not have a good command of the language. But that is my own fault.
LB: Do you feel that English is a problem?
AF: Yes, it really is. My tongue really gets tied then. So I rather decline. And what happens is if I accept doing an interview during the years that have passed, then immediately 9-10 others want me.
LB: What is an average day in your life like?
AF: Well, these days itís pretty calm. I enjoy being outdoors, going for a lot of walks and I try to spend a lot of time with my children, I also have a grandchild and itís an incredible experience.
AF: She will soon turn 4 years old. So itís an incredible joy. Really. Then I read a bit and watch TV.
LB: What do you read?
AF: I donít read as many books as I used to, but I read newspapers and I like watching news programs and things where you learn something.
LB: Do you watch movies and what kind of music do you listen to?
AF: I donít watch TV very much, but once in a while I enjoy going to the moviesÖ thereís a small fly hereÖ <laughs> It wants to be here all the time. Itís very, very rare that I go to the movies. Itís been quite a while since last time actually.
LB: Have you seen a movie you remember and that you liked?
AF: No, but there are many that I would like to see, Iím a bit behind.
LB: For example?
AF: For example ďMoulin RougeĒ with Nicole Kidman, I would like to see that one, I still havenít.
LB: But what happens, do you ever go to Stockholm, can you walk around freely I wonder. Do you walk around among other people?
AF: Oh yes, I do. Absolutely. But of course I have to be observant sometimes.
LB: What happens when you appear in public?
AF: Really not that much. I notice that people react and recognize me but often itís very calm. Sometimes someone approaches me if Iím in a restaurant to ask for an autograph. But there are no problems. Thereís no commotion.
LB: But do you think itís uncomfortable to be out in public in a big city for example?
AF: No, not that much. But itís nothing I long for either, but it can be fun to go shopping sometimes and meet some people. And I also do that. But like I said earlier, I think itís nice when itís quiet and I think thereís too much noise (in the city).
LB: Are you sensitive to sounds?
AF: Yes, Iím very sensitive. Especially if thereís a lot of noise at the same time. Then I get incredibly stressed.
LB: Where does that come from? Has it always been like that?
AF: No, itís something thatís been happening more and more. I can listen to music at quite a high volume, but I canít deal with a lot of sounds mixing together. Iím very sensitive towards that.
LB: What do animals mean to you?
AF: Animals? Animals mean a lot. They mean serenity and harmony and nice to be with.
LB: Do you have a special relation with animals? Can you talk with them?
AF: Yes, in a way I think I can. You have some kind of understanding for each other, because I live with a lot of horses in my surroundings.
LB: Can you hear what they say?
AF: <laughs> Well, that may be too much. I probably shouldnít say I can speak with horses too because then there may be problems.
LB: But almost?
AF: But almost, yes. And if Iím in a certain kind of mood, it can be nice to go and talk a bit to the horses.
LB: I wonder, making friends for Agnetha Fšltskog and creating new contacts, newÖ, well, new friends, is that difficult?
AF: Difficult? Thatís a tough question. It might be. You never really know what people think about you and maybe they have preconceived notions about you. I donít really have a great need for having a large, large group of friends, instead Iím probably a bit of a loner in a way. I actually use to compare myself with the bull Ferdinand sometimes, who sits by the oak tree. So itís probably a bit like that.
LB: Are you subjected now to strange people? Weíve read in the papers that it has happened to you.
AF: Well, it is also an unpleasant aspect of this occupation and this fame, that you have to put up with a lot, not only I, I know I share this problem with many different categories of work. So I receive very many letters and strange things from people who are a bit unwell.
LB: From all around the world?
AF: Yes. You have to screen them, you canít take it personally. Not all letters I receive are nice. But itís important to not take it personally, but that you understand that this is a person whoís not feeling well.
LB: This man who stalked you, are you still subjected to him?
AF: Iím donít know if I can talk too much about it, I donít think I will. I canít due to security reasons. So I want to lay low.
LB: Is this something thatís bothering you?
AF: Yes, it is. But itís like this, if youíve been around for this long, then you get quite hardened in various situations, so you can take very much, you have to take a lot too. And it feels very unfair sometimes, that thereís so much that comes along with success.
LB: Have your children been affected?
AF: No, I think that things have gone well. But of course, theyíve been small once, it was a bit rough for them, it was for all of us since we became a family of divorce. They were very young, they were only 5 and 1 year old. But that was a long time ago.
LB: But when you look back in the rearview mirror, do you think that you should have done things in another way? That you shouldnít have withdrawn as much? Do you know what I mean? To not have this hysteria thatís surrounding Agnetha Fšltskog after all. That itís such a big thing that youíre not visible very often.
AF: Well, at least itís not something that I have created deliberately or calculated, that I would have made myself very mysterious, instead itís an image which has been created due to, as you say, me not being very visible. But itís because itís actually not my thing to sit like this and talk. But then, the older you get, the more you let go/give of yourself in a way.
LB: In what way do you mean?
AF: Well, you may be able to talk about things that you couldnít before. Because it feels as if you also must be able to share your experiences in life. That maybe you can show that Iím really not as mysterious or strange, but Iím a completely normal person.
LB: Are we supposed to interpret this that this is some kind of return to a more public Agnetha?
AF: No, things arenít that well. <Laughs>
LB: How do you explain the phenomenon ABBA today? What do you think of the phenomenon ABBA?
AF: It has meant incredibly much to us all of course. And also there I feel an enormous gratitude for having been a part of it because things only went like this. <raises her arm> And there was incredibly much work during the 10-12 years that we kept going. And it went very fast, so if I could have slowed it down a bit and continued for 5 more years, I would rather have done it that way.
LB: To take things a bit slower and stretched it out a bit longer?
AF: Yes, exactly.
LB: Was it that everything became too intense?
AF: Yes, it was very intense.
LB: What do you think was most difficult?
AF: It was the trips.
LB: Because youíre afraid of flying.
AF: Yes, Iím still very afraid of flying. It is also something youíve read a lot in the press, that Iím afraid of flying. And itís this inherent fear that I have, which I told you about earlier, that a catastrophe will happen or something like that. Thatís what I feel. Itís not that I donít have the ability to understand how safe it is flying, but itís the insecurity within myself when I finally sit there. That thereís nothing I can do about it. And maybe itís because Iím a bit of a controlling person.
LB: You are, you want to be in control of things?
AF: Yes. And itís difficult to let go of it. But I think that Iím in some way trying to learn to become a little bit different. Maybe I will fly one fine day, you never know.
LB: When did you fly last?
AF: It was probably 15 years ago, I think.
LB: Are you serious?
AF: Yes. Maybe 10.
LB: So you never travel abroad?
AF: No. But you can also travel by car.
LB: But what was the most fun thing about ABBA? Which is your single greatest memory? Because it wasnít just hard work, there was joy as well.
AF: There was lots of joy. We all shared the heavy tension before going onto stage, and
there were lots of nerves involved. It felt good that all four of us were sharing this, helping to bear the burden. And if one of us felt a bit ill the other one was pushing and doing more on stage. Frida and I had different ranges, and concerning singing we helped each other, although we at the same time were competitors on stage.
LB: There were sometimes talk of a schism between you and Frida. Was that right?
AF: No, that's yet again a media thing. Most of the time we were very much in agreement. But, being different personalities, of course it happened that we got irritated upon each others qualities. And we *were* different. We had different lives as well. BjŲrn and I were recently divorced. We got divorced during the years with ABBA and we even continued afterwards. Then we had our small children who only were 5 and 1 year old, so the whole time I had a guilty conscience that they were home. And it was quite tough and still having to do what we did.
LB: Is there a particular moment, Agnetha, with ABBA that you feel like ďthis was really funĒ?
AF: Yes, then Iíll probably have to say that it was when we won with ďWaterlooĒ. It was really incredible.
Plays ďWaterlooĒ and show pictures
LB: But donít you miss getting that kick today?
AF: No, I donít.
LB: That was a definite answer.
AF: <laughs> Yes. No, I donít. But itís really nice to look back upon it and sometimes I canít really comprehend it. It feels like another life, in a way a different part of my life and it really is. It is.
LB: But explain, what was the reason for ABBA breaking up?
AF: It was because we didnít think it was as fun anymore. I know that we were recording an LP then. It didnít feel like it had in the past, instead it was quite tough. And it was we were divorced, both couples, so it wasnít the same thing, but we continued even after our divorces.
LB: But it wasnít as good after the divorces you mean?
AF: No, it wasnít.
LB: What is the best song that ABBA made?
AF: The best song? I think ďThe Winner Takes It AllĒ.
AF: <laughs> It is so complete, it has a good flow, from beginning to end. And then I think the song is very good. I think the lyrics are excellent.
LB: It has quite a tough message.
AF: Yes, it does. But I like to sing about that.
LB: You do?
AF: Yes, I like to interpret lyrics like that.
LB: But, as I understand, you thought ABBA were better in the recording studio
than on stage.
AF: Yes, that's right. But that is, once again, the self-criticism. I don't
like to see us perform on stage Ė I think it's much more fun to hear us than to
LB: Do you keep in touch with the others nowadays?
AF: Yes, I do, a little. But we donít socialize.
AF: Yes, of course since heís the father of my children.
LB: How often do you see each other?
AF: Us in the group you mean?
LB: No, BjŲrn.
AF: Well, I donít know, I donít really keep track of that. <laughs> But it happens every now and then since we have a little grandchild.
LB: The money Ė do you still make money from ABBA?
AF: Yes, I do.
LB: A lot of money?
AF: Yes, enough for me to live on. <laughs> But I do. Of course.
LB: Even if itís BjŲrn and Benny who makes the big money as songwriters of course, but there is a steady income for the rest of you?
AF: Yes. And we have also done other things. Frida has also made singles, what am I saying, solo albums, and I have as well, so you make a little bit of money off that as well.
LB: What does money mean to you?
AF: It is such a sensitive issue. So itís almost as if I would like to say that I donít want to talk about money, I donít want to talk about politics and I donít want to talk about religion. So Iíll say so. <laughs>
LB: Why is it so sensitive?
AF: You have to give such a good answer that people believe in what you say. Because itís one thing to be in a position where you have money and another to be in a position where you donít. So you have to position yourself on a good level with the money so you donít, well, so it doesnítÖ what am I trying to say?
LB: Youíre beginning to approach this subject anyway.
AF: <laughs> Yes. But Iím glad that everything has gone so well. And then if I were to say that the money doesnít matter, then everybody would realize that sheís lying because of course it does. Iíd rather live a life where I can buy the things I want instead of being a poor person. But you can be rich and poor in so many different ways. It doesnít always have to be about money either. But you can be rich because you have a rich life (a lot of experiences). And Iím probably such a person. I think that I as a person am the same today as I was when I was young. And I grew up under modest living conditions with my mother and father. I didnít have my own room when I was young. So I know what it feels like growing up and not to be poor, but maybe not have what you want.
LB: What about the future? What will happen with Agnetha Fšltskog in the future?
AF: Well, who knows? I donít know. Sometimes I feel that this was probably the last album I made. But then I know how I can be, and can get a new idea. And I know that there are many who think it would be great if I wrote my own songs again.
LB: Yes, I think so. Canít you do that now?
AF: <laughs> No, I canít promise anything. Iím not going to make any more promises.
LB: This book, ĒSom jag šrĒ, came out in 96. The author of this book has now said that sheís considering auctioning material from your conversations and meetings that havenít been published before. What do you think about that?
AF: It would be terrible if she did, but I currently donít know whatís going on. But itís a terrible crime if she would, because when you work on a book together, you tell things in confidence. And then the two of us really worked on this book, having meaningful conversations about various subjects. And then I wanted to be a part the editing, so I deleted lots that I didnít think should be a part of it. And itís probably that which will come out now.
LB: Have you been in touch with her regarding this?
AF: No, and I donít want to either. My advisors will have to. Unfortunately. Thatís how it can go.
LB: Are you a happy person nowadays?
AF: These arenít easy questions. <smiles>
LB: They all shouldnít be easy.
AF: Yes, Iím happy with a lot of things. Thatís how I can formulate myself. Is that enough?
LB: Now youíre going to read something before the new year, something you have chosen yourself. Tell me why you chose it.
AF: Well, I found a little book, so I thought that since I wonít be singing anythingÖ
AF: ÖI will read something instead and then I found a poem by Dan Andersson. Itís called ďNyŚrĒ (ďNew YearĒ). This is how it goes.
(I didnít translate this poem because poems are so difficult to translate. Claesí note)
Du nyŚr som susar med vingar av glšnsande snŲ
Som blandar med stigande soljus den bittraste vind
Och tšnder med flammande rosor pŚ jungfrulig kind
Och kramar šn hŚrdare brŲstet pŚ den som ska dŲ
Jag hšlsar dig nyŚr med vingar av glšnsande snŲ
O giv att all všrlden till slut mŚtte bliva som dŚ
Nšr Herren ej šnnu befallt nŚgon gršns mellan vatten och land
Nšr šnnu ej djurŲgat stirrat mot rymderna blŚ
Och šnnu en svagling ej rivits av tass eller hand
Och kšrleken šnnu ej kommit att locka och slŚ
O giv att all všrlden till slut mŚtte bliva som dŚ
LB: How will you spend Christmas?
AF: Iím going to relax. Spend time with those nearest and dearest to me and probably eat some Christmas food.
LB: Merry Christmas, Agnetha, and thanks for agreeing to this.
AF: The same to you. Thanks for having me.
After the entire interview Lasse Bengtsson says:
Maybe some of you are wondering why I didn't ask the intriguing question whether
she has a new man in her life - and the answer is that I forgot. But when
I asked her afterwards, she answered:
-I live my life as a single, but I have many friends and acquaintances, and
some of them are men.