This year’s a milestone for Peter Bjorn And John, the Swedish trio who describes their ten years as a band as “two-and-a-half years being successful.” The indie world took notice with the whistle-heavy single “Young Folks” off of 2006’s Writer’s Block, and since, the act has been touring throughout the U.S. at a pace I consider to be exhausting (guitarist and singer Peter Morén finds it not so bad).
Their widest exposure to date, however, was their opening slot this summer for Depeche Mode on the U.S. leg of the British band’s “Tour Of The Universe.” And in front of one of rock’s quirkiest crowds (Depeche Mode keyboardist Andy Fletcher admits, “We don’t really get the average person.”), Peter Bjorn And John gained fans primarily with songs from their recent effort Living Thing.
The group, whose aesthetic emphasizes simplicity over complexity as exemplified in their pat appellation, has encountered little difficulty selling out clubs this year, though they may be breaking soon for a new record as Morén postulates below. We also chatted about his upcoming solo debut (in Swedish!) and the difficulties of singing in such a stripped-down setting.
So I think this your third time through NYC this year, has this been the forever tour?
Not really. We’ve been taking our time off in between. We just came home from France the other week, so I’ve been home now for about one and a half weeks. It’s not that bad. We don’t like too long tours. We did the Depeche Mode tour this summer and that’s probably the longest tour we’ve ever done.
How was that experience?
It was great. I thought it was going to be less fun than it was because I was kind of scared of the huge arenas and the Depeche fans, if they would like us or not (laughs), but they really did. Most of the gigs they were really, really into it and it was a good experience when you get used to trying to make it intimate in an arena.
Is that always kind of a weird feeling seeing people filing in while you’re playing?
You mean winning them over?
Yeah, they’re kind of walking in and they’re there to see Depeche Mode and you’re in the middle of your song trying to do your thing and they’re walking in with sodas.
Yeah (laughs). That’s true. It is a bit weird. But at the same time when you feel that you win people over it pays off. It feels good when you have a hard start of the set and everything and then at the end you really feel that they’re into it, so it’s good.
You’ve had about six months touring this new record?
Yeah, we started in February I think. We started touring it before we released it for some reason (laughs). Stupid, but true.
Have you discovered new things touring the songs on the road?
Yeah. Songs always change when we play them live. We kind of stretch them out and maybe jam a little and do some guitar solos or change the tempos. We do play around with them, and the funnest thing I think for me personally has just been mixing it up with the older songs and being able even more than before to change sets. Not playing the same songs every night because we have more to choose from. It’s really eclectic with the newer songs being more synth-based and the older more guitar rock things. It becomes a very fun, eclectic set.
Has it been difficult adjusting to the newer material live? It seems that there’s been a gradual embrace of a minimal or less is more feeling, so is it more or less comfortable for you to play?
It’s totally equal. I really enjoy playing the new songs live. And it’s not that different. The main difference, the different thing is we incorporate a keyboard on stage and that’s something we haven’t done for a long, long time apart from our very early Swedish tours in 2003, when we had a Farfisa organ player with us. But apart from that we haven’t had a keyboard on stage and me and Bjorn have been swapping. I play bass sometimes and he plays the keyboard.
It’s not really that different. I would take as an example our most well-known song, ‘Young Folks,’ is probably as minimalist as it ever gets, more minimalist than most of these songs, because it doesn’t even have a guitar or a keyboard. When we play it live, it’s just drum and bass and singing, and that’s our most well-known song (laughs). I actually find that more difficult to perform than the new songs (laughs) because it’s really hard just to sing without a guitar.
You find it hard to keep yourself in pitch without a guitar?
Yeah, sometimes (laughs). It’s hard to sing to a bass because that’s kind of sketchy.
Are the fans singing along with you, I would expect?
Do they throw you off?
No. It’s not so bad. Not in the States, I think, especially. They don’t sing along that much. They’re kind of listening and shouting in between the songs. It depends on where you play. It’s such a huge country so it’s different cultures in different states. But what is really fun is all the songs go down really well. Especially the Depeche Mode shows, I almost felt like the newer songs went over better because they’re more Depeche Mode-y and people maybe didn’t know our band at all and I felt they went into that groove more easily than the rock stuff.