Most Americans know Swedish indie rockers Peter Bjorn and John from one song. If you're thinking of a song other than "Young Folks" — the most infectious tune to include whistling since "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" — then you're not like most Americans.
But Writer's Block, the 2006 album the song sprang from, isn't a whistling one-note; it's a nearly perfect pop album from start to finish. Since then, the trio has released three other smart and catchy records, including this year's Gimme Some. Peter Bjorn and John don't seem to mind being known as the guys who sang and whistled that song that was everywhere in 2007. They're just shouting a little louder to get your attention these days.
"'Young Folks' is our best friend, and if we could, we would kiss it every morning and maybe make love to it every other Sunday," says singer and multi-instrumentalist John Eriksson. "That song is like Dolly Parton's breasts. They're two of the things she's known for, but people don't listen to her music just because of that."
When it comes to the worldwide accolades for Writer's Block, Peter Bjorn and John have a pretty big rack of their own — and a somewhat difficult record to improve upon. So the trio turned up the tempo on Gimme Some, pushing harder on songs that are toughened by a punk sensibility and a grittier, more driving indie sound.
"Two years ago, an old man told us that we were the best live band he had seen since the Who," recalls Eriksson. "That made us curious to make an album that featured us as the awesome rock trio we apparently are onstage. So we put anthrax on all the keyboards and deleted the phone number to every string player we knew and recorded a power punk-pop record."
The album's first single, "Second Chance," pairs a rock-solid and straightforward structure with a haunting hook that puts it squarely in the realm of catchy indie rock, with growling guitars and punchy drums nudging alongside punk precursors like the Kinks. The rest of the album follows suit. "If Writer's Block was a brown stone house in Stockholm, then Gimme Some is a tent in the parking lot outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," says Eriksson.
True enough: Gimme Some has street smarts, and it's well aware of its rock roots. Peter Bjorn and John sound equally at home in cosmopolitan Stockholm as they would in downtown Cleveland. It's no surprise, then, that their stage show is lively enough to win over even those who've never heard "Young Folks."
"Touring is like missionary work," says Eriksson. "We are traveling around the planet in order to make people follow us and what we believe in."