Peter Bjorn and John Can Laugh at Themselves

Despite their sometimes melancholy tunes, the Swedish group have a sense of humor about their place in the musical universe

Between the tenuous connection strength and the accent, hearing John Eriksson on the phone from Sweden conveys a sense of distance despite technology's best efforts. But the drummer for Peter Bjorn and John, who play a long-sold-out show at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on Saturday, also conveys a gentle joie de vivre, a sense of someone who is both amazed at his band's good fortune and happy to see where it will take them next.

"We've always treated everything one day at a time—it was like that for the first four, five years. On the third album [Writer's Block], we sort of gave up—we didn't have any success, maybe did a gig in Norway. We were about to quit doing this, but then we had this amazing success with 'Young Folks.' It's like fate playing with us! So there's no big plan; we have decided we'll be like the Rolling Stones and just continue until we die."

The whistle-led pop of "Young Folks" does, indeed, define the band by default, but they've moved on to an energetic-but-never-brawling rock sound with this year's release, Gimme Some—while keeping the sweet, reflective melancholia of their breakthrough hit intact. Eriksson talks at length about how the group chose to approach the album from a live-in-the-studio angle—"We stored all the other instruments apart from bass, guitar and drums—and cowbell!—and for the synths, we put some signs up saying, 'Don't touch this!'"—and how staying fresh helps to keep both himself and the group energized.

"I've been studying music via classical radio, all kinds of pop music for eight years. Nowadays, I don't practice at all; it's more spur of the moment," Eriksson says. "There's a lot of hip-hop music in the way I play pop music—building patterns up. I just play a lot and experiment while we're playing. It's very organic, and it's good to listen to all kinds of music."

When it comes to good spirits in general, Eriksson notes how essential humor is for the group, even though their music seems to tend toward the wistful or downbeat—recent song titles include "I Know You Don't Love Me" and "May Seem Macabre."

"We don't try to make comedy music," he clarifies, "but it's good to have not such a serious view of yourself. You have to laugh at what we're doing, and it's very weird to be working as a pop musician, playing rock music full time. . . . That's not a proper job. We always incorporate humor in our artwork, in our videos—it adds something. We can't not do it."

A little of that humor creeps into what he says his advice for his younger self in the band would be: "Save the cowbell for the sixth album! It's good to have some good songs for the future."

Asked what one big ambition he has for the group that hasn't been achieved yet, Eriksson employs that sense of humor again: "I want the spinning drum set that Tommy Lee had. Then I'll be happy."

 

This article appeared in print as "PB&J Are A-Okay: Despite their sometimes melancholy tunes, Peter Bjorn and John keep a sense of humor about their place in the musical universe."

 
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