EXCLUSIVE: Peter Bjorn and John Talk New Album
Singer-guitarist Peter Moren gives the inside story behind five songs off the Swede trio's March release, Gimme Some.
“This time around we had the clear idea of going back to basics — guitar, bass, drums.”
That’s Peter Moren, the singer-guitarist for Sweden’s Peter Bjorn and John, telling SPIN about the concept behind the trio’s March 29 release Gimme Some, a stylistic 180-degree turn from 2009’s Living Thing, a dark departure into artfully damaged electronic music.
Gimme Some was recorded with producer Per Sunding, whose former band, Swede pop-rock outfit Eggstone, was a favorite of PB&J, and who later helped bring hits from the Cardigans to life. With his help, PB&J’s new album revisits the territory of their 2006 breakout release, Writer’s Block, and its indie hit “Young Folks” — think upbeat, whistle-worthy melodies.
But with the new LP, the band nod to their favorite albums from childhood. “We always make mix tapes for each other before going into the studio,” says Moren. “We listened to R.E.M., Stone Roses, Buzzcocks, the Damned.”
A love of soul, blues, and early rock’n’roll also shines on Gimme Some, especially in the swinging grooves and call-and-response vocal patterns. “We wanted something peppy, poppy, positive,” Moren adds.
Here, Moren offers the inside story behind five of SPIN’s favorite tracks from Gimme Some.
“Dig a Little Deeper”
This hip-twisting rocker with girl-group-style vocals was conceived when the band was in Berlin promoting Living Thing. “We were looking for a record store that John had heard about called Dig a Little Deeper,” explains Moren. “On the way we walked by this art exhibition called ‘All Art Is Contemporary'” — a line which became the song’s centerpiece lyric, and which Moren feels is a false promise: “I always find that the answers to today’s riddles are in what happened yesterday,” he counters. In the song, Moren responds lyrically: “The past is always present, the future fades away.”
Musically, he says the song’s lead riff references Texas R&B group Archie Bell’s hit “Tighten Up.” “We wanted to get a thin, spiky sound, so we recorded the drums in the kitchen and the guitar in the hallway!” The track closes with a conga solo that they “just couldn’t resist,” jokes Moren.
It’s a dance-y jam with intricate syncopated rhythms, layers of percussion (including lots of cowbell!), interwoven guitar overdubs (“I played a B.C. Rich, an old heavy metal guitar,” says Moren), and an infectious group vocal. “It was really tough to nail in one take,” he says of the track.
Though Moren sings lead on it, the song evolved from a lyrical and melodic idea from bassist Bjorn Yttling. “It’s about someone living in the past, not wanting to get rid of his excessive baggage, always sticking with his usual ways and not realizing that the glory days are over,” explains Moren. “Everyone writes lyrics in this band, then we all fix the song up together. If one guy writes the melody, then another writes the riff or drums. We swap instruments. There’s no leader in this band.”
It’s a lightning-bolt pop-punk jam with gritty guitars, fuzz-bomb bass, and a rising melody with interlocked vocals and synths. “That’s one of John’s songs,” says Moren. “He told me it was about a journalist that he hates [laughs].” Lines like, “I don’t even know you / But your words just cut me like a knife,” says Moren, are “basically about people with a lot of prejudice against certain ideas. “John was angry at something he read. Maybe it was a bad album review!” The song, Moren adds, will be particularly fun to play live. “It’s this short, power-pop jam. It’s all about the energy.”
“Don’t Let Them Cool Off”
This jangly power-pop jam is a stab at the Swedish royal family, says Moren. “This year has been a busy year for the royal family — the princess got married, the other princess broke up with her fiance, and a book came out about the king claiming he parties and has mistresses,” explains Moren. “We all agree that a country like Sweden, a democracy, shouldn’t have a royal family. Not because the king’s screwing around, but because it’s old fashioned.” Moren says the track’s riff and middle section references two Brit groups, alt-rockers the Godfathers and ’70s power-pop outfit the Only Ones, “but otherwise sounds very American, like R.E.M. or Tom Petty even. It’s American car driving music!”
Originally written back in 2002, this fast-paced pop rocker is “about a relationship that I was running out of,” says Moren. “We broke up a month after I wrote that song.” Lyrically, it’s inspired by the frontman’s inability to tell lies. “We weren’t in a very good place,” he says of the relationship. “But we were too scared to break up.” Musically, “it’s very Buzzcocks-y,” says Moren. “We recorded it in a couple of takes. The producer decided to overdub the whole song. The whole band played it twice!”