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In the Studio: Peter Bjorn and John on Their Next Album

Quality Control

Mar 20, 2014 Issue #49 - February/March 2014 - Portlandia Bookmark and Share

Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Eriksson (better known as Peter Bjorn and John) have been friends for over a decade and a half, and have been making music together for almost as long. Still, as bassist/keyboardist Yttling explains, that doesn’t always translate to a smooth working environment.

“You never get too greased up,” he says. “There’s always got to be some friction when you record music. It’s not done in a glance. Even if you record in a second and it’s done, you’ve still put down hours in the rehearsal space.”

Those are words that it seems the Swedish trio has taken to heart recently. Work on their seventh album began shortly after the band finished touring behind their previous effort, 2011’s Gimme Some. Yttling admits with a nervous laugh that they ended up scrapping much of their new material in April of last year. They also dismissed producer Patrik Berger (Icona Pop) in favor of working alone.

“We went back to the drawing table because we didn’t really get what we wanted,” Yttling explains. “It’s more about not relying on a cool bass line or an interesting beat. It’s not about that this time. We’re making sure we have A+ material on every song.”

To correct their course, the band stripped their writing back to its bare bones, forcing themselves to concentrate on one element of a song at a time.

“We sat in a room looking at each other with a guitar and a tape recorder,” he says, explaining the rules of their revamped working technique. “You can’t come out of this room until you have a great song. You can’t use anything other than a piano. Or you have to clap your hands and sing it to me. If it’s good, you can have a guitar.”

Yttling describes the album’s newfound direction as more traditional than previous efforts. He name-checks Cat Stevens and Carole King as songwriting heroes, while noting that the results will still sound like a Peter Bjorn and John outing.

“It’s not going to sound boring and dull and old,” he says. “It’s not about making a long Krautrock or dance track. It’s going to be about songs, classic songs…. When you look at our albums, there’s always a mixture of a little dance element, a good beat, and some interesting sounds.”

The band are founding members of INGRID, which Yttling describes as a super-label that also includes Miike Snow and Lykke Li. The music collective, along with a clutch of like-minded photographers and artists, have established a self-owned working space/studio in Stockholm, which gives Peter Bjorn and John somewhat unlimited studio time. While this has benefited the band’s extended work schedule, Yttling confesses that the unfettered studio access has also made them “a little bit more lazy.”

At the time of the interview, titling the album and songs was still in the future. (Possible inclusions “Power Meet” and “Supersong” are thrown around before Yttling admits they haven’t gotten to the naming stage yet.) The band, says Yttling, usually holds a power summit to make such decisions.

“We’re going to have a sit-down where we eat a lot of fruit and drink a lot of mineral waterall the things you do in meetings,” he jokes. “There’s going to be some iPads flying around and stuff.”

[Note: This article first appeared in the February/March print issue (Issue 49). Keep in mind that the album is still a work in progress and the details and direction of the album may have changed since this interview; consider this a snapshot of the album’s recording process.]


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