Swedish Pop Savants Peter Bjorn and John Are Going Back to Basics

    Their hiatus-breaking album, “Breakin’ Point,” drops tomorrow

    by · June 09, 2016
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    Photographed by Fredrik Etoall.

    The following feature appears in the June/July 2016 issue of NYLON.

    It’s been a decade since Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Eriksson rode an inescapable whistle and bouncy bass line from the rock clubs of Stockholm all the way to Coachella. Their irresistible single “Young Folks” instantly transformed the band into one of Sweden’s top indie-pop exports, and its corresponding album, Writer’s Block, was a quiver filled with catchy pop arrows that earned them instant popularity stateside. But by the time the trio finished their world tour in support of 2011’s Gimme Some—a return to rooftop-ready hooks after a darker detour with 2009’s Living Thing—they craved a change of scenery. So, ironically, they went home. In Stockholm, a city whose fertile music scene has been supplying the world with a steady stream of pop mainstays since the days of ABBA, Peter Bjorn and John could search for inspiration among the city’s constellation of bright musical talent. “We’ve been a band for such a long time,” says Morén, “so you sort of get stuck in your positions, how to do things, how to make music together. If you just get some fresh perspective from other people on how to do it, I think that’s really important.”

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    Peter Morén photographed by Fredrik Etoall.

    One of those people was Pontus Winnberg, a member of production duo Bloodshy & Avant, and one-third of Miike Snow, another Swedish trio known for crafting infectious pop melodies. He and Yttling, searching for stability and a place to house their sonic experiments, began searching for a joint studio space. What they found was Polar Studios, the near-mythic recording hub that was founded by members of ABBA in 1978 and closed its doors in 2004. “A few of the most popular songs in Swedish history were recorded there,” says Yttling. “There’s a lot of history in the walls—it looks exactly the same.” Once they settled in, Yttling and Winnberg united their fellow bandmates and other like-minded Swedish musicians, such as frequent collaborator Lykke Li, to form Ingrid, a music collective and record label hybrid that became a creative nucleus for Stockholm’s thriving independent music scene. It was there that Yttling began work on what would become Li’s 2014 album, I Never Learn, while Morén and Eriksson embraced the newfound carefree spirit of creativity. “When Björn was recording with Lykke Li, some days I would jump in on drums, and go, ‘Yeah, this is what Björn is doing!’” recalls Eriksson. “If Peter is doing a solo album, he may call me and say, ‘Do you want to play maracas?’ We touched base every once in a while, we were up to date. And then it came time for us to do it together.”

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    Björn Yttling photographed by Fredrik Etoall.

    What they did together was make Breakin’ Point, their seventh album and the answer to a challenge they gave themselves. “It’s almost like we’ve been destroying ourselves after each album,” says Eriksson. “We always try to make something new.” The goal this time was pure and pristine pop, but instead of focusing on what they made, they concentrated on how they made it. The trio realized the songs needed to be as grabby on an acoustic guitar as they would be swathed in synths, so they reinforced the music’s backbone. “We carved out the songs and got them to a place where they really functioned as great pop tunes without knowing what it would sound like to record them,” says Yttling. “The fun thing was, when we finished those songs, it was like an endless field of possibilities. We had every option in the world to play with.”

    To help them play, the band hired a murderer’s row of outside producers—a first for them—that included Paul Epworth (U2, Paul McCartney), Greg Kurstin (Adele), and Emile Haynie (FKA twigs, Lana Del Rey). “You see they’re all striving to reach the same goal, but they do it in different ways. You learn a lot from that,” says Morén.

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    John Eriksson photographed by Fredrik Etoall.

    The result is Peter Bjorn and John’s most unabashedly crowd-pleasing record yet, an achievement for a band that crafted one of the most iconic songs of the aughts. And after their last album brought them through smaller venues around the world, with Breakin’ Point, they’re aiming for the rafters. “I feel like this is our arena record,” says Morén. “The last record was the small club record, but there are songs here where you really feel like you could play a stadium because they have the grand scope of sound. But we do the same thing wherever we play—if it’s a room with 10 people or Madison Square Garden, we try to do our best.”

    Additional reporting by Hilary Hughes. Grooming by Elin Eriksson at Agent Bauer.

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    Last updated: 2016-06-09T11:27:53-04:00
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