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Posted June 27, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Peter Bjorn and John Hit Their Breakin’ Point

Peter Bjorn and John
Peter Bjorn and John

Best known for their hit “Young Folks,” Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson, the guys known as the Swedish act Peter Bjorn and John, originally bonded over a love of ’60s baroque pop and Stone Roses. Their new album, Breakin’ Point, their first release since 2011’s Gimme Some, has more of a throwback feel to it. In recording the album, the band invited several producers to help flesh out its sound. As a result, a catchy song like “What You Talking About?” features an infectious combo of vintage sounding synths and soulful vocals. We spoke to Yttling via phone from a St. Louis tour stop.

The band came together in 1999 in Sweden. Was there a good music scene happening at the time?
When we started mainstream music was not much to call home about, but we started listening to some indie music and Stone Roses and other things that connected us three. After a few years, indie rock broke in Sweden and it got easier to make the music we wanted to make. We were lucky with that timing.

Your third album, Writer’s Block, became a hit. What made it so popular?
Initially, we were just an indie band for certain people who like indie rock, but we got MySpace involved and we got the song “Young Folks” up. That had a lot to do with it. If that song hadn’t broke, the album wouldn’t have become as popular. We wanted that song to be a duet because at that time there weren’t that many duets that were really good. We wanted it to be like “Fairytale of New York” with Kirsty MacColl and Shane McGowan. That was the vibe of it. I don’t think it’s all happy. There’s a little bit of a mystic vibe on it. Now, it seems like more of a happy-go-lucky song but it’s because it became a big song, I guess.

You’ve said this new album is about making “big pop songs.” Talk about that.
We want to make the songs pop so they would be in an evergreen style and every part would be really good. We wanted songs you could play on piano and sing. The pop stuff is what’s popular on the charts. We wanted something that sounded like us, but also something that sounded like now.

When did the writing begin and how did that go?
After the last album, we started immediately with demos. The seeds for the songs are the same for any record. That’s how we work on those little things that we had. If we have a chorus, we can say, “That’s enough.” We play guitar solos around it and you have a rock song. Then, if you have a bridge you can write a chorus and you have more of a Paul Simon song. We decided whether to make it a power pop trio. Then, we can decide if we want to make it a power pop trio recording or a modern pop recording. This time, we wanted to make it more of a modern pop recording.

You met [producer] Patrik Berger first. At the time he was working with Icona Pop and Robyn. What was that conversation with him like?
Some friend of mine said he was in a garage band. I checked it out and he actually was and wrote hit songs. He had Icona Pop in the studio he set up in Stockholm really early. His studio was a block away from our studio. We met up with him and he was a cool guy and took on half the record, which was six songs. We had a vacancy for the other six songs and so we branched out and filled with different producers.

You also worked with Paul Epworth (Florence and the Machine, U2, Paul McCartney), Greg Kurstin (Sia, Adele), Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs, Kanye West) and Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow). What was the process of picking those producers like?
We always work with different people. It’s different when you’re the artist yourself. It was super interesting. We hadn’t worked Paul Epworth before and it was interesting to go into his studio in London and get his vibe on the record. We have a homespun sound, and he does massive big soundscapes. The combination of the two was what we were after and I think we got that.

You built your own studio in Sweden, studios that were formerly used by ABBA. It’s also the site of your new label, INGRID. Talk about that.
When we came back the “Gimme Some” tour, we formed the collective label and me and the guy from Miike Snow got this studio that was built in 1970s. ABBA recorded there before they had the name ABBA. When they were called only by their names, they recorded a few songs there. After that, dance band songs were recorded there and the big songs of Sweden. It’s been going since 1970s.  Now, it’s one of the last in Stockholm of that size. We recorded a bunch of other stuff there. We did the Hives, Refused and Chrissie Hynde.

Dominos” sounds like full-on disco. Do you think it’s a disco song?
I don’t know if it’s a disco song. Maybe it is. I think it sounds a bit like the Hives. I think it sounds a bit like “Venus,” that song by Shocking Blue. We put in some Prince, KISS and James Brown. The main influence would be Ray Charles, something more soulful.

What You Talking About” has such a great pop hook. What inspired that?
First, it was a normal song with a chorus that sounded like Tom Petty would do before breakfast. Then we went in the studio and played around with it. John came up with that hook on top of the chord and that changed the whole thing. It was something we came up with in the studio.

Is “In this Town” about your hometown?
I think it’s about the general feeling that everyone can have being in a small town and wanted to move somewhere.

What’s the rest of your year going to be like?
We go to Australia. We haven’t been there in ten years. That will be fun. We’re taking a little break on the way over in Hawaii. It’s the first time for us to go there. No show, but we’re going there. We’re going back to Europe in August and then back to the States in August and September.

It must be great to have a new album out after five years.
It feels great. We’re now a five-piece on stage, which is cool. It works out great. We have great players and a great light show. For us, it’s like a big band being five people on stage. We’ve always just been a trio. There’s lot of keyboards on the record and when we added one person, it wasn’t enough. The whole tour will be cool. We’re going to some places we haven’t been. It’s fun.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.