"We just want to cut down on plastic, for the environment," says Björn Yttling, explaining why his Swedish trio, Peter Bjorn and John, ditched keyboards for their sixth album, Gimme More, and the subsequent tour.
Peter Bjorn and John have scaled down on their equipment and their personal consumption, with the band trading bottled waters for glasses of beer onstage; Yttling confesses he has yet to bathe during the tour, too. Still the band's most striking dial-back is in its sound. Known mostly for the breakout "Young Folks"—you know, that song that still coaxes a toe-tap or a whistle whenever it plays at your local grocery store—PB&J draws inspiration from five decades of rock 'n' roll on Gimme More. Cutting out the sample-heavy aesthetic they tried out on 2009's Living Thing, Peter Bjorn and John opt for economy, with only guitar, bass, drums and a lot of jangle. The pop chameleons channel John Lee Hooker, LCD Soundsytem and Suicide; the beat behind the guitar-propelled cut, "I Know You Don't Love Me," even comes from Neu!'s "Hallogallo."
But rather than package these sounds as mere revivals, Peter Bjorn and John return to the formula that made Writer's Block work so well—they carve these sounds into original tunes with bare instrumentation and direct lyrics, delivered in lingering melodies.
"For me, first comes sound, then sound with words, and then comes subject," Yttling says. "When you hear lyrics, you create a lot of the them in your own mind." Penning the majority of Peter Bjorn and John's discography (and Lykki Li's Wounded Rhymes), Yttling's sound-based lyrics add dimension to Peter Morén's murmurs. And here, the trio's most striking tracks are the sparest, like "Second Chance"—for Yttling, that's about "taking your life in your own hands because you can't count on getting another go."
Gimme More really is another go for Peter Bjorn and John. After tinkering with meandering synth lines and goth-tinged lyrics like "That pretty face is telling lies/ It's plaster more than skin" on Living Thing, this return to simplicity is welcome. They've even made those years-old tunes fit this new mold.
"We rearranged some stuff," he says. "So we just made [older songs] into guitar, bass and drums versions. Some of them are goofing on that, of course, but these songs feel like they can handle any sort of setting." Gimme More's surfed-out bass riffs and affirming words, like on singles "Second Chance" and "Breaker Breaker," are still lush and adventurous enough to translate in a live setting well, whether it's a small rock club or arena.
Peter Bjorn and John have played both. Opening for Depeche Mode in 2009, PB&J locked down their set in the allotted 45 minutes at venues like Madison Square Garden. Though that immense stage exposure could have inflated their egos and sonic approach, they took it as an opportunity to "be more of a punk band," says Yttling. That's the sort of spirit that defines Gimme More—bare-bones and basic, but magnetic in its own way.
"We wanted to change up the details, like different rooms on the drums and different textures with distortion," Yttling says. "Small tricks instead of big tricks. It's more of a street magician than Copperfield."