HotStar: Peter Bjorn And John
Imagine walking into a bookstore and discovering the clerk is the lead singer of a band that everyone’s talking about. Until recently, that was just the case with Peter Morén of Swedish indie pop trio Peter Bjorn and John.
While PB&J, with Morén on guitar and harmonica, Björn Yttling on bass and keyboards and John Eriksson on drums and percussion, took shape in 1999, success didn’t come easy.
In fact, for years its members were better known for the various side gigs they undertook. Yttling has produced albums for artists including Shout Out Louds, Sahara Hotnights and Nicolai Dunger. Eriksson is a classical percussionist in an ensemble called Kroumata. And along with various proper jobs, Morén played bass for a handful of different bands over the years.
PB&J released its first EP in 2001 and put out three albums, but it wasn’t until last year’s Writer’s Block that the band scored a hit with the catchy, whistle-hooked tune "Young Folks," which gained the attention of the blogosphere and television and commercial music supervisors alike.
Windish Agency President Tom Windish, who books PB&J, told Pollstar that despite the buzz surrounding the band, no one was certain how it would sell in the U.S.
He booked the band’s first Stateside shows in January and said the response was pleasantly surprising.
"The first shows we booked for them, we had two nights at Mercury Lounge and one night at the Roxy in L.A.," Windish said. "The Mercury Lounges sold out in an hour or so and we moved the second Mercury Lounge to Bowery Ballroom and it sold out."
And following PB&J’s sets at this year’s South By Southwest, the band received plenty of offers to go out as a support act.
Manager Per Wikström told Pollstar that the combination of good timing, online buzz and initial ticket sales gave PB&J the opportunity to turn down some of those early offers in favor of doing what the band really wanted to do – headline.
"We felt that there was so much momentum for the band that we got offered some really enormous tours as a support act," he said, but instead decided to go out alone and "build a fan base rather than spend a ton of tours supporting bigger acts."
PB&J hit festivals including Coachella and Lollapalooza as well as clubs and theatres over the summer. Wikström said that by spreading out tour dates, they’ve been able to maintain the buzz about the band.
Morén told Pollstar PB&J’s been working on its live act while learning to manage life on the road.
"The good thing is of course the gigs," he said. "To become a good band you can’t just practice in rehearsal space."
But becoming a good live band also means weathering the inevitable shit storms that come along with the territory.
PB&J had some power issues that left the group standing in front of a crowd of thousands at this year’s Lollapalooza – to the sound of crickets.
"It was kind of awful but at the same time it became kind of a fun thing because a lot of people stayed around and we went down there and wrote autographs," Morén said. "You just have to laugh about it – I mean, you heard about this big festival in the States since you were a kid and then you come over and the power goes out!"
Luckily, the power was turned back on and PB&J was allowed to play a complete set, he said.
Besides performance mishaps, the band survived a scandal that bloggers dubbed "Whistlegate" as well as a blog that campaigned to "Stop Peter Bjorn and John."
Morén said he does in fact whistle during performances alongside a sample, and as for the blog, he could only laugh.
"We have a little suspicion that it might be John but he’s not admitting it," he said. "It’s like promotion for us in a way that we don’t have to pay for."
The group has also become known for bringing in guest performers to sing or play bongos during gigs, and recently performed "Young Folks" with Kanye West at the Way Out West festival in Göteborg, Sweden.
Wikström said those guest performances help to keep things fresh for the fans.
"What kind of keeps these guys cool and charming is the fact that they’re really willing to try out anything … they look for little special things to treat their audience," he said.
The group plans to keep treating audiences in the U.S. and Canada through 2007. Though Morén no longer works at the bookstore, Yttling and Eriksson continue their side jobs and the group will juggle those gigs, another U.S. tour and a new album next year.