Peter Bjorn and John get back to the basics

By: Orlando da Silva

Peter Bjorn and John get back to the basics

Jul. 13, 2011

Björn Ytling, along with his bandmates Peter Morén and John Eriksson, is one-third of one of the most successful acts to come out of Sweden in the past few decades. Since the universal mega-success of their brilliant 2006 single "Young Folks" they've grown and continued to experiment musically while maintaining a spot at the forefront of indie rock.

Peter Björn and John's newest LP, this year's Gimme Some, finds the band getting back to the basics of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, and working with an outside producer for the first time ever. I began my  conversation with Ytling by asking about how and why they chose to work with veteran producer Per Sunding on the new record.

"When we first decided to make a rock album - in the sense that it's guitar drums and vocals - we started looking around for a producer because we wanted to make a lot of live cuts and make decisions based on how we play together," said Ytling.

"We asked James Murphy but he didn't have time between his Twitter posts, you know... So then we looked in Sweden and the best guy with the best drum sound we know, and that we liked when we were kids, is Per Sunding. He was available, so that was cool."

Sunding is mostly known outside of Sweden for producing The Cardigans' Long Gone Before Daylight in 2003, a record that saw that band take a few steps back stylistically and focus on basic rock instrumentation much like Peter Björn and John chose to on Gimme Some.

When asked if he saw any connection there Ytling responded, "We know The Cardigans, we started almost the same time as them and we've known them since a long time before that, but we didn't really base [our decision] on that. It's more earlier stuff he did, like with his own band Eggstone and also stuff he did with a band called Bob Hund. He's a good guy, he can do a lot."

Indeed, Sunding's effect on the band's sound is immediately noticeable from the first track, "Tomorrow Has To Wait" - with its quasi-psychedelic feel and stripped-down instrumentation, it's a far cry from anything on their last offering, 2009's experimental Living Thing. Throughout the album, there is a tangible garage rock sound that suits the band's economical songwriting well.

Ytling is pleased with how it turned out. "It rocks like some fucking old stuff like The Music Machine," he said, "or newer stuff like Guided by Voices. Stuff like that, that has a weird context for the guitar-bass-and-drums thing, you know, that's what we want to do."

He is quick to point out that even though the band is used to producing their own records, and Ytling is a well respected record producer for other artists in his own right, he was happy to stay out of Per Sunding's way during the making of Gimme Some.

"Of course, I can't mess around with the producer. There's only one producer, really, on an album. I'm the artist. I can be annoying and say stuff and tell him bad ideas, and good ideas, but I don't have to do producing work so I don't have to stand up for my weird ideas. I can just hang out at the studio and drink beer with everyone else."

Since we were on the topic, I asked Ytling about how he approaches working as a producer himself. Being an accomplished songwriter, when is it ok for him as a producer to be hands-on in the songwriting process as he is with Lykke Li when they work together?

"I write all the songs with Lykke Li so that's almost like a band with me and her when I produce her records. [Otherwise] it depends on the band really, if they don't need help in a certain sense I don't have to help them. I'll only help at stuff they're bad at... Usually people need an extra ear to hear for bad parts of a song. It's not easy being a producer, but it's a good job because you get to be that extra person."

Our conversation moved on to the changes in the venues Peter Björn and John have played to over the years, and whether he prefers the larger crowds of the "Young Folks" era or the more committed and aware but slightly smaller crowds of today.

"The crowds are better now, definitely. We stil get new people now too, and we didn't have bad crowds before, it's just people have heard more albums now. It's getting interesting, we can play from old albums and people would have heard that, we can sort out a setlist and have a good energy throughout the concert," he said, adding "We're getting good, too, you know? We don't mind playing for anyone that goes to our show."

So they don't mind playing for any crowd, but do they mind the expectation people have to hear their big hit at every show? Does "Young Folks" still hold its magic for Björn Ytling five years later? Yes, it does.

"It's a good song. It's a great song. It's one of my favourites too, so it's lovely to be able to play that song every evening. It's like Mona Lisa - you go to the Louvre, you want to go see Mona Lisa."

Video: "Second Chance" by Peter Bjorn and John

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