Peter Bjorn and John play to the beat of pop history

Peter Bjorn and John pair modern pop flair with old school aesthetics as the opener for Beck at the Pavilion on Monday. Publicity photo Peter Bjorn and John pair modern pop flair with old school aesthetics as the opener for Beck at the Pavilion on Monday. Publicity photo

Haunted by spirits of recordings past, music studios are just as legendary as the work they’ve cultivated, and they often come equipped with their own folklore. Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” echoes throughout RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. Memphis’ Sun Studio gave us the first recordings of both Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio became synonymous with rhythm and blues in the ’60s and ’70s, and served as a breeding ground for hits such as The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” Founded by Jimi Hendrix, Electric Lady Studios birthed rock ‘n’ roll classics including Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Patti Smith’s Horses. So it’s fitting that when Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John set out to make a big pop record that could stand among the greats, they turned to a studio in Stockholm formerly used by the country’s most notorious pop group, ABBA.

“A huge self-playing music machine is located right outside the studio and it was a present from ABBA to their manager,” says John Eriksson, who puts the “John” in Peter Bjorn and John. “It is supposed to be able to play ‘Thank You for the Music,’ and seeing that weird thing every morning made us wanna do the best Swedish pop songs since ABBA.”

Peter Bjorn and John
With Beck at Sprint Pavilion
September 19

The result is Breakin’ Point, PB&J’s seventh album and its first in five years. It’s been a decade since Eriksson—along with his bandmates Peter Morén and Bjorn Yttling—saturated the airwaves with an infectious whistling melody on their commercial breakthrough, “Young Folks,” and the band’s latest offering is an ambitious expanse of pop intensity. Eriksson partially contributes this slick, refined sound to the studio environment.

“The old vintage gear from the ’70s and the brown wooden walls truly make an impression on the music,” he says. “Almost all of the music we have recorded in it lately has a touch of the music from that era.”

The studio is now part of the independent artist collective and label INGRID, which PB&J members formed in 2012 alongside musicians Andrew Wyatt and Pontus Winnberg from Miike Snow, Lykke Li, Coco Morier, Jocke Ahlund, Nille Perned and Jonas Torvestig.

“INGRID is like a dream come true,” Eriksson says. “We created a platform where everything is possible. If someone wants to drop a piano from the 10th floor and record that crash and put it out on a 7″ vinyl on our label, she or he can do that. If someone wants to cut down a bunch of pine trees and erect them inside a music venue, he or she can do that.”

When creating INGRID, the group was inspired by a Danish film collective called Zentropa.

“Zentropa had a very strict and amazing list of dogmas that the filmmakers had to follow,” Eriksson says. “Our dogma is that everything is okay and that we would not strive to make any money. It’s our own anti-capitalistic pop culture hub.”

Breakin’ Point is PB&J’s first record on the INGRID imprint, and while they didn’t drop an instrument or create a makeshift forest, the trio certainly had their work cut out for them.

“We wanted every damn bar of every damn song to be the greatest in the history of pop music,” Eriksson explains. “We wanted to challenge ourselves to raise the bar so high that we almost couldn’t reach it. Our goal was to make an album filled with songs that could be played side by side to classics like ‘Billy Jean,’ ‘Moonlight Shadow’ and ‘True Colors.’ That is maybe why it took five years.”

Over the past five years, when not working as PB&J, they’ve each stayed busy with outside collaborations. Eriksson recorded with Wild Nothing and Ane Brun, Yttling went into the studio with Li and Franz Ferdinand, and Morén worked with Cass McCombs. As a group, they contributed to Yoko Ono’s album, Yes, I’m a Witch Too.

“In our side projects and collaborations we can use other personas,” Eriksson says. “We can be your own horrible bosses or our biggest fans. We can play everything ourselves or bring in other musicians. And that gives us new energy, new ideas and new confidence. Then we meet up in the band and smash everything to pieces.”

Turns out, it takes some time to break through the ceiling.

“During the first two years of the process we sort of went into a pop laboratory and tried every combination of song structures, arrangements and sounds,” Eriksson says. “When our research was completed, we had the foundation of the album, but we still needed to develop what we had.”

Catapulting their sound into orbit, PB&J enlisted a slew of first-string producers including Patrik Berger (Robyn, Icona Pop), Paul Epworth (U2, Paul McCartney), Greg Kurstin (Adele) and Emile Haynie (Eminem).

“To make our extreme pop dream come true, we needed to bring in some folks that are used to dealing with top-notch songs,” Eriksson says. “We had built the cars but we hired people to do the paint jobs.”

Because PB&J raised the stakes with Breakin’ Point, it’s natural to question whether the title is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, as it turns out, the indie darlings are here for the long haul.

“Once you start writing songs, it will very soon turn into an addiction,” Eriksson says. “It takes over your whole being, Once you’ve started, you can’t stop.”

Contact Desiré Moses at arts@c-ville.com.

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