Interview With Peter Bjorn and John
When a previously unknown band releases a mammoth hit single (e.g. 'Young Folks') and a successful album, the common consensus is to follow it up with another similar record that expands on the new found success.
Peter, Bjorn and John, however, aren’t ones to follow the norm. Having confused fans with a limited edition instrumental LP, 'Seaside Rock', they're now back with a proper follow-up, 'Living Thing'.
Lead singer and guitarist Peter Morén, bassist/keyboardist Björn Yttling and drummer John Eriksson had been writing and playing music as a three-piece for seven years before the incredible success of 'Young Folks' (taken from their third album, ’Writer’s Block’). They’ve now released their fifth album, 'Living Thing', and it’s evident that the band had always been set on resuming their experimental music path.
“I think it’s important for us to be able to do whatever we feel like, and not have people deciding what to do and why career-wise, because I don’t think we can function like that,” Morén affirms. “And we always wanted to do an instrumental album anyway, so it just felt like a really good time to do it after all the touring for 'Writer’s Block' and kinda winding down, playing around in the studio. And I think that made a positive ... to kinda surprise people and take them aback a bit and like, ‘oh shit, what is this?’” he laughs.
“But also for ourselves, as a path to 'Living Thing', I think it was a good progression. I think if we went straight from 'Writer’s Block' to 'Living Thing', it wouldn’t have been as amusing or as fun for us. There’s a similarity in that we do play around with the material – it’s never decided from the get go how a song is gonna come. We try different ideas, and anything goes.”
“We’re really proud and happy with everything,” Morén says of their new album. “I think definitely as an album, it’s our best so far, you know, like a piece of art. But of course, you don’t really listen to it, you just want to make another one,” he chuckles. “So we’re already planning for the next one.”
Does Morén still feel a buzz from seeing the audience’s reaction to 'Young Folks'? “Of course, I mean that’s great,” he laughs. “I think the audience makes that song in a way. You might think before hand that it’s gonna be boring to play that song, but then once people are so happy, you kinda just get into that vibe and enjoy it.”
'Young Folks' was, undoubtedly, one of the most memorable songs of 2006 (and 2007, when it was released in a lot of other countries outside of the UK), but Morén remains humble about it all. “It was good for paying rent and buying food,” he quips.
The new album’s first single, 'Nothing To Worry About', is a hypnotic hip-hop influenced anthem with gorgeous choral harmonies from a children’s choir, but it almost missed the album cut. “That was actually the last song that we did for this album,” Morén enthuses. “It wasn’t even meant to be on the album because we had a lot of songs – we were even thinking of making a double album at one point. There were a lot of great songs that we didn’t finish, so I’ll do that later.
“['Nothing to Worry About'] came along pretty late, and the very last thing that was added on the album was the children’s chorus because we felt that the song kinda lacked something and needed an edge in the chorus. We had a friend who works at a school, teaching kids how to rock. It’s called School of Rock, ” he chuckles, gleefully. “They do ensemble playing, playing pop and rock songs, and they had some girls that sang and we recorded them. So there are a lot of things we do by chance, and I think that’s what made the song great.”
Meanwhile, 'Lay It Down' has already received much attention for its direct chorus: “Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you are starting to piss me off/take your hands off that girl, you have already had enough.”
“John wrote it,” Morén laughs. “But we talked about it a bit and 90 per cent of the songs are based on real events and it’s usually a couple of events. It was just about a friend who cheats on his girlfriend and you can’t really speak out about it, and you feel bad about it, so in a way I think it might be an interior monologue – not saying it in public but you want to say it.”
The new album permeates with droning electronica and mechanistic-like percussive rhythms which Morén deems as a natural progression from 'Writer’s Block'. “I almost exclusively listen to a lot of old funk and soul, ‘60s and ‘70s, some obscure stuff but also very famous things. [During recording] we were listening to a lot of OND, A-Ha, but for 'Living Thing' there were also a lot of African and Brazilian influences too. So it was like a mix between ‘80s synth-pop and African percussion. And it wasn’t just synth-pop, it was like Fleetwood Mac and the bigger production of the '80s. We used a lot of those effects, like Phil Collins things;” he laughs,” things that were on the radio when we were growing up, basically. But then mixed with some old folk music and old African percussion, and some rockabilly and some funk, you know. We kinda listen to everything, so it all goes down in the mix,” he chuckles.