Peter Bjorn and John Celebrate 20 Years with Endless Dream
Swedish indie rock trio look back on two decades of sticking together and crafting a solid new album for the occasion
It’s not easy for a band to make it through two decades together—especially with their original lineup intact. So raise a glass and pucker those lips for a whistled salute to Swedish indie rock trio Peter Bjorn and John (vocalist/guitarist Peter Morén, vocalist/bassist Bjorn Yttling and drummer/vocalist John Eriksson), who’ve weathered challenges over the years, but managed to stick together and are now celebrating 20 years in 2020.
As for how they’ve stayed together this long? It’s got nothing to do with that old trick of taking social media sabbaticals from friends and colleagues.
“Well, it’s easy because Bjorn and John [aren’t] on Facebook, so I’m the only one on Facebook. So that’s easy, I never have to see their boring social media,” Morén said, chuckling after SPIN asked if navigating difficult times involved therapists or blocking each other on that particular platform. “But, we did start working with producers.”
“I think it’s always this thing of we’re making an album and the process of making an album is so tough that we all think this is definitely going to be the last album,” he continued. “And then, when we finished it and we toured it, it’s like, ‘Yeah, that was kind of fun.’ And then you’re kind of itching to make another one.”
For Peter Bjorn and John, their separate work (solo projects, production for others) sparked that continued longing to reunite and add to their history of finely-tuned mostly-effervescent sounds. But to celebrate turning 20, they opted to forgo a greatest hits release. After 2018’s Darker Days, Peter Bjorn and John skipped taking a break, and just followed their musical inspirations. Those efforts have resulted in the band’s ninth album—Endless Dream.
“I think what we really wanted to achieve was releasing a record—finishing this record in time rather than putting out a boring ‘Best of’ or something and go on the nostalgia train,” Morén said. “It was just more fun to make a new record that we finished in time. That felt really good.”
And it’s an album that offers hints to their past peppered throughout the tight collection of 10 delightful, stylish indie pop-rock tracks that somehow manage to sound both fresh and entirely familiar. “In a way, it’s a throwback to us—what we used to be—and sort of referencing ourselves, but not being shy about it,” Morén explained. “But at the same time, of course, the songs are all new and we’re older and wiser and with all the baggage—for good and for bad.”
Peter Bjorn and John’s Swede-pop swagger drives opening cut “Music” while “Rusty Nail” pairs nostalgic-infused harmonies with lyrics about getting the short end of the stick (both songs feel like successors to 2011’s Gimme Some). Breezy melodies power along the self-reflective “Simple Song of Sin,” while jangly guitars and a hearty groove make “Reason to Be Reasonable” a catchy tune.
“That sort of was a song I wrote and I had in mind actually to tap into … what is a really great Peter Bjorn and John power-pop song and trying to top that—sort of doing stuff we’ve done before, but with a fresh twist,” Morén said of the latter track.
Lyrically, Morén says, “Reason to be Reasonable” comments on the potential benefits of a lengthy shared history.
“It’s more about a love relationship or a more personal relationship, but it can apply to the band, too. And it is about having longevity and having something that’s been going on for a long, long time and you run into some problems and it’s up and down, but you’re sticking with [it]. And there might be a reward at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
One of those “downs” over the years came when Peter Bjorn and John began work on what became a great “up”—their critically acclaimed 2006 album Writer’s Block, which gave the world the irresistible single “Young Folks” (which SPIN once dubbed “their international calling card” and “an indie-pop version of ESG’s early-’80s punk funk that sandwiches a love-struck duet by … Morén and ex-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman between lovably twee whistling bits and bongo-driven disco breaks.”)
“We’d done two records before that on small labels in Sweden and nobody really cared, and we thought they were really good records. We were sort of … ‘Let’s make one more record and if no one wants to release it, we’re just going to quit the band,'” Morén recalled. “So, we made that record in the summertime of, I guess, 2005, it must have been. And it was a really hot summer in Stockholm, and we all lived close to each other and there’s a lot of water in Sweden, so we did a lot of swimming and walking around in flip-flops and having ice cream and we were writing some songs. So, [it was] like no pressure at all.”
Twenty years into their career, Morén still remembers their first U.S. performances in support of that album. The band rode an internet (including MySpace) buzz onto a slot on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien followed by a show in Brooklyn under a fake name—At the Seaside. Later, their Mercury Lounge show in New York City was quite the hot ticket and likely the spot where Drew Barrymore got the band apparel that she sported during the end credits of a certain sketch show.
“We didn’t meet her (Barrymore), but someone gave her a t-shirt and then she wore it on Saturday Night Live the next week. So that was like a big thing for us—her wearing that t-shirt. And I think then when we played SXSW [the] same year I went to the toilet or something and Bjorn and John ended up meeting her. For me, that was sort of annoying. I was like, ‘Okay,'” he recalled, laughing at the memory. “‘Cause, you know, E.T. I mean, come on, of course, I would have liked to meet Drew.”
After being embraced by American indie fans, the hip-hop world also came calling. Kanye West performed his own rhymes over “Young Ones” (for his Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape in 2007). Drake sampled “Let’s Call It Off” on his breakout mixtape—So Far Gone—in 2009. Azealia Banks also showed her Peter Bjorn and John love by sampling their song “The Chills” in her tune of the same name in 2009. TV found the trio’s music infectious, using “Second Chance” as the theme and scene change music in the Kat Dennings-starring CBS sitcom Two Broke Girls. Morén said he has no idea how that came about, but enjoyed the ride.
“It’s sort of similar to being the Seinfeld synth bass thing. And that’s the same thing we had in Two Broke Girls. It’s sort of an honor being that—being the slap bass,” he said.
“So, more sitcoms. We’re happy to have more sitcoms. We always say we want to do something for Larry David, but I haven’t heard from him,” he joked.
There have been a host of highlights, some struggles and memorable moments across Peter Bjorn and John’s career so far. The album art for Endless Dream offers a reflection of that past and the band’s drive to continue pushing forward. The sleeve shows the trio with instruments on their backs, looking ahead to the mountainous peaks.
“The unattainable endless dream. Will you ever reach the top of the mountain?” Morén said of the illustration. “And then, if you flip the cover, it’s actually a board game that is fully functional, but you have to get some Lego figures or something to play with—and a dice. But I tried it with my son and he really enjoyed it. So, it’s all about trying to climb the mountain. You get some setbacks.”
Peter Bjorn and John kick off their U.S. tour on March 23 in Los Angeles.