By Cameron Adams
This interview was published in Hit, a section of the Australian newspaper Herald Sun (http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/).
The person who contributed this article wishes to remain anonymous, but I still want to say thanks.
One of the world's most reluctant pop divas has broken a long silence, writes Cameron Adams.
A rather crucial piece has always been missing from the post-ABBA puzzle: Agnetha Faltskog.
She's been labelled the Greta Garbo of pop for shunning the limelight for the past 20 years.
After a three-album flirtation with a solo career immediately after ABBA's split in 1982, Faltskog dropped off the radar in 1987. There was a mainly Swedish-language compilation album in 1996 to accompany a lightweight pictorial autobiography (As I Am), but apart from that, nothing.
All the world knew was that Faltskog liked long walks, yoga and astrology. It sounds more like a dating form than the life of one of the world's most famous women from one of the highest-selling bands in history.
Even a three-year marriage to a Swedish surgeon in 1990 was only discovered by the press when they read a notice in a newspaper. Living in a secluded house outside Stockholm, Faltskog's disappearance was partially provoked by her hatred of the press, but also because she attracted unwanted celebrity stalkers.
Back in ABBA's heyday of the late 1970s/early '80s, Faltskog was the subject of many unwanted advances. She received letters stating that if ABBA went on tour, her two young children -- Linda and Christian (now 31 and 25 respectively) to bandmate Bjorn Ulvaeus, whom she divorced in 1979 -- would be harmed.
In 2000, a man who had been stalking her for three years was arrested for breaking a restraining order when neighbours spotted him near Faltskog's house. He claimed he'd had a relationship with the singer; she said he constantly followed her and made her fear for her and her children's lives.
Faltskog was the one who didn't take part in the official ABBA documentary The Winner Takes it All (she allowed herself to be filmed walking only, providing a recorded message was played over the footage), and was always the missing member when Benny Andersson, Ulvaeus and Anna-Frid Lyngstad got together for events such as the launch of ABBA musical Mamma Mia in its various franchises around the globe.
WHEN a short film was commissioned to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ABBA's Waterloo winning the Eurovision contest, not only were dolls used to play ABBA, but technical magic was used to put footage of Lyngstad and Faltskog together, fuelling rumours the women don't get on (which both have denied).
There hasn't been a photo of all four members of ABBA together for nearly 20 years.
Now, however, with the release of My Colouring Book, Faltskog's first record in a remarkable 17 years, she has surfaced again.
First came a handful of European interviews -- well, journalists could send questions in and Faltskog, now 54, would answer them. Tellingly, any questions about ABBA were left untouched. A Swedish TV interview in April ran for only a few minutes and revealed virtually nothing.
Last week, Faltskog agreed to four interviews for the entire world -- and Hit received one of them.
Faltskog's English is broken (an interpreter sits on the phone line with her), but she's far more talkative than you'd expect a recluse to be. That is, she insists, because she isn't a recluse.
"It's a rumour going on, it's a media thing. They spread that I am hiding, that I am the new Greta Garbo. It's not the way it is. It's just the way I live. I want to live in peace and quiet and work when I'm working and do my own thing. I'm not travelling so much, but it happens I party sometimes as well, I go into town . . . I'm not hiding at all. I can't recognise that person that they sometimes describe."
Faltskog isn't travelling to promote My Colouring Book. She has always hated flying and was injured in a bus crash in 1983.
"We try to concentrate on working in a different way -- to talk to people on the phone, to make this documentary, that's the way that suits me."
The documentary is Agnetha and it has been made by her own production company. It premiered on German TV this week. It contains, she says, her side of the "recluse" story.
"It's about me, with some songs from this album: a little interview, a little acting. I think it gives a good portrait of me as a person."
There are as yet no plans to screen the documentary in Australia, but the Top 50 success of My Colouring Book, and the huge fanbase for anything ABBA, should eventually see it surface here.
Faltskog oddly denies that 17 years is a rather long time to leave between albums.
"The years go very quickly. I've done so many records, I've been working so hard for so many years I really felt I had to have a long time to take it easier, relax a bit. Also, after the ABBA period, I was really tired of both singing and listening to music. It took some years until I started to feel the interest again and to be curious about making a new album."
Four years ago, she says, she felt the passion again. She had an idea to make a covers album featuring songs from the '60s that she grew up with.
"These songs were so important to me when I was a teenager; they have meant a lot to me. When I felt I should do this record I started to search among my old records."
There are songs by Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Connie Francis and Petula Clark, as well as the familiar hits When You Walk in the Room, Fly Me to the Moon and Sealed With a Kiss. Faltskog has produced most of the record herself.
There was another motivation: Faltskog still gets hundreds of letters from fans who wanted another album.
"I get a lot of fan mail from all around the world, many from Australia, and it's fantastic to hear that they like my music so much and want to know what I have been doing, and that they really love and miss my voice. It affected me so much, that's when the idea came up in my head maybe I should do another record."
There was a problem, however -- Faltskog was scared of singing, unlikely as it sounds.
"It started that I had built up something called 'fear of the microphone' because to get a nice sound you have to be so close to it. Every breath you take you will hear and it took me some time to get over that."
Did she miss singing?
"No, I didn't miss it. But after 30 years I felt maybe I should do one more, because I really felt I could do one more record."
So, is this the last Faltskog record?
"It's impossible to say right now. I'm now working with this album so much, it's good for what it is now. But you never know what will happen in the future. Maybe I will do another album in the future, maybe not."
It's no secret that Faltskog hates touring. Like Ulvaeus and Andersson, she was happier to spend time in the studio. But whereas the boys couldn't deal with trying to recreate the lush, complex ABBA sound live, Faltskog just didn't like being on stage.
ABBA toured much less than most hugely successful bands, and famously turned down a billion-dollar offer to re-form several years ago.
"Touring was not my favourite part but I still did it," Faltskog says. "We were travelling around the world, I have been flying maybe more than the average person. I was also away from my family a lot, I missed them. I wanted to take it quiet, have a nice time with them, live a normal life. It's not very normal to be touring, to be changing planes every day. It's very tiring. It's also fantastic to meet the people of course, but the older you get the more it takes out of you, I think."
Would she like to tour as a solo act?
"I never say never, but it would surprise me a lot if I did a tour again. I try to concentrate on the things I'm good at, like recording and producing."
Any question about her two children is shut down by the translator, who insists there are to be "no personal questions" -- presumably to stop potential stalkers getting any more information.
However, despite rumours to the contrary and what the documentaries will tell you, she has no problems talking about the ABBA period.
"That's not the way it is. I have nothing against talking about the ABBA period. There's a very simple explanation: the other three persons (from ABBA) they travel a lot, they see each other here and there, I'm not travelling that much any more. I don't show up so easily. That's a big problem for me. That's the reason."
She affirms that a reunion will not happen, no matter how many zeroes are added to that billion-dollar figure.
"We have no plans of any reunion. I have nothing against meeting up with the others, to do something together again -- not working, not in that respect. But to just see the others, it would be thrilling if that happens. We get so many gratitudes from different things. I have nothing against them."
It's 30 years since Waterloo launched ABBA to the top of the charts courtesy of Eurovision; the song has even re-entered the UK charts as part of an anniversary reissue.
"It feels like a long time ago, but maybe not that long," Faltskog says.
Does she have a favourite song?
"Yes, I have some favourites from the ABBA period. We've done so many good songs, I think, it's hard to pick. The Winner Takes It All is a great number."
The Winner Takes It All is an interesting one. The song was infamously written by Ulvaeus after his marriage to Faltskog had dissolved. Hearing her sing lines written by her estranged husband such as, "Tell me, does she kiss like I used to kiss you, does it feel the same when she calls your name?" add a cruel streak and turn up the emotion to 11.
It's no surprise that it's often voted one of the saddest songs ever.
"Yes, it's very sad," Faltskog says. "I have a tendency to fall into this kind of song. It's the same with my new record. These sad, tragic, romantic songs are inside me. I think I can do them in a good way."
Was The Winner hard to sing?
"Ah, it was so long ago. I don't think it was so hard to do. I did that quite easily, I think."
Faltskog says her ability to "act" in her singing is one of her strengths and she feels that growing older gives her more life experiences to draw on.
"I think that was easy for me, even during the ABBA period. It's like telling a story. You give a bit from yourself, also a bit of acting. I have a lot to give there, I feel."
Releasing a covers album is perhaps proof that Faltskog's songwriting days are behind her: she was a solo star in Sweden before ABBA, and wrote the bulk of her material.
"I used to write a lot of songs, when I was younger. I don't write so much nowadays but I have it inside me," she says.
"Maybe it's something I can take up again when I'm older."
She hints that acting may be something she concentrates on in the future.
"It's thrilling to act. I would like to do that some more (but) it must be a good story."
Faltskog has made two forays into acting: a Swedish film (1983's Raskenstam) and also ABBA: The Movie, filmed in Australia during a tour in March 1977.
"I haven't seen that for a while," she says.
When asked what she remembers of it she takes a long pause.
"Ah, what should I say . . . very hard work. A long journey to Australia and a long journey back," she says eventually.
AUSTRALIA was the epicentre of the ABBA phenomenon: no band since has ever had an across-the-board appeal so strong that a city could effectively be shut down while they made a personal appearance.
"It meant a lot to me," Faltskog says of Australia.
"It was a hectic time but it was also wonderful, with so many people just loving us."
While Ulvaeus has spent time here launching Mamma Mia, Faltskog has yet to return.
She has, however, heard of the Australian-born cover band Bjorn Again ("I saw them in a TV program, it's very flattering") and wants to see Mamma Mia.
"I haven't seen Mamma Mia but it is starting in Stockholm. I will hopefully see it there."
Photographers, you have been warned.