INTERVIEW: A Chat With Bjorn Yttling From Peter Bjorn and John

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Peter, Bjorn and John are a band deeply ingrained in the consciousness of any savvy indie. The band rode the crest of a genre wave back in 2006 with their lo-fi addition to the ‘polite indie’ platter, Writer’s Block - with its hit single, Young Folks. Following on from this success, the band continued to adapt their sound, trading staccato acoustics for a more experimental style synth section. Now, after a 5 year hiatus from commercial releases, the band has graced us with a new album, Breakin’ Point, and will be touring the new material at this year’s Splendor in the Grass, as well as sideshows in most major cities. We sat down with Bjorn Yttling for a chat about the new album, their Australian tour, and what to expect next.

Liam: Bjorn thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Where are you at the moment, is it Canada for the last leg of the tour before Australia? 
Bjorn: Yeah Toronto actually. We’re doing, Ottowa, Montreal and then we’re going to you guys. It’s pretty insane here with the weather. 

So you guys are touring breaking point at the moment, and you went on record saying the album was in fruition for something like 4 years. Were there revisions to the album over the time you were recording or was it just a paced out project? 
It wasn’t really that it was slow. We started working on it and we had this idea of how to make the record. So we started writing the songs on guitar and piano, we didn’t really bring out our ‘rock instruments’ at first so to speak - we started just acoustic. But we knew going into the studio we wanted to make pop songs from that. So we did - we made a lot of songs and in the end it just wasn’t good enough. We had to keep going as long as it took; we wanted something really great. We just went for it, wrote more, and made more songs.

What’s the writing recording process been like for other albums then? Do you all work well with set times in the studio or is it more of an organic go when the music comes to you type deal?
Definitely working with set times. What happened before was that we would bring in songs, the three of us - we all write songs. We’d go into the rehearsal space and we know how to play together really well in the rock style situation. So we thought, maybe this time we’ll wait a little bit. Maybe if we went in this time it’d just sound good, when we all wanted great. This time we wanted to avoid just being happy with good; we went for great. 

One of the differences for this album was that it was released under INGRID, which is the artist collective that you’re all part of. There’s some big names part of that group; Lykki Li, members of Miike Snow - how did that collective originally form?
Me and Pontus from Miike Snow had been talking about making a studio for a long time. We all went on tour with our separate bands. When we came back to Sweden, we found that we just wanted to make Stockholm more fun for ourselves after all these world tours. How to do that we figured was to just make more, do projects together. So we talked to Lykki Li and she was in on the idea of making this collective and branding it with a name. It’s more like a culture club than a label. You can put out whatever you want, a jumpsuit, whatever you feel like; then your friends are all there to support you in that release. 

Your list of collaboration credits as a band is huge. You’ve worked with people from Drake through to Victoria Bergsman from The Concretes – Even for the Young Folks video, Ted Malmros from The Shout Out Louds is credited as the animator. How important is collaboration for you guys when you’re working. 
Bjorn: We all realized we were working with each other even before INGRID started. I think, making other albums with other people like Primal Scream or Chrissie Hynde, it makes Stockholm more interesting. I think it makes us as a group change. Things are different when we perform as a group and when we perform on our own as part of the collective. I think it highlights the group more when we do other things. 

Each one of the albums you guys have released has a very distinctive art style, whether it’s for the cover or for the single releases – Breakin Point is no different, each of the singles from the album had this really nice Mickey Mouse meets Kaws aesthetic. Are you all involved in the visual arts side of your projects or is that another one of those collaborative projects you’ve spoken of. 
No, we worked with a designer called Jonas. He’s in the INGRID collective as well; he’s just an artist, he doesn’t make music and doesn’t have to as a member of that culture club. We worked with him on Gimmie Some and it was really great, he’s a good friend of ours now. So we just wanted him to do it; we wanted like a fun factory feel to the whole thing – Mickey Mouse smashing things type style.  

So Jonas was responsible for that triple thumb off the front cover of Gimmie Some?
Yeah he did that. That was actually the first time we worked with him. We did this whole exhibition, where for every song there was this little illustration, and we did the same for this album – it’s all on the deluxe copy of Breakin Point. We’re a fan of him and he’s a fan of ours. 

So he influenced you and you influenced him through both your works of art, who are some other artists that may have influenced you while you were creating Breakin Point?
We were listening to a lot of different things like Roger Whittaker, or Cat Stevens, Def Leppard anything with a really classic style tune - even, the Weeknd, and Drake. Lyrically, things are more grown up this time. We talk about how it is to form a family, being a member of a community, how these things affect us all – if some shit happens over here how it affects people over there, it’s like Dominoes, that’s what that song is about. It’s more adult stuff we dealt with on this album. 

So what are some influences that you might be embarrassed to say - like a guilty pleasure type song you might have on your iPod?
Maybe Cutting Crew – I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight. 

So we spoke earlier about how you’re in Canada now, coming to Australia shortly. How does the whether influence your performances? Being Swedish do you prefer playing in cold or hot climates?
We always play outside around the North and in the snow. Outside I prefer it in the warm; I also prefer it when it’s dark so that we can set up our light shows. We have a really cool light rig and a great light designer. We’ve also got two extra members for the show. If you’ve seen us before you’ll see us differently this time with about 40 percent more people than the last time we were in Australia 10 years ago. 

You’ve been touring Breakin Point for a while now, are there a few songs on there that stick out to you as favorites to play live?
I think Dominoes is really heating up at the moment. We also tried today in sound check Hard Sleep, we haven’t played that on this tour but maybe we’ll play it in Australia. It’s also fun to play the old songs like Young Folks with those extra members playing piano, keyboard and percussion. It’s cool to get all those sounds out there. 

One of your Australian tour spots is Splendor in the Grass, which is one of the countries larger festivals – the crowds there are renowned for getting wild no matter what the weather is. What’s one of your craziest festival or live show experiences you’ve had across the globe?
When we played Lollapalooza way back in Chicago, the power shut off so we couldn’t play for about 45 minutes. The people all stayed; 10 – 15 thousand people all just hung around. When the lights came back it was this great feeling that all those people had waited for us. 

What can we expect next from Peter, Bjorn and John; with the INGRID collective I guess it could be anything now?
Yeah we just had a discothèque night in Sweden with Miike Snow and Lykki Li playing. I think you’ll see some more releases from our side too - probably some video type things. We probably will host a big New Year’s Party somewhere too.

Written by Liam Lowth 

Catch them next week at these below Spendour in the Grass sideshows:

Wednesday, 20th July 
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tickets Secret Sounds

Thursday, 21st July 
The Corner, Melbourne
Tickets Secret Sounds