Interview Peter, Bjorn & John: Gimme Some Answers

Being a mainstream-one-hit-wonder and a somewhat successful indie act.

After experimenting with drum machines and computer sonics on ‘Living Thing’, Peter, Bjorn and John are back with their sixth album ‘Gimme Some’: a rawer return to the catchy, colourful melodies of 2006’s ‘Writer’s Block’. DIY catch up with Peter of P, B & J to talk about the new tunes, working with Drake, that ‘whistle’ song and of course, what it’s like being the illegitimate sons of ABBA.

First off Peter, your brand new record is ‘Gimme Some’. Gimme a lowdown, please?

Well, it’s 11 great pop songs in different styles and we’re very happy about it. It’s a pretty short album, so hopefully it’ll fit the attention span for even today’s distracted listeners. For the first time, we worked with an outside producer, Per Sunding, from 90’s indiepoppers Eggstone (also a trio) and idols of ours. He recorded a lot of great stuff in his studio in Malmö like The Cardigans and maybe Sweden’s best ever band, Bob Hund, and we thought that sound and his style would suit these songs. We were right. It was nice to get input from someone else. We were a bit more relaxed this way and it shows. It was really cool to use Eggstone’s old gear – the same that you’ve seen on stage from the front row when you were 16.

The new songs like ‘Breaker Breaker’ and ‘Second Chance’ seem to be guitar driven, energetic pop songs. Is this reflective of the rest of the album?

Indeed it is. This is our 6th album and for every album so far we have changed our style but for this one we decided to go back to our roots a bit more - a little like we sounded in the beginning when no one had heard us - the days before ‘Young Folks’. Back then, we were influenced by energetic late 70’s pop like The Jam, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks and a lot of 60’s stuff like Byrds, Kinks and the lo-fi-sounds of Yo La Tengo, Pavement and Sebadoh. So we went back to all that but obviously some influences have tagged along on the way. We wanted to keep the sound to the essentials of our live sound, which is basically guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Most of the tracks were based on live takes to help us sound like a band in a room - more old school. The last album on the other hand, was a lot more cut and paste. We toured so much since 2006 that we’ve become a much better live band so to put this style down on record now is perfect timing.

So the new songs sound like they’ll translate well live then?

Yes, it’s made to play live, which has shown in the pre-shows. Fans react to these songs like they’re our greatest hits; partly I think because they pick up on us having so much fun playing them. We’ve always been more ‘punk’ live anyway so it’s about time we make an album that reflects the live show a bit more. I think it’s my favourite of all our albums!

Which song on the new album is the best to listen to when:

a) driving?

‘(Don’t Let Them) Cool Off ’ because it sounds like Tom Petty and everyone knows Tom Petty is perfect driving music.

b) crying?

‘May Seem Macabre’ is about seeing your own funeral from above, like an out-of-body-experience or a weird dream, and all your friends and family stand around crying. But it’s a positive feeling still since you’re being buried with your loved one. It’s a song trying to have a positive view on dying; cause we’re all gonna go. I really love life, so I guess it’s a way of dealing with those cold facts.

c) karaoke?

‘Dig A Little Deeper’ has a really easy sing-a-long-football-crowd quality. You can do it with friends since it has all these little call and response-group-vocal-things, so you can pretend you are the Supremes or Shangri-Las or something.

The album cover looks like a deformed hand of a Blue Meanie - what are the 3 thumbs up all about?

I like the blue meanie-analogy but I don’t think the designer has seen ‘Yellow Submarine’. At least I know Bjorn & John haven’t - I’m the Beatles-nerd in our band! We had some pictures of the three of us doing the thumbs up and we liked the look of that. All our albums have three objects on them that stand for the three of us. We gave that idea to a designer and he came up with the deformed hand. I think it’s perfect for the album ‘cause it’s kind of peppy and positive, colourful and playful, which suits the character of the music. At the same time, it’s a bit morbid, as it’s cut off, which could symbolise the darker underbelly of our lyrics. Also, the title is ‘Gimme thumb’ with a lisp. Kind of…

You collaborated with Drake on the song ‘Let’s Call It Off’. How did you guys hook up and what was the experience like? Who would be your ideal collaborator?

We never met Drake. He just heard our song and liked it and did his version. Simple as that. We would like to do a feature film with Larry David - that could be either the worst movie ever or the best so it’ll be worth it anyhow.

‘Young Folks’ is used everywhere from Homebase adverts to being sampled by Kanye West… what is it like being a band with a song that big?

I think that’s a bigger problem in the world of British press than in some other territories. The stuff we made after ‘Young Folks’ never really got a foothold there and we kind of never broke as a band. It’s less of problem in the States, where people know our catalogue but I’m eternally grateful for that song, as it changed our career for the better forever. Now we just have to deal with its legacy. Of course, there are nights when I don’t feel like singing it, especially as it doesn’t really fit in with some of the other stuff, but you just do your acting bit and put on the autopilot. It will always be a great song. Obviously we wouldn’t mind another big hit but the bottom line is to make great music, hits are bonuses. Mainstream success and indie success are two different parameters of success and I’m fine with being a mainstream one hit wonder and a somewhat successful indie act.

A lot of great bands come from Sweden. It’s a small country but a hugely artistic one with top music producers, writers, moviemakers and more - what’s the secret?

We originally come from small, isolated villages in the North of Sweden where there was essentially nothing to do. You either did hockey or skiing or found your own hobby and concentrated on that. We found music and it was easy to focus because there were no distractions. Also, at that point, there was no internet and I actually think we benefited from that too. There were no record stores so you had to get records on holiday and then you listened intensely to them for a while. But to get the big picture, Swedes have always been interested in new music, from jazz to the Beatles and punk and newer stuff. We’ve always picked up on it and made our own decent versions of it, and compared to most Europeans, we’re pretty decent at English, which helps if you want to write in the international pop language. I also think it’s a domino-effect - the success of some acts inspires others to also try. We’re hard workers and don’t complain.
That’s the long version! The short version is that ABBA had a lot of illegitimate kids!

You’re coming back to the UK on tour for a few dates. What can you promise in the live show?

You will see us in the flesh jumping around, getting crazy, playing solos, attacking the crowd (maybe) and doing breakdowns and silly things that are absolutely not on the record. We’ll do new versions of old songs and maybe some covers. It’ll be worth it and then some, of course!

Finally, what do you look forward to when you come back here?

A really good gastropub. I hope I have the time.

‘Gimme Some’ is out now.

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