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As Peter Bjorn & John Celebrates 20 Years, the Band Returns to its ‘Darker’ Roots

Bassist Björn Yttling talks streaming, Kanye and why Sweden's knack for pop will never die.

A trifecta of pure energy hit the stage at the Teragram Ballroom in Downtown Los Angeles Saturday night as Peter Bjorn & John performed the second-to-last stop of a 2018 tour. Promoting their new album “Darker Days,” which dropped October 19, the band went back to basics as a three-piece for this outing (drummer John Eriksson had to sit out the tour due to a health issue), and with the band’s 20th anniversary coming up in 2019, it was clear that the trio’s collective musical confidence is reaching its peak.

You could say the same of the band’s overall presence as entertainers: Peter Morén, the powerhouse lead singer, delivered songs with precision while simultaneously bouncing for the entire show — and at times wandering into the audience to shred a guitar solo. Morén’s anticts were balanced by bassist Björn Yttling, whose very presence exudes the essence of cool with his steady, contagious groove. The triumphant L.A. night was completed with a rendition of “Young Folks,” for which they brought out Victoria Bergsman of opening act Taken By Trees. 

Speaking to Variety before just before the tour’s close, Yttling reflected on “Darker Days,”  the band’s anniversary and what it was like to work with Kanye West.

What would you say was the inspiration behind the new album, “Darker Days?”
It was inspired by black and white movies like [those of] Ingrid Bergman, and realizing that maybe those black and white movies are sort of inspired by Swedish weather with snow on the ground and dark skies. It’s very gloomy. So I thought that was the starting point of the “Darker Days” track [that didn’t end up on the album]. When we talked about it in terms of what “Darker Days” means, it could be like, when stuff goes down and you don’t really notice before it’s too late. That was sort of my take on it anyway. That could happen in a lot of aspects of life.

After 20 years as a band together, how does the energy feel on tour night after night?
We had a little change [from] the last album, because we’d had a lot of people in the studio working with us and some extra hands on stage. But this time, we decided to just do it on our own, the trio, like back in the day. So it’s a little bit like going back to the roots… back to some old thing that you actually know pretty well. It was cool, like coming home.

For a long time, Sweden has had this huge influence on American pop music. It never seems to go out of style. Why do you think that is?
This is a question that remains unsolved, I think. We like your guys’ music and culture, and especially rock music and blues and pop. And [those genres] in Sweden are not any different to us. It’s the same thing. We don’t mind getting a nice hook to a folk tune like [the duo] First Aid Kit  it’s pop but very folky. I think combining pop with other genres, like [Swedish band] Ghost with metal. There’s always a pop element in all these things. I think we’re not afraid of the pop.

Peter Bjorn and John - Peter MorenPeter Bjorn and John in concert at Rough Trade NYC, New York, USA - 11 Dec 2018
CREDIT: RMV/REX/Shutterstock

How has streaming impacted your business?
When we came out with “Young Folks” and “Writers’ Block,” MySpace was king of the hill. That was sort of the first big streaming service that people listened a lot to our music on. What happened is now we get paid. So for us it’s good. It feels like people can get more music out, and more often. There was a period in time between “Sgt. Pepper” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” or maybe the ’80s, where the album was really important. But before that, there were a lot of singles, and before that, there were one-offs and EPs. It’s a little bit like going back. To me it’s not a huge problem. You can listen to whatever you want and no one can stop you.

In the past, Kanye West has covered “Young Folks.” What are your thoughts on him and his art these days?
I hope he’s doing well. I haven’t seen him for a while. He took our song… I think it was the first time I heard him sing ever actually. Drake did a version of one of our songs, “Let’s Call It Off,” in 2008. So then we had all these people doing [our stuff]. We love that. About Kanye, “Life of Pablo” was really something. I think it was one of the best [albums] that year. [Also] French Montana. The whole “Living Thing” [album] was remixed by hip-hop artists. Diplo did a couple of remixes early in his career too, ten years ago. It’s lovely to hear, especially with Kanye and Drake, because they made knew versions putting the chorus in a different context. That’s cool, because we have our version that’s gonna live on too.

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