Peter Bjorn and John
Peter Bjorn and John
Alternative rock group
With a bit of innocent 1960s pop wedded to state-of-the-art electronics and a catchy whistling segment, the Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John took the world of alternative rock by storm in 2006 and 2007 with the hit "Young Folks." The song seemed to come out of nowhere as it surfaced in commercials and a major television program, but its eclectic-minded creators had actually released three albums, all of them marked by the same kind of experimental yet pop-minded spirit. Peter Bjorn and John stood, according to Tim Sendra of All Music Guide, "at the forefront of the sparkling wave of great pop bands coming from Sweden."
Peter Bjorn and John joined forces in Stockholm in 1999, but all came from rural areas to the north of the Swedish capital. Vocalist and guitarist Peter Morén, from Dalarna province, told Erin Podolsky of the Detroit Free Press that "it was beautiful; nature was beautiful. But there wasn't anything to do. The movie theater showed one movie for a long period. … And to get some good records, you had to go to the library; you couldn't buy them. … I think that was a good thing for creativity, maybe to begin with. In the beginning, that boredom was good for me." In bassist/keyboardist Björn Yttling, from the Västerbotten region, and percussionist John Eriksson, from the Norrbotten region still farther north, he met kindred spirits. Morén and Yttling had known each other and played music together since they were teens.
The new band called itself simply Peter Bjorn and John (with neither a comma nor an umlaut in their publicity and graphic design), a name that seemed simple but was actually well suited to their eclectic approach. "In Sweden, at first everyone told us we were stupid," Morén told Podolsky. "But I love the name because it's very open-ended, and that was the idea. We didn't want to get tagged in with some scene or some image, and with this name, we could do whatever. Folk music or children's music or jazz music, because it's just our names." The trio took their time developing a unique sound, and released their debut album, Peter Bjorn and John, on the small Beat That! label in 2002.
Peter Bjorn and John welded together a variety of influences from the start. Yttling had previously been known for production work with other bands, and his sharp keyboard and bass lines provided a contemporary sonic layer as the group members explored older pop and rock styles—power pop, new wave, and 1960s pop balladry. Their reputation was mostly confined to the underground at first, but Sendra concluded that their debut was "a rambunctious and thrilling blast of energy, promise, and well-crafted hooks."
The band released an EP, Beats Traps and Backgrounds, and then a full-length album, Falling Out, in 2004. Issued the following year in the United States by the Hidden Agenda label, the album became the trio's debut in that country. From the beginning, however, they had written songs in English, not in their native language of Swedish. English is widely spoken in Sweden, and the group members had grown up listening to groups like the Beatles. Furthermore, Morén explained to Mark Guarino of suburban Chicago's Daily Herald newspaper, in English "I can lay myself bare. If you sing in another language, often people think it's the opposite of what you really are. If I sing in Swedish, I might be embarrassed."
Morén was the chief songwriter of Peter Bjorn and John at first, but later Yttling and Eriksson made contributions as collaborators or solo songwriters. The Peter Bjorn and John sound stayed fresh, and the band achieved a steady upward trajectory over several years, partly because they kept trying new things, trading instruments and roles, exploring new music, and in general remaking their sound. When their third full-length album, Writer's Block, appeared in 2006, it featured a stripped-down yet tuneful sound that diverged from the guitar-dominated rock textures of their previous work. The title referred not to a psychological barrier faced by writers but to the band's headquarters in Stockholm's hip Hornstull neighborhood, with its thick concentration of creative artists.
Writer's Block garnered positive reviews as a whole. "Check the steel drums on ‘Let's Call It Off,’ the shh-shh-shh percussion on ‘The Chills,’ or the majestic tubular bells of ‘Roll the Credits’ for Spectorian shoe-gaze production magic," Sendra urged. But it was "Young Folks" that put Peter Bjorn and John on the pop map. Released with little fanfare in 2006, the song gathered momentum and enjoyed a second release in 2007. Featuring Victoria Bergsman of the Swedish rock group the Concretes in a duet with Morén, the tune depicted the uncertain early stages of a relationship. It started life as a slow jazz instrumental but then went through several creative stages. Morén and Yttling added lyrics, and at one point as the band worked on the song, Yttling roughed in a proposed instrumental part with whistling. The members realized that the whistling could work on its own and decided to leave it in. "Maybe people connect to it because it's important when you're a kid whether you can whistle or not," Eriksson told Joan Anderman of the Houston Chronicle. "I think it makes people feel happy and relaxed and cool."
"Young Folks" turned up on the soundtrack of the television series Grey's Anatomy and in commercials for AT&T's mobile phone service, propelling the trio into a U.S. tour in the middle of 2007. Its light hip-hop rhythm track even inspired U.S. hip-hop star Kanye West to rap over a sample of it on a mixtape and to invite the trio to open for him at an appearance in Sweden. The trio basked in its moment of commercial glory. "I don't recommend starting a pop group to make money, but success feels good," Yttling remarked to Christopher John Treacy of the Boston Herald. "For us, this has always been about having fun and simultaneously being expressive. Getting exposure through a TV ad is fine by me. I mean, it's not like we wrote a song about ice cream and soda." In 2007 and 2008 the members concentrated on side projects; Morén made solo vocal appearances, and Yttling headed a group called Yttling Jazz. They reunited in the United States to work on their fourth album, Seaside Rock, which was slated for release in 2009. True to form, the album represented a new direction for Peter Bjorn and John; it was entirely instrumental.
For the Record …
Members include: John Eriksson , percussion, vocals; Peter Morén , guitar, vocals, songwriter; Björn Yttling , bass, vocals, keyboards, songwriter.
Formed 1999 in Stockholm, Sweden; released Peter Bjorn and John, 2002; released Beats Traps and Backgrounds (EP), and Falling Out, 2004; released Writer's Block, 2006; release of instrumental album Seaside Rock projected, 2009.
Addresses: Agent—Press Here Publicist, 138 W. 25th St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10001. Web site—Peter Bjorn and John Official Web site: http://www.peterbjornandjohn.com.
Peter Bjorn and John, Beat That!, 2002.
Beats Traps and Backgrounds, 2004 (EP).
Falling Out, Hidden Agenda, 2005.
Writer's Block, Wichita, 2006.
Seaside Rock, 2009 (projected).
Boston Herald, May 4, 2007, p. 5.
Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2007.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 27, 2007, p. 5.
Dallas Morning News, November 25, 2007.
Detroit Free Press, December 5, 2007.
Entertainment Weekly, February 16, 2007, p. 76; February 29, 2008, p. 59.
Evening Standard (London, England), August 10, 2007, p. 35.
Houston Chronicle, November 22, 2007, p. 10.
Sunday Times (London, England), November 11, 2007, p. 32.
"Biography," Peter Bjorn and John Official Web site, http://www.peterbjornandjohn.com (June 28, 2008).
"Peter Bjorn and John," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 28, 2008).
—James M. Manheim
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