“Every album is a reaction to the things you did previously,” says John Eriksson — and he should know something about reactions.
As a third of the Swedish pop trio Peter Bjorn & John, with singer-guitarist Peter Moren and bassist-keyboardist Bjorn Yttling, Eriksson has contributed to some intriguing, if unequal and opposite, reactions over the course of four albums in about as many years. PB&J swept the blogs and even the mainstream media in 2006 with its “Writer’s Block” album, a set of songs boasting more hooks than a fishing tournament and a carefree, kitchen-sink production style. The song “Young Folks,” with its whistled earworm melody, went around the world.
But when the touring stopped and the time came to make a new record, the band took a hard left turn. Then another one.
PETER BJORN & JOHN
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“It wasn’t like we had a meeting and decided to do something as different as possible. We just did what we felt like doing,” Eriksson says of the two radically different records that followed, the 2008 instrumental album “Seaside Rock” and the noisy, hip-hop-inspired “Living Thing” surprise in 2009. “If we’d been a bit smarter, we would have made another record that sounded like ‘Writer’s Block,’ tried to repeat the formula in some way. The label people certainly thought that.
“But I think that’s not in our nature. … It’s great to have a band that changes and evolves and surprises you. We had to do that weird instrumental record and put some Swedish stuff on it, and the last album is really electronic hip-hop rockabilly. So it seems we’ve come full circle. Now on ‘Gimme Some,’ for the first time we feel like a real rock band.”
Indeed, “Gimme Some,” the trio’s new album out since March, comes on strong with Eriksson’s pounding drums and lots of guitar neatly sewn up in 11 bright little power-pop epics. Things seem very much back to normal, and probably better.
Eriksson says they couldn’t have made a record this tight without taking those previous two detours. “I’m so glad we did it,” he says. Moren, in fact, opens the album singing, “I don’t think that you are sorry for what you did.”
“We’re not, not at all,” Eriksson says. He’s speaking from a park in his hometown of Stockholm. “We called it like going to a spa. We’d been out touring ‘Writer’s Block’ for 21/2 years. Doing [‘Seaside Rock’] was like a way to get rid of all the jet lag. We decided to do it on the airplane on the way home from London. It was like going back to our roots of where we grew up in Sweden. … And on those two records, we used all the instruments that exist in the world, and sounds you don’t normally play. We played on everything from dead cats to an umbrella. [Laughs] We had a box and checked — OK, trumpet, done that. Violin, done that. When we’d gone through that experiment, we said, ‘Well, what’s left?’ It was the three instruments we’re really good at — guitar, bass and drums. It was quite an exploration for us, and it made us feel like better musicians when we made ‘Gimme Some.'”
In those intervening years, the scope of PB&J’s music spread. Moren made the mildly psychedelic folk album “The Last Tycoon” (2008), while rappers from Kanye West to Drake — lured by the urban influence on “Living Thing” — started sampling their music. Ohio DJ Mick Boogie remixed the entire “Living Thing” album as a hip-hop mixtape called “Re-Living Thing,” featuring Talib Kweli, Bun B, GZA and more.
“Isn’t that crazy? But not crazy — really interesting, and really what’s supposed to happen with music as it grows, as it evolves, like we’re supposed to ourselves,” Eriksson says.
Will PB&J keep evolving? Will the next record be another hairpin turn?
“We don’t know what will happen next,” he says. “We feel like we’re in a nice cozy period, like the best things are yet to come maybe. This album is the best one so far. … I like artists, painters — when you can see that it’s the same painter but they’ve changed their way of working. They’ve changed fabrics or brushes. You have to do that, you have to grow. At least we do. I wish we could be like AC/DC and just refine our rock over and over again — I really love AC/DC — but us three need to go through changes to keep this thing alive.”