With their ubiquitous international hit “Young Folks,” Peter Bjorn and John went from longtime indie also-rans—the trio formed in Stockholm a decade ago—to overnight sensations. In short order, Kanye West covered the song, Drew Barrymore was spotted wearing a Peter Bjorn and John T-shirt on Saturday Night Live, and the whistling intro of “Young Folks” even made an appearance on Gossip Girl. But achieving any kind of widespread notoriety—let alone permeating the culture at large—seemed a far-fetched aspiration for the band at the time. “We’d given up,” explains the group’s nominal front man, 33-year-old Peter Morén. “I was studying to be a librarian when ‘Young Folks’ hit . . . The next thing we knew, we were running into Jamie Foxx on talk shows.”
Despite having toiled in obscurity for so long, Morén and his two partners—multi-instrumentalist and producer, 34-year-old Björn Yttling, and drummer, 34-year-old John Eriksson—are doing their part to avoid being condemned to one-hit-wonderdom. Their latest album, Living Thing (Almost Gold)—remarkably, the group’s fifth—has at least two more surefire smashes on it: “Nothing To Worry About,” the album’s first single, which features an insidious hook sung by a children’s choir and a video depicting a Japanese gang fight; and “It Don’t Move Me,” an infectious, curmudgeonly rant. But while the record is undeniably catchy, it is also refreshingly experimental, incorporating everything from synth pop and doo-wop, to Ghanaian rhythms and homemade percussion. “For the beats, we’d crash bottles together or pop a balloon, put a bit of reverb on it, cut it up in the computer,” Morén explains. “We’re trying to deconstruct pop music and put it back together again with this album. It’s a journey through musical history—from the African villages and the slave fields into the luxurious but cold techno dancing of the ’80s. We’re constantly trying to surprise ourselves.”
According to Yttling, Peter Bjorn and John’s trademark idiosyncrasy stems from a sort of turbulence—creative and otherwise—that is at the core of the group’s dynamic. “One New Year’s Eve, me and Peter were sharing a hotel room, and we had this huge fight,” he explains. “Everything was crushed in the room—shattered glass everywhere, all the paintings torn down off the walls. Then we woke up, and we were like, ‘Okay, we have to go home now.’ It was quite funny.”
“We’re three separate people,” Morén continues. “Björn is the electro guy, John is hip-hop, and I’m the sad Leonard Cohen–type,” he explains. “But when we get together, it’s like this monster. It’s not like a rock band—it’s like three dictators.”
Listen to more cuts from the new album at the band's MySpace page.