Peter Bjorn & John talk one-hit-wonders and working with Lykke Li


For a band that's been around for over 10 years, has six albums, and comes from the very country that gave us ABBA and Ace of Base, some would find it interesting that very few people actually know any of Peter Bjorn & John's songs -- other than, of course, their mega, super-ridiculously catchy hit single "Young Folks." Ask anyone, and they'll reply, "Oh that band that had the whistling song... did they do anything else?" For an indie-pop band from Sweden, it seems that's just about all it takes to go commercial mainstream: one hit song that you can't get out of your head, or off of your pursing lips. 

[jump] It just so happens that stablishing an impressive fan base with a beguiling one-hit wonder isn't as bad as the critics would lead us to believe. PB&J have not only caught the ears of Kanye West (who covered "Young Folks"), but they've kept their fans around with or without another hit single. Maybe we just love the Swedes, or maybe we're still listening for that next tune that whistles.

Gimme Noise had a chance to speak with John Eriksson of Peter Bjorn and John prior to their show this Saturday night at First Avenue.

Phoning in from a pub in downtown Stockholm, John Eriksson expresses his dislike for the bartender who didn't keep his glass as full as he had promised. We chatted for a bit while the darling drummer searched around the city for another pub that would keep the beer flowing. So with his thick Swedish accent, and a humorous attempt at giving an interview, John Eriksson helps us all get in touch with our Scandinavian side.

This past year has put a huge spotlight on Swedish artists. (Robyn, Junip, The Tallest Man on Earth) Do you think it's about time that people start paying attention to Sweden?

I think Sweden has been showing itself from its better side in the history before. So it started off a long time ago, during the '50s-'60s with some pop stars; then came with like ABBA and Europe, and after that Ace of Base. There's always been bands making it outside of Sweden, but these days it's more than ever. So it's totally like this, and maybe in like 20 years all the bands will be from Sweden!

Have you ever paid much attention to the death metal music scene that is so prevalent in Sweden?

Yeah, I think even more actually in Norway. I think it's a lot more heavy/hard rock then when I was a kid. But now it's more sleazy, and like LA based hard rock. I think the heavy rock is a little scary, I was afraid of ghosts when I was kid...

It seems as if things never quite picked up where "Young Folks" left off. How do you feel about the new songs?

We don't really try to create another hit single in that way. We almost try to find some songs, like on the album, that works as single. Even not commercial bands are forced to have singles. So we try to make our singles as much as a 'single' as possible. Then other songs we just have to make as album tracks. You don't make every song as a hit. We don't try to make every song a classic. Not everyone is going to be a super hit. If it happens again, then that's OK.

Do you worry that "Young Folks" will be a one-hit-wonder?

The song might be a one-hit-wonder, but our band we never tried to write commercial radio hits, so that song has just a life of its own. But we are not that kind of a band. We think of ourselves like an Indie-Pop band, so we try to make amazing classic Pop songs. But that song is like something else. But of course, it would be nice to be called a two-hit wonder! It's better than a 0-hit wonder. It's like Dolly Parton, her breasts, people know about her from that - but they listen to her songs anyway.

Your new album Gimme Some is a 180 from Living Thing, and Living Thing a 180 from Writer's Block. What might we expect on your next album?

We'll be driving straight down the cliff [laughing]! We have to do something different each time. I was just speaking about this to someone, and my recent idea was that we should make a book. Like a regular book with some music in it! I can't tell you what the music will sound like, but I'm guessing something between a mix of Lykki Li's music and Death Metal [laughing]!!

Why have you gone so drastically different for each album?

Maybe because after each tour we're so fucked up, or stupid, or I don't know maybe we don't remember what we did last time. It's like we're another band [Laughing]! We're probably a bit restless, and probably a bit stupid. But if we were smart we should have been making like whistling tunes all over again, but we're not that smart.

Have you stayed in touch with Victoria Bergsman [who sang the female vocals on "Young Folks"]?

Yeah, we met her last time we were in New York. We were out eating an oyster dinner, and she showed up from one of her gigs. But yeah, we try to keep in touch. Of course she can't travel with us, but if we happen to be in the same area or same city we try to meet up.

Have you ever thought of collaborating with Lykke Li?

Ummm, well Bjorn produced her two albums, and I played on both of those albums on the drums. We both played on those albums, and you can hear us in her music. But no we haven't done a proper song featuring her music. But you're right; I don't know why we haven't done that!?

I was just thinking that would be a fabulous collaboration, kind of where Victoria Bergsman left off -- put in Lykke Li.

It's strange almost that we haven't done that. Almost not too obvious, but it's too good. Good idea, you can be like the co-producer on the next!

Do you just love Kleerup?

Everyone in Sweden loves him, especially the tabloid papers!

People seem to really like this new album. They say it's more reminiscent of your familiar sound on Writer's Block. Do you believe this to be an accurate account?

I think Writer's Block is a little bit more folky, and this one is a little bit more like Rock 2.0. We wanted to make something that was us sounding a lot more like a proper Rock trio, and I think it's kind of new for us. But like you said, it's closer to Writer's Block of course. But that wasn't like the executive decision when we did something.

What is your favorite thing about America?

The customs! Sports! We love the U.S. it's where we play the most, it's where most of our fans are. Of course our favorite thing is the audience, and we have that all over North America. That's why we go so often to the States, that's number 1. And number 2 is the differences between the countries -- all the different cultures of food. It's a good country to tour in, you never get bored. And finally number 3, the weather. Last time we were in Georgia, there were tornados, which were not fun! You should get rid of those... Summers here in Stockholm are amazing, but the winters are awful that's why so many people commit suicide here. I remember being in Minnesota last, and I remember some fans buying us a bunch of Guinness all the time. I hope that happens again this time!

Have you heard the cover of Kanye West doing "Young Folks"? What's your take?

Yeah! A long time ago, it was back in like 1979 I think. No I mean, yeah 2006-2007 maybe. I barely remember what it sounds like, but we had Kanye West on the festival in Stockholm, and we played and Kanye West sang. It went pretty well, but I was like out of my mind drunk after drinking for like eight hours. 

PETER BJORN & JOHN play with BNLX on SATURDAY, AUGUST 27, at FIRST AVENUE. 18+. $18. 6 p.m.

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