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If you whistled anytime in 2007, chances are Peter, Bjorn and John were to blame. The Swedish trio’s hit song “Young Folks” delivered a catchy whistle hook that populated indie radio and television advertisements, and made their breakthrough third album Writer’s Block a critical and commercial success.
But after this surge of momentum and while teetering on the precipice of mainstream success, Peter, Bjorn, and John moved in a decidedly un-pop direction. Their 2008 follow-up, the mostly instrumental Seaside Rock, featured meandering musical explorations and monologues in Swedish dialects while their 2009 album, Living Things, delved into an uneven mix of stripped-down electronic experiments and occasional big beats.
Four years later, they return to their rock roots with Gimme Some (out now), channeling post-punk and edgy pop to create an upbeat sound which picks up where Writer’s Block left off. Recorded in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, the band for the first time enlisted a producer (Per Sunding) who helped refocus their pop sensibility, bringing back that magic mix of Björn Yttling’s muscular bass lines with John Eriksson’s energized drumming and the effervescent guitar-vocals of Peter Morén.
But is it the antidote to their impending one-hit wonder status? THR recently spoke with Morén about the band’s career choices and more.
The Hollywood Reporter: Considering the worldwide success that Writer’s Block had, was it a challenge to plan the next move?
Peter Morén: Well, we had some idea about what to do. It probably wasn’t that smart career-wise, but for us, as a band, and if you look at it from the long term, I think it was really smart. We made this instrumental record Seaside Rock, which we didn’t feel any pressure to write any singles or pop songs at all, we just went in and had fun and played around with different sounds.
I really liked that album a lot, but I feel like people were expecting the next pop thing and they might have been a bit put off, but it felt like the right thing to do. Sometimes, you meet people who actually think that’s our best record because it’s really different. After that, we went straight into Living Thing and we haven’t really set out any concept or management plan, or how to follow-up a hit. We just want to continue to make great music and what we feel like in the moment. But obviously we write pop songs, so if any of those pop songs become a hit we’re not going to be angry. We want to make really good albums, and hope that people still buy some albums.
THR: You had a hit single right around the dawning of the iPod era, when the music industry was about to proclaim the “death of the album.” Do you think the album format is dying?
Morén: A lot of people say it’s like back in the 1950s where it’s all about the single and constant new songs all the time, and that’s fun, too. Another thing you have to remember in the fifties and the sixties, they didn’t sell those large quantities that we got used to in the seventies, eighties and nineties. In those days, people put out records to promote them as an artist and to promote the live shows, so it’s similar thing that is coming back that we had in those days
THR: What did you learn in the post-Writer’s Block era?
Morén: Well, you always set out or we always set out to do something different than the last time. On the last record [Living Things], we really wanted to do something that we hadn’t done before and play around with sounds and record umbrellas or balloons or whatever and make music out of it. So this album, we wanted to do something completely the other way around based on us playing live in a room. It’s something we have done now in stage for such a long time, so we wanted to capture the energy and the chemistry we have on stage with just the three instruments on a record.
It was a completely different approach because on Living Thing we cut and paste in the computer and kind of did stuff with all of those sounds. So this album was about getting the arrangements right in the rehearsal space and knowing what to play and then get the right take.
THR: Why did you decide to work with a producer on this album?
Morén: We decided that we wanted to bring in a producer for the first time, because we’ve been playing as a band for 12 years and it seemed like the right time to get a fourth opinion in the process. So we got in touch with Per Sunding who has a studio down in the South of Sweden.
THR: Did you collaborate with anyone else?
Morén: There are no guests on the record, it’s just guitar, bass and drums, so there’s no orchestras or brass. But we have had a couple really good remixes done that are not available yet, but they are really nice. There’s a guy who’s based in Los Angeles, Mayer Hawthorne the soul guy, he did a remix of “Dig A Little Deeper.”
THR: You were in LA recently to perform on The Tonight Show, did you meet up with Mayer then?
Morén: We met him the other week because he did this remix and we have been mailing and said we should get together. So we met and went to a show and he brought this little like a doll that bobs his head.
THR: A bobblehead?
Morén: Yeah, that’s like his merch item, he came up to us and said “here’s my bobblehead.” So now that’s on my TV.
THR: Your latest videos feature you and the band getting pummeled by some disgusting stuff while you’re attempting to perform. What was that experience like?
Morén: It was greasy and dirty, slippery. We did one take, otherwise it would have taken a long time to clean up in between takes. it was balloons and confetti and toilet paper and eggs. I can’t remember it was a lot of awful stuff. Some yogurt with blue color splashed all around the studio. Straight afterwards, Bjorn and John threw away their clothes, but I actually took them home. I still have the dirty guitar, maybe I can sell it on Ebay?
THR: We’re dying to know, what’s up with the Gong Man who played with you guys on Leno?
Morén: Hmm, well that’s secret for now. It has something to do with ancient Swedish culture. Like he’s our spiritual father.
THR contacted Gong Man, who identified himself as Jens, and here’s how he explained the connection:
“They called my cave, which is not in a realm you could possibly understand. It’s located in both Sweden and Echo Park. There’s actually a tunnel that goes from my hometown and it pops out in Echo Park. They asked me to come out, and of course, I live to serve.”
See PB&J’s Tonight Show performance (beginning at the 38:00 mark) below…
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