Peter, Bjorn And John
Peter Morén, the mop-topped guitarist, is upset. Well, maybe not really that upset. He just wants to set the record straight before he says a word about Peter, Bjorn and John’s new album.
“What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary as a band this year, they think this will be our second album when in reality it’s actually our fifth.”
Thing is though, however great they were musically, nothing they’d done before their 2006 album Writer’s Block had come even remotely close to the success this, their third album, achieved.
The world wide smash hit that was “Young Folks”, a duet with former Concretes vocalist, Victoria Bergsman, that single-handedly reclaimed the art of whistling in pop, and is still being played daily on radio stations all over the world. It’s one of those rare songs that will remain a hit forever.
Peter, Bjorn (Yttling) and John (Eriksson) suddenly found themselves in a completely new situation. After almost a decade as a band they no longer had to squeeze in rehearsals late at night after day jobs or studies.
So what did they do?
They recorded a very limited instrumental album called Seaside Rock. As you do.
“I guess we wanted to provoke some kind of reaction, both in ourselves and in those who listened to it.” And it really did. Some people hated it. Others swear by it and already consider it something of a future ‘buried treasure’.
“It was just us fooling around, trying out new stuff,” Peter continues, “sometimes trying to master instruments we didn’t even know the names of. It was pure therapy! It became our Some Kind Of Monster.”
“And it cleared our heads so we could move on.”
Which they did. Peter Morén released his first solo album (The Last Tycoon); John Eriksson worked on releases of his own solo project (Hortlax Cobra); whilst Björn Yttling continued his path as producer for Lykke Li, Sahara Hotnights and Primal Scream amongst others.
Mentally and physically freed from the pressure of writing and recording the ”proper” follow up to Writer’s Block they set off to Los Angeles, each armed with a CD of music that had inspired ideas of how to reinvent the group and their individual contributions.
Here’s a sample of some of the things that turned up on those CDs:
The Gist, ABBA, Johnny Burnette, Konono No.1, Milton Nascimento, The Feelies, Eduardo Mateo, Snoop Dogg, Paul Simon’s Graceland, Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night, Cabaret Voltaire, Talking Heads , New Order, Amerie, Powder, Chuck Berry, Silver Apples, Jorge Ben, Wire, OMD, William Onyeabor, Mission of Burma, Cornelis Vreesvijk, Antena, Suicide, Broadcast, Ultravox, Nina Simone, J Dilla, Alexander Robotnick and Depeche Mode.
“I think everyone who is really into records and music in the way that the three of us are, seems to come to similar solutions at almost the same time,” says Peter, explaining the apparent influences from African and South-American music that give the album an entirely new groove.
“Listening to, say, Congolese percussion music gave us a new tool, a new kind of rhythm we hadn’t tried before. And when it clashes with our way of writing something interesting happens.”
The majestic title track on the album is one of the most obvious steps towards these “new rhythms” Peter mentions.
“I used to love ELO when I was really young,” he says. “I could sit for hours and just stare at the spaceships on the album sleeves.”
“Living Thing” was the title of one of Jeff Lynne’s most beloved ELO songs. Peter, Bjorn and John’s “Living Thing” is not a cover version in any way though – It’s a pure pop song that just happens to use South-African rhythms and humming sounds whilst still being instantly recognisable as Peter, Bjorn and John. It couldn’t be anyone else. Which could be said about the whole record.
All the songs were written by the three members and the end result produced by the band themselves (with Lasse Mårtén as engineer) in studios in New York, Los Angeles and Stockholm.
A song like “I Want You!” might remind some of us of The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”, but just for a few seconds until its turned on its head and transforms into a football terrace chant performed by the Scandinavian Bhundu Boys. The children’s choir on “Nothing To Worry About” started out as a homage to Jay-Z’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life” but ended up sounding nothing like it.
‘Stay This Way’ is reminiscent of an old time soul ballad. “Recording that made me feel like being in The Miracles, laughs Peter.
In a song like “Blue Period Picasso” the purest rock’n’roll song-writing of the fifties is filtered through their shared love of the Young Marble Giants’ post-punk DIY ethics.
Everything this band has ever loved is hidden somewhere in the songs and grooves on this album; more so than ever before. From the baroque sixties soft rock that made them want to start playing music in the first place, to their current love of, say, 80s disco and synth-pop to hip hop and R´n´B.
”When the band was formed in Stockholm back in 1999 we could never have dreamt of reaching this far, playing for so many people, having our songs covered by Kanye West – and even James Blunt.”
“But the world is smaller now. If the world of music is a buffet, we Swedes are very good at picking out the best dishes and quite confidently turn them into something new. In the 90s most Swedish bands would have made an extreme effort to try and fit in with whatever was happening in London or New York, Manchester or Seattle. Whereas now it’s the opposite, we don’t need – or even want – to do that. Why would we?”
Quite right. Why would they?
Andres Lokko, London, W11 – February 2009.