Peter Bjorn and John may be indie rock’s canniest chameleons. Over a half-dozen records, they’ve dipped into every conceivable style, from straight-up bids for chart domination (2007′s worldwide smash “Young Folks”) to austere, beat-savvy hip-hop to groovy instrumental albums like the ones on 2008′s underrated Seaside Rock.
But it’s on their new album Gimme Some in which the Swedish trio shows off their true colors. Taking cues from their favorite punk and rock bands — among them, global heroes like the Clash and the Buzzcocks and the Swedish outfit Bob Hund — PB&J deliver an album that’s crammed with pogo-ready burners like “Lies,” fierce, jammy numbers like “I Know You Don’t Love Me” and “Breaker, Breaker,” which leavens hardcore’s breakneck tempos with the group’s specialty: hooks, hooks, hooks.
eMusic’s Kevin O’Donnell caught up with singer Peter MorÃ©n to talk about moving away from hip-hop-inspired sounds of 2009′s Living Thing to Gimme Some‘s more rock-oriented vibe, the experience of hiring a producer for the first time and the filthiest thing he knows how to say in his native Swedish tongue.
Your last album, Living Thing, was heavily inspired by hip-hop and electronic music, yet Gimme Some has a clear rock and punk influence. Do you think you are going to confuse your audience with so many stylistic shifts?
We really just wanted to make something that would be fun to play live — something that reflects how we play all of our songs live. Our past records weren’t a reflection of how we perform in concert. We like to do stripped-down arrangements, just guitar, bass, and drums — it’s almost punkish and we’re jumping around and playing guitar solos. Living Thing was a lot of work to make, cutting and pasting and moving things. With this one, we often nailed the songs in one or two takes.
This is also the first time you’ve hired a producer, Per Sunding, who’s worked with other Swedish bands like the Cardigans. Was it difficult to relinquish control over the album?
Quite the opposite, actually. It was really nice for the three of us to have this other guy, rather than just arguing among ourselves. With Living Thing, we’d just go over and over the songs. It was fun to have a fourth member who really had some fresh input and ideas, you know, like saying whether a song had the right tempo or energy. It was very helpful, not a burden.
Rappers like Drake and Kanye West have sampled your music. What about your material do you think appealed to them?
The music on Living Thing and Writer’s Block was minimal, with a lot of air, and so there’s a lot you can do to manipulate the beats and the hooks. There’s not a whole wall of sound you have to get through. I think they like the lyrics a lot, too. There was a remix of Living Thing on the Internet, curated by Mick Boogie, and they took all our words and reapplied them to rap songs. It took our songs in a completely different direction, and it’s so interesting to hear our music in that context.
You’ve talked a lot about the punk influence on Gimme Some. Does Sweden have a robust punk scene?
We had this hardcore scene with bands like Refused. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were bands doing more Clash-type stuff. A lot of our punk influence came from Bob Hund — they were big in the early ’90s and had a lot of weirder influences, bands like Pere Ubu, Devo, the Stooges, that kind of mix. Actually, Per [Gimme Some's producer] worked with them a lot and he’s one of the reasons we wanted to work with him.
How does your interest in punk music manifest itself in Gimme Some‘s songs?
Well, when we talk about punk, it’s not like we are making a proper punk record. We have too much pop in us, so we were into bands like the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols and the Clash…bands that had a lot of pop in them, too.
Before joining Peter Bjorn and John, you went to school to become a librarian. Have you abandoned that?
Yes, I have. It’s been a couple of years — 2006 was the last term I finished. I think I can do music for a while.
As a literature fan, are there specific writers or novelists who’ve influenced your own lyric writing?
This one writer, Hjalmar SÃ¶derberg, who applied the idea of Baudelaire, I think it’s called FlÃ¢neur, where a person is walking around the cities and just learning from the experience. Very melancholic and very turn-of-the-century and very upper middle class-oriented. You know, people don’t have to worry about money [like they did back then] so a lot his writing still applies to today. I also like writers like Raymond Queneau — that 1950s-era French absurdist writing. There was always this undercurrent to his work that the world is going to collapse at any minute, but it’s absurd and poetic at the same time. Our records are similar — the music is positive-sounding but then you dig into the lyrics, it’s actually kind of weird and negative and dark.
You’re referring to tracks like “May Seem Macabre,” which is a peppy, New Wave-ish number but with super morose lyrics like, “We’re pale and cold and dry.”
Yeah, that’s about being buried next to your loved one. I like to think of it like our own version of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” You know, I’m gonna die, but it’s gonna be fun to die.
What’s the filthiest thing you know how to say in Swedish slang?
[Laughs] Well, there’s a couple, but I don’t know if it’s super, super insulting. There’s one saying [which MorÃ©n utters in Swedish]. It translates to “I’d rather create a beer in your hallway than a cut in your dick.” [Laughs] Another one is [utters phrase in Swedish]. And that means, “Rather a pirate in your swimming pool than a friend in your ass.” [Laughs] They don’t mean anything in English, but in Swedish, you’re changing one word and you get a completely different meaning. It’s just a little wordplay.
In the early days of the band, you guys were known for fighting with each other a lot. Have you all mellowed out?
To a certain level. In the studio, you create a fight. But it’s good because you have passion. On the road, we don’t fight much. It’s more, we get really drunk and get into an argument. There’s not much you can fight about on tour. You do your show, and then you try to get a good meal. Nothing much to get worked up about.