The simple authority of the number three is undeniable. Three points make a plane, three musketeers make a terrific candy bar â€“ novel too, weâ€™ve heard â€“ and three Swedes, simply, authoritatively, make some of the most deeply personal, deeply danceable music on the popular map. After the global success of albums Writerâ€™s Block and Living Thing, Peter Bjorn and John are back with Gimme Some, a vigorous return to their roots in energetic rock and roll that still maintains the bandâ€™s singular pop magic. GUTFIRE! caught up with lead singer Peter MorĂ©n after a show in Paris to discuss the new album, the challenges of fame, and the best beers for any occasion.
GUTFIRE!: When youâ€™re touring as you are now, is it a relief to head back home to Stockholm?
PETER: It depends. In the middle of the winter after weâ€™ve been to L.A. or someplace, itâ€™s not really nice. But I like that everything always works there and itâ€™s clean. When I didnâ€™t tour and I was home all the time, I wanted to tour because I thought Sweden was boring. But then when you start travelling all the time, itâ€™s a very nice place to come home to. So Iâ€™ve started to enjoy it more and more.
GUTFIRE!: We noticed many photos of beers on your website â€“ what are your preferences?
PETER: Iâ€™m not a beer expert, but we all like Guinness. Weâ€™re into stouts â€“ theyâ€™re really nice. But I also like the red beers. I like all kinds. In the summer, you probably want the lighter ones, but otherwise I go for the darker, heavier beer. Itâ€™s more like a meal. Obviously Ireland and Britain are pretty good for beers, but the Netherlands has pretty good ones too. France is not too famous for beers, but you have some good beers in America. Any favorites of yours?
GUTFIRE!: We tend toward the more inexpensive. Familiar with Old Milwaukee?
PETER: I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve tried that. I donâ€™t remember brands too well, though. Samuel Adams, I like. And some of the Brooklyn beers are good. But itâ€™s hard to remember all the names.Â You know, in Sweden we have Systembolager. You canâ€™t buy alcohol in grocery stores, so you go to one of these, and I like to buy lots of different kinds to try. I have some friends who are beer nerds, so I try to listen to them. Johnâ€™s the food nerd though â€“ he knows that stuff.
GUTFIRE!: On the new album, Gimme Someâ€“
PETER: Itâ€™s based on beer.
GUTFIRE!: We thought so. But we also noticed that itâ€™s very lively â€“ even punky â€“ with a lot more distortion and straightforward rock and roll. Is that a reflection of a more hectic lifestyle since Writerâ€™s Block and Living Thing?
PETER: I think itâ€™s the result of playing live a lot since Writerâ€™s Block. In the live shows we always felt more relaxed playing rock and roll, but even the softer songs on the record are louder and grittier live. So we just wanted to make an album that reflects how we sound live, based on the three instruments we play live â€“ guitar, bass, and drums â€“ and make the most out of that. Not adding synths or keyboards or strings â€“ nothing of that â€“ just a three piece, and also try to record most of it live. We play well together and we wanted to showcase that. Itâ€™s also kind of a back to the roots thing because the earlier stuff before we were well known is more like this. And Iâ€™m a guitar player, so I want to play guitar.
GUTFIRE!: Do you have particular guitar heroes?
PETER: I have a lot of heroes, but I didnâ€™t start playing guitar because I wanted to be a guitar player. I started playing because I wanted to write songs. Itâ€™s been a gradual thing, and now I really enjoy playing guitar, but in the beginning it was just about being able to sing a song. The area I come from in Sweden, Dalarna, is a rural area in the middle of Sweden, and thereâ€™s a greaser culture there. The big American cars and Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, rockabilly stuff, early Elvis â€“ thatâ€™s ingrained in me from birth almost. I saw shows with The Crickets and Chuck Berry when I was a kid, and somewhere in me I have a lot of rockabilly. And I was also a Beatles freak growing up. And in the band we always bounce back to the late 70s. Thereâ€™s a lot of Buzzcocks, The Damned, and early Elvis Costello. Also, Television â€“ I love that guitar. When we were teenagers it was the shoegaze era. And then also a lot of soul, like Steve Cropper from Booker T. and the M.G.â€™s. So itâ€™s a mixture of all of that. But I never listened to heavy metal. John, for instance, was a heavy metal freak. And Bjorn was a synth guy. That was the big thing in the 80s in Sweden: you were either into snythpop or you were into heavy metal. And everyone was cooler than me because I was into neither. I was just listening to the Beatles. And still in our band, I think we try to negotiate among those camps: my retro camp, and the snyth camp, and the heavy metal camp, and then we have our common things which are the shoegaze and the low-fi of the early 90s.
GUTFIRE!: Aside from musical tastes, what interests or preferences do each of you bring to the band?
PETER: Bjorn has an idea that heâ€™s going to wear the same clothes until he loses them. Sometimes on tour you end up losing things. Once when we played Brussels, his whole suitcase was robbed from the van, and heâ€™d just had a suit made. He had insurance though. So thatâ€™s his idea, and he always wears the same clothes: either a leather jacket or maybe a sportcoat. And always black pants. I like colors, so I do different things, and then John has hisâ€¦ I donâ€™t knowâ€¦ Heâ€™s bald. So he always wears a hat. He used to be into hip-hop, so heâ€™s a bit more street. It was at an early New York show where they said I was a mod, Bjorn was a rocker, and John was a punk. Probably because he was bald. And itâ€™s a bit true I guess. Musically too. So weâ€™ve got it all sorted out.
GUTFIRE!: Bringing us to our next question: who would win a street fight?
PETER: Bjorn. Heâ€™s a bit taller and likes hockey. I hate sports.
GUTFIRE!: Apart from musicians, youâ€™ve referenced artistic influences such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, FranĂ§ois Truffaut, Steven Soderbergh â€“ who are some others?
PETER: Lots â€“ itâ€™s hard to keep track. And we all have them. John goes to a lot of art shows. And I used to study film a bit. Sometimes itâ€™s hard to see how those things influence the music, but what usually happens is that I see something or read something â€“ it might be just a couple of lines â€“ and something starts you thinking and you go from there. Like â€śObjects of My Affection,â€ť that was actually a Man Ray exhibition I saw. Iâ€™m not sure it was actually called that, but he had a book of pictures of things he liked, and that was the start of the idea for that song, and then obviously itâ€™s about my wife. And â€śBlue Period Picasso,â€ť that was from Picasso paintings obviously, at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Traveling in general is very inspiring, just walking around cities. And I had a solo record in Swedish that translates to â€śTracks of My Tears,â€ť which, lyrically, is a direct consequence of travelling. Trying to think about Sweden and my heritage, forefathers, the different generations, what has happened in the last 100 years and how Sweden has changed. And writers â€“ I reference a lot of Swedish writers on that album. I was thinking you could make a compilation of the best of the Swedish years because those songs are gonna sound really funny if theyâ€™re translated in English.
GUTFIRE!: Do you have any plans to sing in Swedish for Peter Bjorn and John
PETER: I donâ€™t think so. I think itâ€™s nice to keep that separate. For example though, I actually recorded â€śThe Last Tycoonâ€ť before we got the big break, and then someone wanted to put it out, and it was essentially demos. Iâ€™d been listening to a lot of old British folk rock and I just wanted to make something in that vein, self-contained with the guitar, but it probably could have worked as Peter Bjorn and John songs if we just arranged them as pop songs rather than folk songs. But itâ€™s nice to keep that apart, and if the band would do Swedish it would mess that up.
GUTFIRE!: We love whistling, and of course Writerâ€™s Block is whistling intensive â€“ any specific reason? Do you feel that youâ€™ve revived a dying folk art, that more people are whistling now?
PETER: Maybe. But I think thereâ€™s quite a lot of whistling songs out there, like â€śLetâ€™s Go Surfingâ€ť by The Drums for example. And of course there are some classic ones like â€śJealous Guyâ€ť and â€śDock of the Bay.â€ť
GUTFIRE!: â€śPatienceâ€ť by Guns Nâ€™ Roses.
PETER: â€śWind of Change.â€ť
GUTFIRE!: Guess thereâ€™s more whistling going on than we realize.
PETER: Quite a lot. But when we work on an album, if we have one thing like that on one song, we try to put it in a couple more songs. For example, on the new record thereâ€™s quite a bit of woo-woo stuff. Similar thing, kind of to concentrate the vocals. Just trying to have a concept for a record, and if you use one thing then using it a few more times â€“ thatâ€™s probably why it happened on Writerâ€™s Block and probably why weâ€™re not doing it again.
GUTFIRE!: On Gimme Some, the lyrics for songs such as â€śLies,â€ť â€śI Know You Donâ€™t Love Me,â€ť â€śTomorrow Has to Waitâ€ť seem to be very pointed and personal. To whom are you singing?
PETER: Itâ€™s different in every song. But one thing about this record is that itâ€™s not a lot of love songs. â€śLiesâ€ť is a break-up song. â€śEyesâ€ť is a falling-in-love song. And then you have â€śMay Seem Macabre,â€ť which is about being buried with your loved one. Like â€śWhen the Saints Go Marching In,â€ť just having a positive experience with death. I mean I really like life â€“ I really donâ€™t want to die â€“ but Iâ€™m going to die, so itâ€™s one of those weird lyrics. I like those. There are a couple of those songs. â€śTomorrow Has to Waitâ€ť is Johnâ€™s song, and itâ€™s about being out drinking and not wanting to go home. So itâ€™s more like an interior monologue, â€śShould I go home, should I stayâ€¦â€ť and you know the next day youâ€™re going to be sorry.
GUTFIRE!: Without naming names, some of the songs are fairly angry songs as well.
PETER: Yeah. â€śBreaker, Breakerâ€ť is meant for a certain journalist. Thatâ€™s also Johnâ€™s song. I donâ€™t hate him as much. But then â€śDown Like Meâ€ť is more generally against consumerism in society.
GUTFIRE!: This is the first album using an external producer?
PETER: Yeah, so we could be a band first and foremost, and focus on playing well together. Itâ€™s nice to have some outside ears and different viewpoints. Also, it was a better atmosphere because we argue a lot when weâ€™re weâ€™re recording, and we did this time too, but with the fourth person there at least we know that we canâ€™t vote two against one.
GUTFIRE!: Do have any nostalgia for when you were starting out, for the old days before many people had heard your music.
PETER: Nooooo. But itâ€™s funny to think about it. That weâ€™re still together is astonishing to me. Bjorn and I have been playing together since high school, and then we met John, and weâ€™ve been a band for almost twelve years now. That Iâ€™m able to be in the same room with Bjorn is just amazing. But itâ€™s like a marriage. And the thing is that we almost broke up a couple of times â€“ just before Writerâ€™s Block for example. Weâ€™d worked a lot on the first two records, and we were proud of them, but nothing much happened so we kind of said, â€śOk, if no oneâ€™s going to care about this, then why should we do it? Letâ€™s make one more record and see what happens.â€ť And then the label in Britain picked it up and it spread from there. So we were taken aback by that because we were a bit older then. I turned 30 the year Writerâ€™s Block came out, and I was giving up a bit. I was starting to study to become a librarian. But then everything happened. And I think the place weâ€™re at now is the best because before the success it wasnâ€™t too nice, and after the success it wasnâ€™t really nice either because it was very confusing, going from a relaxed Swedish lifestyle to traveling around the world all the time and getting a bit lost. And now itâ€™s just more relaxing.
GUTFIRE!: Your music can be serious, with rather bleak lyrics at times, but you also seem to maintain a certain playfulness â€“ is that a product of Scandinavian culture? Your own personalities?
PETER: I think itâ€™s the personalities. We just like to have a laugh. And I think people take themselves way too seriously. I mean if people were with us when we record, they would get that weâ€™re extremely serious about the music, but when it comes to meeting people â€“ I mean, why? Why should you be pretentious? Weâ€™ve already been pretentious with the music. I saw a documentary about Ingmar Bergman, and he was talking about how joyful he was when he was working on his projects â€“ a lot of laughing, a lot of joking. But then you see the filmsâ€¦ I think when you go through your anxieties and your demons and make that joyful, thatâ€™s what itâ€™s supposed to be. Getting all that out and having fun doing it.
GUTFIRE!: What about the album cover and the consistent theme of three?
PETER: Well, there are three people in the band, and we decided early on that all our album covers would be three things. If itâ€™s not the three of us, then itâ€™s going to be something else: buildings, three dead animals. And this cover seems to work well with the music. A bit pop-artish maybe, but then itâ€™s cut up, so thatâ€™s the dark underbelly. It started with us taking pictures with the three thumbs, but that looked a bit stupid.
GUTFIRE!: Understood. Well, that about wraps things up.
PETER: Very serious interview â€“ wasnâ€™t expecting that. I enjoyed it, though. Now letâ€™s have a beer.