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ABBA’s Björn takes LIPA students on a deep-dive into his creative process

Monday 03 June 2024

ABBA’s Björn takes LIPA students on a deep-dive into his creative process

During an in-depth exploration of his creative process, legendary ABBA songwriter Björn Ulvaeus told students at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) that lyric writing often started with him visualising scenes from a movie. 

The composer, musician, singer and producer visited LIPA on 28 May to take part in a Q&A with students and described how he and fellow ABBA member Benny Andersson wrote songs together. Björn said he only started work on lyrics once the pair were completely satisfied with the melody and had spent time in the studio creating a basic backing track. 

“I would then take that backing track away to somewhere isolated and play it over and over and over again, and it sounds strange, but it (the music) would tell me what the song was about. I would get images in my head, even a sequence of events like a movie. 

“The verse of Knowing Me, Knowing You for instance I could see this woman walking from room to room with boxes everywhere and something had ended. Children had played in those rooms. A few times I tried writing lyrics at the same time as the melody, but I always found the songs could change shape completely in the studio and become something else to what I’d originally thought.” 

Björn along with Benny founded ABBA in 1972 with vocalists Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad. After some success in their native Sweden, they shot to international prominence when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. After this breakthrough the band went on to become one the biggest of the 70s and early 80s with Björn and Benny co-writing and producing numerous million selling hits for ABBA. 

During his 90-minute session with students Björn described the band’s recording process as one of “a constant evolution of ideas in the studio” as he and Benny perfected the musical backing. He also discussed the contributions of singers Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad and how they would work for days or even weeks experimenting with vocal harmonies and arrangements. “That sound came very much from them. 

“Frida is a mezzo-soprano and Agnetha is a true soprano. When they sang in unison and the melody was up where Agnetha felt comfortable, Frida would have to fight to get up there. I think that gave it that distinctive metallic sound, which was most definitely part of the ABBA sound.” 

As well as his work with ABBA, Björn has co-written musicals and co-produced films. More recently though he’s been involved in creating the revolutionary virtual reality technique, where the former ABBA members come to life through motion capture technology for ABBA Voyage. It opened in 2022 in a custom-built arena in London. Björn said the band and its music’s enduring appeal remains a mystery to him. 

“I was at the second anniversary of ABBA Voyage yesterday. There are 3,000 people there to see it every night. That Benny and I wrote these little songs that gave rise to all of that such a long time afterwards, is amazing but so hard to understand.” 

Images: Top - Björn with students, middle - on stage in the Paul McCartney Auditorium, bottom in conversation with Jon Thornton, Director of the School of Creative Technologies, Design and Enterprise in the George Martin Studio.

Photographer: Brian Roberts