Peter, Bjorn and John
Interview with Peter, Bjorn and John
by Anthony Montenegro
Three times a charm - Writer's Block, the third full-length release from Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and John, has been quite the success story. Having grabbed the attention of the American indie music scene early this spring-highlighted by some of the most popular performances of this year's SXSW event, PB&J have continued to grow in popularity since then, collecting a couple of "best new artist" award nominations along the way. The success of the first single "Young Folks", with its infectious and immediately recognizable whistle, effectively thrust the band into the midst of mainstream American music conscious. Showcasing the band's electropop style, it became a radio airplay staple, and extensive tour and festival appearances through the spring and summer bolstered the band's American fan following. The first album to feature all three band members in songwriting and vocalist duties, Writer's Block is a unique compilation of classic pop essence. The clean guitar, keyboard, and vocal tracks layered over a raw low-fi back end and punctuated by a diverse array of analog percussion gives the band a signature sound that is complimented by the catchy if not sometimes anthemic lyrics. The vocals, often delivered with just enough echo to produce a slightly haunting quality, add an almost melancholy feel to the slower selections, while injecting a shot of retro pop into the upbeat tracks. Writer's Block will surely be amongst the most memorable indie pop releases of this year, and is certainly worth a listen or three. Check it out!
Virgin Mobile had a chance to catch up with Peter, and we threw a few questions his way:
VM: You guys played Virgin Festival in Baltimore this summer, turning is a fantastic set that had the crowd jumping. What was the experience like for you overall?
Peter: Extremely hot, I thought I was gonna faint. But it was good. It's gotta be a bit of a sport to do live gigs. You should lose a bit of weight.
VM: How did Virgin Festival and the crowd align with your expectations?
Peter: I didn't have any expectations, but it was great.
VM: You've gained recent critical acclaim both in the US and abroad, including nominations for the Best New Artist award at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards in the U.S. and best Swedish act at the MTV Europe music awards. What are the differences you see in the band's growth in the U.S. vs. Europe?
Peter: Everything is bigger here. We have more fans and sell more records. Europe has been good as well, but on a slightly smaller scale. But now it's bouncing back there after the US-success. They have reissued the single in UK for example, and it's going even better now, so I guess it never stops. I like it.
VM: Who are your strongest musical influences?
Peter: It's hard to pick anything particular, especially since we're a 3-piece, with differences among us. I guess somewhere in the background lies a love for pure strong pop songs, but that could be 60's beat, new wave, 80's synth pop, singer-songwriters, indie or even Broadway pieces. It's all pop anyway. And then we like weird sounds and inventive production. We try not to be too obvious. Lately I've been listening a lot to Brazilian and African music that might influence the next album.
VM: Who have been your favorite artists to work with so far? Which artists would you most like to collaborate with that you haven't yet gotten to?
Peter: The favorite artists to collaborate with are always the other two in the band. If not we would have broken up a long time ago. But I'd like to collaborate with my grandfather before he passes away. He plays the fiddle and is a great storyteller.
VM: How have Peter, Bjorn, & John's sound and live performances evolved over the course of the three albums?
Peter: Live we have become more aggressive, energetic and rock 'n' roll. On record we have become gentler, catchier and poppier. It's weird, but it works both ways.
VM: In addition to yourselves, there have been a number of Swedish rock bands that have been recently gaining popularity in the U.S. (The Sounds, The Hives, Mando Diao)-similar to trends we saw in the late 80s and 90s where we saw a similar influx of Swedish music, in everything from pop to metal. What do you feel predisposes American music fans to embrace Swedish artists so enthusiastically?
Peter: Swedish music is often well-produced and well-written, with a strong sense of melody. It's not as slick and overproduced as the British stuff often is nowadays, we are more playful. Still, we are good enough at English and influenced enough by American/British pop not to make it too weird and inaccessible. You still get it-it's similar, but with a breath of difference and fresh air. Oh, what write-up right? I should become a manager!
VM: What is the music scene like in Sweden right now?
Peter: Very diverse. You don't get half of it over here. A lot of good stuff, and a lot of crap as well. The live scene is pretty boring though; too small a country to make it vibrant.
VM: What music are you guys listening to right now? What recent albums have impressed you?
Peter: I just now listen to this 70's guy Bill Fay. He's great. Brits The Clientele. We're supporting us on the most recent tour. They are really good. MGMT is a new American band I like. Handsome Furs is another one. Our friends in Shout Out Louds just put out a new great record. I have a period of listening to old music now though, especially as I said Brazilian stuff like Milton Nascimento and Caetano Veloso, and a lot of African 70's stuff as well. I have a great collection of even earlier African guitar music from the 50's; very lo-fi, which is amazing, very original. But I never can remember the African names. And also I listen to a lot of old British and American folk-rock, I never tire of that, most recently Karen Dalton. I mix that up with light 80's stuff like OMD, New Order and A-HA. It's a great mix!