Whistling Along with Peter Bjorn and John

With constant touring and a ridiculously catchy bit of whistling, the Swedish pop trio has become one of the year's hottest acts. Singer/guitarist Peter Moren plays from the band's third record, Writer's Block.

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(Soundbite of song "Young Folks")

MIKE PESCA, host:

Welcome to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. I'm Mike Pesca, in for Luke Burbank.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

And I'm Rachel Martin, in for Alison Stewart.

Okay. Even if you're not a fan of Swedish pop music, you've probably heard this song some time in the last year. It's called the "Young Folks," and it's by the band Peter Bjorn and John.

PESCA: Since those guys put out "Young Folks" on their third album, "Writer's Block," it has landed in TV shows, commercials. It won a Grammy Award. That'd be a Swedish Grammy, or a Swammy.

MARTIN: Of course. And about a month ago, Grammy award winner and ace whistler, Peter Moren, the Peter from Peter Bjorn and John, came into the BPP studios to perform some tunes and talk to Luke and Alison about growing up in small town Sweden, the sudden interest in their music from well-known British singers and unknown Danish ones, and trying to get away from that song.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

What is it like to be so well-known for one song right now when you've written three different records with lots of really good songs on them?

Mr. PETER MOREN (Singer, Peter Bjorn and John; Songwriter): It's good because people buy the album, and hopefully, they like some of the other songs. But it's bad if they only like that song. It's a bit bad. But it's good because we get some financial support. Some bad - but I mean - yeah, I can stay in New York for a while because of that song. So that's nice. But I hope that eventually people get into the other songs as well.

BURBANK: What's the weirdest place that you've heard that song? I mean, most unexpected.

Mr. MOREN: Well, I heard the James Blunt cover, did you hear that?

BURBANK: Uh-uh.

Mr. MOREN: That was pretty weird. And then meeting him, like, the day after and denying that we heard the cover because we didn't found out. Yeah. (Unintelligible) side or something (unintelligible).

ALISON STEWART, host:

I think he didn't like the cover. Was that the idea?

BURBANK: James Blunt…

Mr. MOREN: No comment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: He answered the question. He didn't really care for the cover.

BURBANK: That's the "You're Beautiful" guy?

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. MOREN: Yeah.

BURBANK: Oh, right. Have you been in a, you know, in a store or walking down the street and heard it come blaring out of someone's window and thought, hey, that's my song?

Mr. MOREN: You hear people whistle occasionally. You don't really know. And also like sitting in restaurants and it's coming on, you can't really tell if they recognize you or it's just accident, I don't know. That's pretty weird actually. It kind of upsets me. I don't want to hear it when I'm eating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Even though he probably was paying for the food.

Mr. MOREN: Yes. That's true.

STEWART: This may sound like a silly question. Are you a tremendously good whistler? I'm thinking this is all done in postproduction or you spot along when you whistle.

Mr. MOREN: Actually, on the record, Bjorn, as we sing, and it's not - it's like pitched so it's not really natural. So then when we were supposed to do it live after we finished the record, I would suppose the whistling was really hard because it's quite a high pitch for male to whistle. But I nailed it eventually.

BURBANK: I saw you at the 9:30 Club in D.C., and I thought you whistled it excellently.

Mr. MOREN: Oh, thank you.

BURBANK: Well, you bring your guitar and you're going…

Mr. MOREN: Yes.

BURBANK: …play a song for us. What do you have?

Mr. MOREN: I'm thinking about doing "Objects of My Affection" since you praised it so nicely.

BURBANK: It is my favorite song.

Mr. MOREN: Thank you.

BURBANK: And I know you aim to please so I appreciate that.

Mr. MOREN: Okay.

(Soundbite of song "Objects of My Affection")

Mr. MOREN: (Singing) I remember when, when I first moved here, a long time ago 'cause I heard some song I used to hear back then, a long time ago. I remember when, even further back, in another town, 'cause I saw something written I used to say back then, hard to comprehend.

And the question is, was I more alive then than I am now? I happily have to disagree. I laugh more often now. I cry more often now. I am more me.

But, of course, some days I just lie around and hardly exist and can't tell apart what I'm eating from my hands or my wrist. 'Cause flesh is flesh, flesh as flesh as flesh, the difference is thin. But life has a certain ability or breathing new life into me, so I breathe it in.

Just be here you are, and we all are here, and you still can make sense. If you just show up and present an honest face instead of that grin. And the question is, was I more alive then than I am now? I happily have to disagree. I laugh more often now. I cry more often now. I am more me.

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. MOREN: And the other day, this new friend of mine, said something to me. Just because something starts differently, doesn't mean it's worth less. And I soaked it in, how I soaked it in, how I soaked it in. And just to prove how right he was, then you came. So I'm gonna give. Yes, I'm gonna give. I'm gonna give you a try. So I'm gonna give. Yes, I'm gonna give. I'm gonna give you a try. And the question is, was I more alive then than I am now? I happily have to disagree. I laugh more often now, I cry more often now. I am more me. I am more me.

(Soundbite of applause)

BURBANK: Whew.

Mr. MOREN: Thank you.

BURBANK: People are like collecting outside the studio. It's like, what is that sound? That sound is Peter Moren of Peter, Bjorn and John here on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. You guys are from Stockholm?

Mr. MOREN: Yes.

BURBANK: And I was going down a list of Swedish bands that I've been listening to and enjoying lately, and it seemed like a whole bunch of them have made the jump over here. You've got The Knife, Jens Lekman, Jose Gonzales, I'm from Barcelona. I'm not the band. I'm from Barcelona. What's going on in Sweden right now?

Mr. MOREN: I don't know. I don't really know. I mean, there's been the good bands there forever, but, of course, it's exploded the last five years or something, especially over here. And I guess it's - part of it is because of the Internet, because you get a lot of hype from blogs and stuff and people don't actually need record deals before people get - that's what happened to us. The record wasn't out here, and people had started talking about it, and eventually, a record label got interested. So I think Internet has a lot to do with - and like, you know, networking, indie networking and people - there's no barriers anymore. So even if there were good bands in Sweden by 1990, it was much harder to reach other countries.

STEWART: How did you consume music when you were little? I mean, you think about kids today, they can just log on…

Mr. MOREN: Yeah.

STEWART: …and consume anything from anywhere.

Mr. MOREN: Yeah.

STEWART: But how did you find it?

Mr. MOREN: It was pretty difficult, because I'm raised in a small village called (unintelligible) which is in a part of Sweden called Dalarnas, where there's just lots of skiing and ice hockey, and not a lot of good music apart from traditional fiddle music. And it was very hard. I had to, like, buy records while I was on, like, vacation with my parents to bigger cities, and then you had to go and buy lots of records to keep you busy for half a year. And in the town where I lived, you can only buy, like, the latest releases. Or not even that, like - almost the latest releases, a couple of months old or something. So it's very hard. And you tape from radio, of course.

BURBANK: Who were you into? Who do you listen all the time?

Mr. MOREN: In the '80s when I was about 10, I was really into The HouseMartins.

BURBANK: Uh-huh. The HouseMartins?

Mr. MOREN: Yeah.

BURBANK: Sure.

Mr. MOREN: And also stuff like A-ha, you know, and also lots of '60s. I was like a '60s freak when I grew up. I liked Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds, like really early. When I was seven, I was into that.

BURBANK: Do you feel like that - does that come out in your music? That kind of '60s influence, you think? That sort of harmony and stuff?

Mr. MOREN: Yeah. I guess it still does. I mean, you don't listen to it as much anymore, but when I started to learn to write songs, that's what I listened to. So it kind of - somewhere in the back of your head, it's still there, I guess. But it's very interesting, as you said, because, like, my cousin who lives in the same village now…

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. MOREN: He gets all these fashionable clothes, and he knows all the latest music, (unintelligible) in front of the computer. And it wasn't - that couldn't happen in the '80s.

STEWART: It wasn't like that.

Mr. MOREN: It wasn't - not possible, so you hade to move. I had to move to Stockholm, which was good, because I met the boys and everything.

BURBANK: The names - the name Peter Bjorn and John is pretty straightforward. It's the guys in the band. Does Bjorn get mad because people think it's your last name? Because for the longest time, I thought you were the guy named Peter Bjorn, and then there was a dude named John, like, on tambourine.

Mr. MOREN: No, he didn't get mad, but it was weird because we got a mail from -there's a Danish troubadour who's actually christened Peter Bjorn, and that's his last name. So he was pretty mad at us. He said, like, I was actually named this by my parents and you ruined my career. Everybody comes to my show and, like, pretending I'm going to whistle or something and…

BURBANK: Play "Young Folks."

Mr. MOREN: Yeah, and he hasn't released an album or anything. He was played on the Danish radio and had some demos out, and I kind of explained we have the record out all over the world. We can't really change it now. It's too late. I'm sorry. I understand the problem, but - so they didn't answer back then. I understand.

BURBANK: Did people think that was a weird name? Did people think that was a weird name when you guys started out?

Mr. MOREN: In Sweden, we were weird. I think over here, people don't think it's that weird. Because in the beginning - it's supposed to be said in English, you know, because it's spelled in English, like Peter, Bjorn and John, with A-N-D. But in the beginning, everybody thought that was a misspell, so they said, Peter Bjorn John on Swedish each radio, which sounds really dull and boring. So we had to phone, like, the Swedish radio and tell them how to spell our name. They couldn't get right. They thought it was a misspelling. So it's doing better here, I think.

BURBANK: You guys tour a lot, and have toured in America pretty extensively.

Mr. MOREN: Yeah.

BURBANK: What's your favorite U.S. city to play in?

Mr. MOREN: It's different from time to time. I can't really pick. I mean, sometimes the show is better in one city and sometimes better in the other one. But I think it's really fun to play, like, cities you don't really expect things to happen. Like we played Salt Lake City, and it was a riot. Like, because it was like a free show outdoors and it was - I don't know, how many kids - like 1,200 or 1,300 or something. And they kind of jumped on stage and broke down barriers and went nuts. It was actually a bit almost worrying, like a bit scary. We had to, like, calm them down, and I never thought that would happen at our shows, you know? But also, Nashville was very fun. It was, wasn't sold out like it usually is in the bigger cities, but the people who were there was just crazy, and on the last song, everybody was dancing on stage. And so, those two were pretty - I'm going to remember for a while.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: You now are in this band that's so popular, when you do play shows, it's sold out a lot of the time. People are into it, they know the songs. Are there parts about being a bona fide rock and roll star now that you didn't expect?

Mr. MOREN: I never though about stuff like that, like expecting anything. I'm just I'm so happy that people want to see you. So I don't - I still don't get it, really, because I'm used - we used to play cellars in Stockholm for 60 people, so I still expect 60 people.

BURBANK: But when you're on stage looking out at this crowd of people singing along, are you thinking to yourself, I can't believe this is my job?

Mr. MOREN: Yes. Every day.

BURBANK: Would it be possible to play another song for us so we can - do you have another one in the hopper?

Mr. MOREN: I could try something. I - well, I do a song that we sometimes do as an encore, which was on our first album, which is not released in the States. Our second one is out here. The first one you can only buy at the shows still. I don't why, but I do a song from that one because it's…

BURBANK: Sure. What's this called?

Mr. MOREN: …just acoustic guitar. "Collect, Select, Reflect" So it's on the album called "Peter Bjorn and John," which is red.

(Soundbite of song, "Collect, Select, Reflect")

Mr. MOREN: (Singing) Think of me, and I will think of you. Then at least we all can do what the other one says to. Be with me, and I will be with you. As to complicate things further, I will always be true. Collect, select, reflect something. Pick up the things you want and need. They're telling me you can't always be the center of attention, but you can try. You can try. You can try. You can try, try, try, try, try. Honesty - it's easy to act. As a matter of a fact, it disguises what you like. What do we like? What do you like? What do we like? Try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try.

(Soundbite of applause)

BURBANK: Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn and John. What's that song called again?

Mr. MOREN: "Collect, Select, Reflect."

BURBANK: Can people get that on your - can they get that record on your Web site, I assume?

Mr. MOREN: Maybe. I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: They can get it in the shows when they play all across the States late November and December, right?

BURBANK: Absolutely. They're going to be playing - but first off, some free shows, I understand, coming up in Manchester, Bristol and London - if you're listening to us in the U.K. And then back here in New York…

Mr. MOREN: Yeah.

BURBANK: …playing at Joe's Pub on November 19th.

Mr. MOREN: That's just me, yeah.

BURBANK: Oh, that's just you?

Mr. MOREN: Yeah, that's the solo show.

BURBANK: Well, I think based on the performance today, it's going to be sold out…

Mr. MOREN: Okay.

BURBANK: …if I have to buy the tickets myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Peter, thanks for coming on.

Mr. MOREN: Thank you very much for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's it for THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT - our very first Thanksgiving edition.

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