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APRIL 09, 2007
Interview: Peter Moren of Peter, Bjorn and John

Pbj Last month, I ran into Peter, Bjorn and John at the airport in Austin on our way out of South by Southwest and recently followed up with lead singer Peter Moren at home in Stockholm. The band is about to kick off a lengthy U.S. tour (following a bunch of shows in Europe) with British indie dance rockers Fujiya & Miyagi and Brooklyn's all-female indie trio Au Revoir Simone. I've written a decent amount about PB&J already and by now you've likely heard their infectious pop hit "Young Folks." If not, you really need to stop reading this from under that rock.

SomethingGlorious: What do you think of the buzz and media attention you're getting?
Peter Moren: It's amazing to finally being able to do this at a somewhat higher level, then we used to. Especially in the states we are getting a lot of buzz I understand, which of course is great. I do understand if people, so called "indie-talibans," can get annoyed of the amount of exposure certain artists get at a certain time, which might prevent them of giving the music a decent chance. I've been there and done that myself. For example, I couldn't listen at all to the Strokes when they first came, because they were so hyped. But then six months later I actually got into their album and liked it a lot. And also for every band getting attention, there's always another great one -- or indeed lots of them -- overshadowed. But for of course for us the effect is only for the better at this stage, since we want to reach a wider audience. And we think we're worth it!

SG: When we chatted in the airport in Austin after South by Southwest, you said you felt your first label didn't pay enough attention - or spend enough money - to get your music out there. Do you think you finally landed somewhere that understands the importance of marketing your sound?
PM: I don't want to blame anyone for anything. Our first two labels were tiny, tiny Swedish indies without any kind of resources. Basically they were friends and music lovers. You can't sell a lot of our type of music in Sweden anyway; we still don't sell a lot of albums in Sweden, not even of Writer's Block. Sweden is too small; to have a career with just one indie-band, you have to have different things/projects going on at the same time, like Bjorn, who produces. What I did mean was that this time, we've been able to more or less get worldwide distribution and different licensing deals and I think our new label, V2 in Sweden, has been better at working these things out. Our second album, Falling Out, did come out in the States in 2005, again on a small label [Hidden Agenda] without lots of resources. Also we didn't tour it or promote it. We just put it out and that was it. The US media couldn't capitalize on any pre-European buzz, since as I said, the first two only came out in Sweden. But I totally salute Hidden Agenda for being first over there in finding us.

SG: Other than having a label that's backing you, what do you think clicked with radio, bloggers and other people who finally caught on with Writer's Block?
PM: "Young Folks" is addictive and catchy, a weird sounding hits song. It's harder and harder everyday to make something that sticks out and sounds different. And if you're not Madonna or Red Hot Chili Peppers, being weird is maybe the only way to radio airplay and attention. I don't think originality is a virtue but I guess it helps. Also the sparseness of the sound of the song - and the rest of the album - is different. A lot of guitar bands overproduce, [use] too many overdubs. We used very few on each song, with a couple of exceptions, which makes the sounds you actually hear more important, makes 'em shine. This is maybe more of a hip-hop/R&B-approach, which is new to indie-rock? I don't know. We didn't plan to make hits or become popular, our music just evolved naturally and it will continue to do so, so maybe next time no one will listen again!

SG: Do you personally think this album is significantly better or more accessible than your first two?
PM: I love Falling Out, I think the songs on that one are just as good as on Writer's Block and we still play a lot of them live. In fact that whole album, sounds more like we do live. The first one is a bit more of a bumpy ride, a first try, but I still think it has its moments. But of course Writer's Block is different. It maybe is more original in its arrangements and production. Falling Out is more classic songwriting - with a twist. [It has] more straightforward guitar pop. The new one has that quality, but also something else, the more arranged drum patterns and different sound experiments. I think you get better at recording and finding the right approach to make a good song really special the longer you are in a band. We've always experimented in the studio, from the very beginning, but we have in a way become more intellectual in our approach and less spontaneous. A lot of things still happen by chance and happy accidents of course, but we maybe try to change things around more now and talk them through. So by making the arrangements more experimental we have in fact made the music more accessible, as weird as it may seem. This is of course is an [after thought], and nothing we decided on before.

SG: When you head back to the US in May, you'll still be playing fairly intimate clubs - and then coming back for Coachella and Lollapalooza. Do you think this upcoming tour is the time when fans really need to see you because the next time will be so much bigger?
PM: I have no idea. I prefer myself to see bands at smaller venues given the chance.
It's almost always better. But touring costs money. A lot. We pay our own people working for us and also the flights, etc. Which means that [I'm] personally totally bankrupt at the moment, believe it or not! So if larger venues pay more and if people turn up I think we have to do it, to pay off debts. We'll see.

SG: Speaking of bigger, do you have any plans to increase your touring setup, like adding singers or other musicians, or just keep it to the three of you?
PM: I hope we don't fall into that trap of adding people, because I think the thing that is so special about our little band is the trio format and the limitations off it. That you really know each other as musicians and are able to change things around in the moment, improvise and be relaxed. With a lot of extra musicians that wouldn't be possible. We have a sampler instead. Also I think the live-magic and the record-magic are two different things and should be kept that way. If I want to hear Pet Sounds I can stay at home. Live I'm very much into three and four pieces who keep it a bit rough around the edges, punky even. Yo La Tengo, for example, is amazing live, and the magic is in large part due to the fact that they are only three. We will never be a full-blown stadium-extravaganza, that's for sure. Now and then we add a percussionist though and will continue to do so.

SG: Following the May tour, what are your plans and goals for the rest of the
year?
PM: Playing festivals in the summer. More tours in the autumn. Recording now and then and maybe more deliberately for a new album in January. Having a holiday and getting a tan.

SG:  How do you prevent burn out - like "Young Folks" getting overplayed or still getting people to stay interested in your music after the initial buzz wears off?
PM: I have no idea. You tell me? I hope the "real" fans who love more then just the hit, who have seen us live, etc. will still be true after that buzz wears off. ["Young Folks"] has its own life now. It's almost like to separate things, the mainstream hit and the little weird rock 'n' roll band. Also that song ins't very representative of the band as a whole anyway; it sticks out even in our canon. If the song gets overplayed as hell, we can't help it, but I hope people will stick around long enough to find out that we're not a one-trick-pony and get into our less immediate stuff as well. The songs you like the most in the end are often the ones you didn't warm to at first. At least I'm often like that.

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