Interview: John Eriksson (Peter Bjorn and John)
The "band with the whistling song" is still here. In fact they have been around for ten years now, and were formed long before "Young folks" was released. After spending time with other projects - Björn Yttling has been producing Lykke Li, and Peter Morén recorded his solo album - and after they released "Seaside rock" last September, a more difficult, instrumental record, only available on vinyl and as a digital download, Peter Bjorn and John are back with a "proper" full release. Their new album is called "Living thing" and is being released this week (March 30th/31st). It's a Trap! had a very friendly chat with drummer/percussionist & vocalist John Eriksson.
You guys are celebrating ten years together. Can you share a few of the best moments during this time?
It's really funny to think back ten years ago. Back at the time we used to have other jobs. I remember one time we did these cuttings of all articles that were written about us in the press, in order to give them out to our friends. We stole paper from our jobs, used their copying machines and did it! [Laughs]
Did you ever want to become big?
We just wanted to make fantastic pop music, but of course you want people and your families to listen to it.
Where you studying at the time?
Peter was doing film studies and afterwards was studying in order to become a librarian. Björn was working within schools and was also playing keyboards in other Swedish bands, The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Caesars. I was a classical percussionist. I used to be in a symphonic orchestra and then in a percussion ensemble, full-time for 7-8 years. It happened a lot. Then we did this third record, "Writer's block". We said OK, let's make this record, because the first two did OK in Sweden and Norway, but nothing special. We said, let's give it another try. And then everything happened of course. But one of the best things I remember in these ten years, it was actually when we started working on this fifth record. We did the last gig of our big tour in January 2008 and we were staying in L.A. for four days and started working on this album in a garage. And that was the best feeling, something really special between the three of us. We made five songs each and there was this sense of togetherness and at the same time it felt so good and so new.
In what way is your last album different to the previous ones?
If "Writer's block" was "Stockholm city in the summer" and if "Seaside rock" is like "going to the north in the autumn to plant potatoes"; "Living thing" is like going even further: to the North Pole with lots of ice and snow. [Laughs]
"Living thing" is slightly darker, even the artwork.
It's true that it's darker, but exactly like the winter, it's quite refreshing and quite mysterious.
Was this a conscious decision?
I think that with every record there are less and less apparent details in the sound. It all becomes very minimalistic and this creates lots of space in the music, there is lots of room for things like echoes etc. Then it becomes a bit more mysterious.
Why did you release a difficult, instrumental album like "Seaside rock"? Is it maybe in protest of "Young folks"?
We've been talking about it. We always wanted to do new music, and next time it might be a thrash metal album, or funk. [Laughs] And therefore it was a good timing to do such an album.
Is it difficult is to get over the massive success of "Young folks"?
No, I don't think so, and it's going to become more and more easy the more records we do. "Young folks" is like the first time you have Italian food. It's good but you want to try more. It's the best thing that can happen to a band like us, to have something that people recognise. Because if we didn't have that, then people would never want to listen to, for example, our instrumental stuff.
What's the idea behind the video of "Lay it down"? It's hilarious.
I actually wrote the script. I was in South America travelling at the time and then I was in Cuba and somewhere I saw a mask. I had decided that in the video there should be Gene Simmons and Bob Dylan masks and all these celebrities, but someone said, you can't use their faces, they're going to sue you, why don't you use your own faces? And then a friend of ours, Sandra Malmgren, did the masks and then we got this high school dance group.
Miami Vice composer Jan Hammer, did a remix of "Nothing to worry about". How did you come up with him?
It felt kind of natural. We listened to a lot of 80's stuff and we were big fans of Miami Vice. It was funny, because he had never done a remix before. But it's fantastic!
You've been touring a lot. What are the differences between doing gigs in Europe and the US, if there are any?
Jet lag and different kind of food. [Laughs] Actually I think that the biggest difference is between capital cities and smaller towns. It's kind of similar, Paris, London and New York. But then, you go out to smaller places, in the US or elsewhere, people are different. Big city people want to come across as cool, whereas people from smaller places are friendlier.
Why would somebody choose to live in Stockholm rather than anywhere else?
It is easy to fall in love with the city. It's so beautiful. There is a lot of nature in the surroundings.
Is there a Swedish artist who is not widely well-known outside Sweden and you think people should check out?
I have to say Holiday For Strings, it's actually a band that I play sometimes with, and it's a good band. [Laughs] Then Jenny Wilson and First Floor Power. I listen to a lot of Fever Ray at this moment too.
Do you guys all listen to the same stuff?
Peter likes older stuff; at the moment actually more soul and funk. Björn had a period of listening to electronic music. I've been into alternative hip-hop, but at the moment I am trying to find obscure music from Hawaii, Tibet or Japan. You want to get surprised.
You dropped the commas from your name. Why?
For us it's more of a graphic thing, it looks better.
Why your names as band name? Is there a 60's reference to, say, Simon & Garfunkel?
Yeah. At the time when we formed the band, everybody was calling themselves "The Black Rockers", "The Spiders" or something. [Laughs] We thought this name could be more interesting and then we can do the music we want to, it's more personal, and in addition the three of us are equal members.
How do you see Peter Bjorn and John in 10 years time? Have you got any particular plans?
I think now after ten years it's a good time to draw a line and then keep on going for another ten years. I think doing ten albums in twenty years would be the perfect way. And maybe then, this art project would be over! [Laughs] And maybe if we run out of money, we only play in Irish Pubs! [Laughs]
Words and picture by Vasilis Panagiotopoulos