When singer-guitarist Peter Moren, singer-bassist Bjorn Yttling and drummer John Eriksson, the Swedish trio better known as Peter Bjorn and John, first came together in 1999 in Stockholm, the city’s indie rock scene hadn’t fully developed. The band existed as an anomaly, particularly since members’ musical predilections veered toward British shoegazer acts such as Stone Roses and Ride.
“When we started, the mainstream music in Stockholm was not much to call home about,” says Yttling in a recent phone interview from a St. Louis tour stop. “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.”
The band also “got lucky” when its third album, 2006’s Writer’s Block
, became a hit thanks to the success of the catchy single “Young Folks,” a duet featuring Victoria Bergsman, formerly of the Swedish indie rock act the Concretes. The song also features a brisk bit of percussion and whistling, both of which work together to transform it into a true pop gem.
“Initially, we were just an indie band for certain people who like indie rock,” says Yttling, “but we got MySpace involved, and we got ‘Young Folks’ up, and the album’s success 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 vibes. It’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.”
Yttling says the band intended to make “big pop songs” on its new album, Breakin’ Point
. In order to achieve that, it enlisted the talents of Patrik Berger (Icona Pop and Robyn) to helm six of the album’s 12 songs.
“After the last album, we started immediately with demos,” says Yttling. “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 would say, ‘That’s enough.’ And 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. We want to make the songs pop so they would be in an 'evergreen' style, and every part would be really good. The pop stuff is what’s popular on the charts. We wanted something that sounds like us, but also something that sounds like now.”
The album commences with the disco-leaning “Domino” before giving way to poppy tunes such as “What You Talking About” and "Nostalgic Intellect." The group 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).
“We always work with different people,” says Yttling. “But this was totally different. 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.”
“What You Talking About,” the album’s first single, has a great pop hook to it and promises to be as career-defining as “Young Folks” was.
“First, it was a normal song with a chorus that sounded like Tom Petty would do before breakfast,” says Yttling when asked about the track. “Then, we went in the studio and played around with it. John [Eriksson] came up with that hook on top of the chord and then changed the whole thing. It was something we came up with in the studio.
Before the year’s up, the band will complete a summer U.S. and play in Australia for the first time in ten years. It also has plans to return to the States in the fall.
“It feels great,” says Yttling of the current leg of shows that brings the band to the Grog Shop next week. “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 because it wasn’t enough. The whole tour will be cool. It’s a fun tour.”
Peter, Bjorn and John, Uno Lady, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, July 3, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $20, grogshop.gs.