Interview – Peter Bjorn and John

They have been sampled by artists such as Kanye West and have been featured in almost everything from The Hills to FIFA 10. We got the opportunity to sit down with Peter Bjorn and John in downtown Toronto and discuss writing tracks, their next album and people throwing frisbees.

How did the success of Writer’s Block affect Living Thing?

Bjorn Yttling: We could hire a study! But I think in terms of pressure, there’s always been that in order to impress your friends or friends in bands. You always have pressure to make something new or cool. Plus, when you’ve got an audience of a million it’s hard to know what they’ll like. I think for us that’s all it was and we thought people wouldn’t live or die based on our success.

John Eriksson: It was our third album and we were around our early 30’s when it happened. It’s not like we were 18-years-old with our first hit so we could just settle down and focus.
Before going into record a new commercial album you did an instrumental record called Seaside Rock. Why record this and give it just a limited release?

Bjorn: For us it was basically just recording. We didn’t even think of making it an album. The problem was we were on a big label and if we did it that way, it wouldn’t have come out at all. They would have wanted vocals or something.

Peter Moren: It’s still an album. It’s ten songs. I think the thing was we didn’t want to tour on it because there’s a lot of brass and other instruments.

John: Our managers thought we shouldn’t do it, but we were so confident that it was a good thing for us to get out. We liked the idea of it. We had to fight a bit to get it released.

Peter: Psychologically, after all the success and touring it was the right thing to do. Just get back into the studio have fun and play around. It’s unpretentious and I really like it. It’s the only record we’ve ever made that I listen to, to be honest. I think that’s because we don’t tour it. We’re not tired of those songs.
Comparing the last commercial record to Living Thing, the latter has more of a mechanical feel to it in its beats and instrumentation. How did you get to that sound?

John: It’s just a progression from Writer’s Block. Songs like “Amsterdam” from that album are in sort of the same vein. Minimalist beats and special sounds. Not too many instruments at the same time. I don’t know if it’s that huge of a difference if you compare it to Writer’s Block. For some songs, it is a bit less hi-fi.

Peter: Also, there’s a wider array of influences on Living Thing. The writing is still classic pop but the beats and arrangements take from some 80s synth pop, African stuff and hip hop. Maybe Writer’s Block is more poppy. But you take the most popular song from that record, “Young Folks” you notice it doesn’t have a guitar on it. It’s just bass and drums and that’s the most “Living Thing“- song on Writer’s Block.

John: Writer’s Block is the herring and Living Thing is the oyster.

Peter: Heroin?

John: No, HERRING. You know it’s from the same part of nature, but a different field. If you were to add sunsets and people throwing frisbees on the cover of Living Thing it would have been different. It’s how you package and promote it, too. With the cover now, people may go into it feeling blue or somber.

Peter: It’s funny when you think of one album as darker one; all of our records have a wide spectrum of feelings and emotions on them. If I go through some of the songs on Writer’s Block, there are a few of them that are really dark. And there are a lot on Living Thing, especially in the lyrics, that are happy. All sorts of different things go into songs.
With the wide array of instruments you use on the records, how do you capture your studio sound in a live setting?

Peter: We don’t try to do that too much. But we do bring in guests to do things like bongos. Some songs are kind of similar, other songs we play around with and experiment and change tempos and little sounds. We did bring in a keyboard for this tour because the album is very key driven.

John: It’s interesting, you can learn a lot about a song when you didn’t really think about when you recorded it. The bongo thing – when you play “Young Folks” without the bongos you realize how big that instrument really is.

Peter: Some songs really “grow up” live. I think that’s how they find their best form when they’re played over and over again. You can find something new and it just becomes better.
Your work has been sampled by hip hop stars like Drake and Kanye West. How do you feel about that?

Bjorn: They take what they like and work with it. They’re fans.

John: People who want to sample things are more than welcome to use our songs and recycle it.
What’s in store after the tour here?

Peter: We’re going to start rehearsing in January and recording in the spring. We have songs but we haven’t played them for a show.

John: We’re going to start with an album cover. To get the pre-conceptions rolling.

Bjorn: We’re planning on playing for a week at a restaurant in Stockholm, or just a small bar unannounced. Just to road-test the songs without going on the road.

Peter: As a singer I really feel that you find the songs when you sing them a hundred times.

Bjorn: It’s going to be a long week, then.

Peter: But it’s hard sometimes in the studio to get the right emotion. I think this record is going to be more lively – more energetic.

John: Getting back to the album cover, what would you think about just having three dicks on the cover? What kind of feeling would that give?

Bjorn: Sexy?

John: Sexy music.

Peter: Or disgusting.

John: We would use fake dicks. Or squirrel dicks. Nuts!
Coming from Sweden, you’ve been able to crack Europe, the UK and US. Do you have any tips for Canadian artists trying to break it abroad?

Bjorn: It’s always difficult for the tinier, more weird countries. We’re the same as you. We’re so spread out.

Peter: Percentage-wise, Sweden is number three for international pop music. Not just indie artists but writers and producers. That’s coming from a country that has a less population than New York City. Guess we’re good.

John: You want a tip for Canadians to get exposure in the U.S.? Get a passport!

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