While they may be best known for their incredibly catchy smash "Young Folks," which took over the planet a little over 10 years ago, Peter Bjorn And John have been producing solid indie-pop for almost 20 years now, which is quite the accomplishment. As if that wasn't impressive enough, they are only getting better with time, which most acts can't say.
Peter from the trio talks about their recent output and what they're going to do to celebrate two decades together as musicians.
Congrats on the success of your latest album Darker Days! How is touring the record going?
Peter: Thanks!! It’s been great so far. It’s actually more fun than ever to tour with so many albums and songs under our belt to choose from, mixing it up. We’re quite relaxed and free on stage and we have fun with it and I think audiences enjoy that.
Sometimes live shows can get too slick and pre-planned and you feel like you just went and saw a movie or something.
I think live music should be live and in the moment with interaction on and off stage. Otherwise, there’s records to listen to. It’s two different kinds of art.
The record just came out a few months ago, but you already have another EP. What makes you want to release that much music so close together?
Peter: There’s no point at this stage to wait too long!
We worked on Breakin’ Point [their previous album] for four years and it was a great learning experience, working with six different producers and changing the songs around a zillion times. I don’t want to have that undone in many ways, but we could easily have delivered a different but equally good album in half the time. We were just in this mindset to try everything.
This time we decided to work just by ourselves like we used to do. It’s also a matter of economics to be honest. But we enjoy making music quick and then on to the next thing. At least I do. I always have. You set a deadline for yourself and frame it according to that. You talk and plan less and record and play more. And when you make music all the time you get inspired to write and record even more.
With the EP, those songs were written during the making of Breakin’ Point and Darker Days but were never finished in the studio. We felt they belonged together with this album, like an appendix of sorts. It’s in the same pocket, lyrically and musically. It’s not really the start of the next record. It even has the song ”Darker Days” on it. It’s a great EP I think!
A lot of publications stated that Darker Days was your best album in over a decade--what do you feel made it stand out in such a meaningful way?
Peter: I think part of it is the seriousness of the subjects, that the songs relate to what’s going on in the world at the moment but in several shifting ways. People can relate. And it’s a nice bunch of songs together as a group, they work as an album, even though they were written separately. There’s really no love songs on there. Well maybe one, but that’s a breakup song.
Also the process of making it. We weren’t second-guessing ourselves all the time. We went with what felt natural for us as producers and performers. We felt, “Its ok to be Peter Bjorn And John, the indie band.” We didn’t try to reinvent ourselves too much. You have to now and then, but right now we were not. Rather, we referenced our own back catalogue and initial influences but with better songs maybe. I like all our albums to different degrees but this is nice. It’s a bit of a relaxed album. Shoulders down.
You guys are celebrating 20 years together this year--congrats! When you started, did you ever think you'd reach this point?
Peter: We’ve discussed this and we have actually realized that this is just the nineteenth year together properly. So we would like to get that straight. Fake news! We probably dropped ‘99 in an early interview and it stuck on Wikipedia. We did meet John in 99. Me and Bjorn had bands together since we were kids but the lineups always changed and by that time we had just played as a duo for a year, writing songs and making demos without a name.
So in ‘99 we were actually auditioning drummers, we tried a couple of different ones, and John was just perfect in every way. His day job was playing in a classical percussion ensemble, he was very advanced and schooled in that. We had no idea he was into pop/rock/indie. But we started seeing him at shows and we listened to a lot of similar things at that point, lo-fi and neo-psychedelic stuff mainly. And of course his playing was perfect for us and his personality as well. But we never played a show with John in ‘99 and didn’t have a band name. It was just a few rehearsals with another guy on bass and Bjorn on keys. So nothing was settled. I played a solo show in 99 with some future PBJ-songs and Bjorn on keys. So maybe that’s why that year stuck. But John didn’t play that show. In 2000 we made some demos together and also some shows for like 3 people in the audience. So 2000 it is I think.
Long answer…but no we didn’t think further than the next month at that point. We all wanted to pursue music as a career and obviously John had already made it with the classical stuff, but I don’t think we thought this was the key and that the band would stick around so long. I’m still astonished by that really.
We had dreams of making an album and playing more shows and to maybe tour a little. But nothing beyond that to be honest, though we did talk about releasing music internationally. We somehow thought we would work better in other places since the Swedish musical climate wasn’t right for us. At the same time me and Bjorn had already played together for quite some time so I guess we felt we had something going for us as a partnership. But it really took off with John in 2000.
How do you think you have changed over time as a group? What do you think is still the same?
Peter: We were three very different people then and we’re still three very different people now. But we also have a lot of similarities with our stubborn interest in music from a very young age and also how we grew up in the middle of nowhere in villages in rural Sweden. We live in Stockholm now but really we’re country boys at heart. We have kind of similar views on fundamental things like politics and such, which helps. We are more like siblings than friends in a way.
Also there’s the beauty of the longevity of it. You just couldn’t get in a room with two new people and click like that and play with intuition and it sounds okay instantly. Or maybe you could but what are the odds? It takes almost 20 years of practice, pitfalls, and trial and error. And if you would form a new band now you would probably go for people where there’s less friction ‘cause you couldn’t bear going through the same thing again. That could work wonders for a while but maybe become boring after a while.
Also that shared history and experience adds weight to it all. It’s worth something. We have been through so much, almost broken up a bunch of times and ended up sticking together anyway.
I think the hardest fights are behind us, which isn’t always good ‘cause fighting can be creatively fruitful...but it takes a lot of energy!
Maybe we have realized at this point that there are things we probably never could agree on and instances where we just don’t understand each other at all. Like you’re communicating with a bunch of aliens. But that also keeps it interesting, exciting, and fresh. Like in a long-term romantic relationship where there’s always that sense of mystery and it keeps it going. Like if you’re too much alike it would spoil it.
I think we’re more relaxed around each other now then we have been for a long while. So in that way it’s more like the early days again.
We don’t always bring out the best in each other on a personal level, to be fair, but we do almost always bring something unexpected out of each other, which is great if you’re making music together. Still to this day! It’s crazy, really! And we do complement each other in lots of ways.
We don’t have the same skill set. But we can all perform lots of different tasks when we have to. We’re like three solo artists united in a band more than a band-band. That makes it a better band but sometimes hard to manage, for artists and manager.
What are you doing to celebrate two decades as a band?
Peter: Since we have some time to think about it check back in late 19 :) 2020 we’ll have a plan set!
What else can fans expect in 2019 from PB&J?
Peter: We’re playing more shows now throughout the spring and summer in Europe and the States. Hopefully dates in Mexico and South America too at some point but nothing settled. There might be even more music released…but don’t know as of yet, so no promises!