October 29, 2015
Just Porter: Congratulations on your upcoming seventh album! Can you share with us a little bit about it? Do Si Do (PBJ’s “unreleased” song) is fantastic How does the process of making your seventh album compare to previous albums? Church Studio looks beautiful from your Twitter photos.
Peter: Thanks! I’m glad you like “Do Si Do.” This process has been long and elaborative. Maybe too long. But sometimes that happens. And I’m sure it’s worth it in the end. It doesn’t get easier to make albums together after all this time. But the albums do in the end get better I believe. We’ve been working with a number of fantastic producers and collaborators in a bunch of different studios. Mainly our own INGRID-studios in Stockholm but also as you mentioned the grandiose Church in London that used to be owned by Dave Stewart from Eurythmics. It’s now run by Paul Epworth who co-produced four of the tracks. Working with him there was surely one of the highlights. Our other main collaborators on the record have been LA-based Thom Monahan as well as fellow Swedes Patrik Berger and our INGRID-partner-in-crime Pontus Winnberg (of Miike Snow-fame). Also at the end Emile Haynie and Greg Kurstin came in and tidied up and co-produced a couple of tracks. So highly regarded names. And we’ve def learnt a lot from their different work methods and styles.
Speaking of Twitter, PB&J is very transparent with their followers. You guys have a lot of great, personalized hashtags sharing your stories (#PBJTracking, #PBJ7, #PBJ7nuggets, etc.), do you think it’s vital for musicians to share with fans or do you guys simply enjoy it?
Hmmm…I think there are no definitive ways. If you don’t have a social media presence and make awesome music I’m sure it can still work. But of course these days it makes it easier to reach out. You have to find your own strategy that feels worthwhile and good for you. We are always trying new things and changing it up. But yeah, we do enjoy it as well.
How was Peter Björn and John formed?
Me and Bjorn had bands together since we were 15, 16. We met in high school and bonded over pop music. He needed a singer and I needed a partner, since I didn’t feel like doing solo stuff. We met John a bit later and have played with him since 1999. In fact we were auditioning drummers and he was the perfect fit. Eventually of course he also turned out to be a funny chap, multi-instrumentalist and a great songwriter. Win win! He’s probably the best player in the band, at least on a technical level.
How does the collaboration between the three of you work? For example, is one person more focused on songwriting, do all three of you brainstorm together, does one of you prefer getting up at dawn to work while someone else prefers working at night, etc.?
I think these days we all like to work office hours since we have kids. But once in awhile an all-nighter can be really great creative-wise, you get into the flow. So you have to have a bunch of those per album. We all write songs including lyrics though I chip in a little bit more words than the rest, ‘cause I enjoy it and usually sing them so nice to have your own twist on it. But all 3 are pretty good at lyrics in slightly different styles. On this record we have worked closer than ever before on the songs. Usually one of us has a basic idea, some more fully formed than others. Then we put our heads together and really turn that idea inside out. Everyone has to like the finished track. So sections might come or go or swap places, chords are usually changed around a couple of times, melodies sometimes changed too, riffs and arrangements are worked out together etc. Also, in the studio we work pretty much the same amount of time though I’m shit at ProTools so I might dwell on lyrics or riffs instead of editing files. These days we usually have engineers to help us out anyway.
What has this collaboration taught you?
Lots and lots. And we still learn new things everyday. You’re never finished. On rough days I always complain that we are too dissimilar taste and work-wise and should probably not work together. Cause it can be tough and argumentative. But then when I work with other people I see a lot of Bjorn’s or John’s style in myself as well. So I guess we all bring out good and bad from each other and have more in common than we think. I can’t speak for myself but at least the other two are geniuses I believe ;) But you also learn from different collabs that YOU CAN make music in other ways than PBJ do. And that’s good. Our way isn’t always right. That’s why working with so many different types of producers has really been helpful.
How do you guys balance solo projects and PBJ projects?
For me when we have sort of finished a PBJ-album I instantly get in the headspace to start a solo-record. I might have had songs lying about for years but when the band’s working in the studio I can’t do that at the same time for some reason. Not lack of time but more psychological. So usually when we tour a PBJ-album I’m finishing a solo project. But then we all do stuff for others. Like write, play with artists live or in the studio, produce etc. And that’s a thing that works great parallel to the band all the time, another headspace if you will.
What is your creative process like?
I think I told you lots about that already. But I sometimes start with a riff, sometimes a melody and quite often a lyric or a lyric idea. So there’s no set way for me on how a song starts. We all work differently but for me when I don’t have lyrics I forget it and deem it uninteresting. Lyrics for me are the gel that makes a song a song. But then of course I like instrumentals too ;)
You have an album called Writer’s Block, how do you conquer writer’s block?
We never had too. There are dry spells on natural inspiration but you don’t always have to write inspired. You can write on demand. You learn to. It’s fun and different. But maybe it’s easiest when you co-write. You then inspire each other. For a solo record I need some inspiration for sure ‘cause it’s so personal usually. Also it’s good with lyrical keywords or a sort of general goal you’re working towards. That makes it easier to feel what mood you should set yourself in or what type of song that might be needed. But it’s not really that scientific. And you have to write crap songs sometimes. Also with 3 writers in a band and 2 or more years between albums you’d never tell if someone has a dry spell. 4 great songs is really all we need to come up with per person per album after all.
What does success mean to you?
Being able to do this for a living. And maintain an audience. Hopefully see it grow too.
Who or what inspires you?
Music wise? That’s different every day and every hour. But always Paul McCartney. I was inspired by him at 6 to pick up a guitar and I’m still inspired by him all the time. Just that he exists. Damon Albarn is another one of those renaissance people that just seem to love all kinds of music and just does it and often good. That’s really inspiring to me. Otherwise right now the guitar playing of Will Sergeant of Echo & The Bunnymen on their early albums. The new Julia Holter record. The fact they say guitars are dead and then Miguel gets appraisal for basically doing a (pretty good though) grunge-album with R’n’B-vocals. People I work with. My family & friends. Weather. Yes weather. Stuff that gets me pissed off, sad or happy. Running in the woods.
What do you think you would do as a job if you weren’t a musician?
I would work as a substitute teacher, or be a film scholar or librarian. I know ‘cause that’s stuff I used to do before this though not full-time. But there would always be music. Always has been. Always will be.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
There are so many different types of musicians so hard to say. Depends on what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. But one thing I have to say is that you should all learn to play an instrument properly. And play together with other people in a band, if so just jamming or covers at parties. Cause you learn so much from that and also it’s a joy-bringer to you for the rest of your life. It might seem odd to say that. But to be a successful songwriter or producer these days you don’t have to be able to do that if you know how to work a computer (which again I really can’t, my bad ;). And there’s nothing wrong with that all. I’m not being patronizing. But you can do both and it will complement each other I think. Another tip is to write the song first on a basic instrument (could even be a kids mini-keyboard) and do lyrics, form, key etc. THEN start producing it. At least in pop I think you miss the necessary classic hummable melodies and structure when you start with cool sounds and write afterwards. Wow I really sound like 80 years old. But again no way is the wrong way. But for us that’s how we work.
What is a day in the life like for you currently?
I’ve started working on (you guessed it) new solo stuff since we finished the album. So I’m working in different studios with different people and kind of overseeing the big picture myself. Basically mimicking the PBJ-process a little but without the big names ;) It’s fun, I’ve been working with some hip-hoppers on 2 songs and that’s really interesting ‘cause we come from really different places and to have them approach my songs is really fun. Apart from that, normal everyday stuff. Just moved to a new apartment so we are buying some furniture and painting some walls. Walking the dog. Watching Netflix. Listening to music. You know. Riding the subway. Eating grapefruit. Seeing the dentist. Goodnight!