Peter, Bjorn and John Stay Relevant... Through Hip-Hop?
It's been three years since the release of "Young Folks," and, sure, on some level, it'd be easy to pigeonhole Peter, Bjorn & John as one-hit wonders. After all, none of the songs on either 2008's Seaside Rock or this year's Living Things have come close to the success, in America or abroad, of "the whistling song" from 2006's Writer's Block.
Of course, there's an obvious response to all that. Namely, that having a hit record isn't all that making music is about—it's about making music that keeps you satisfied artistically, and, hopefully, your fans will appreciate that effort.
But the band's Bjorn Yttling knows that not everyone coming to see his band perform knows much beyond "Young Folks." And, actually, he's fine with that.
"People come out and want to hear [that] song," he says, matter-of-factly. "But, there are a lot of people who have their other certain favorites too. A lot of people love that song—it's not a problem really."
A good part of that is because Yttling and his bandmates hardly stick to the same tried-and-true formulas when approaching each new album. Indeed, a listen to Peter, Bjorn & John's catalog will reveal a band unafraid of dabbling in various aesthetics; with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Yttling boasts that the last untraveled path for his band would be to write a song to a "Dr. John-meets-swamp-rock formula." Thankfully, they've found other outlets for creativity.
To keep the creative process fresh, the band looks to a wide variety of musical influences to create new songs: "We take the new music and the old music that we love and merge it into our own stuff that is equally good." Yttling says. "It's just a matter of finding new ways of doing what you're doing, really."
One of those news ways of creating music has been working with an array of hip-hop artists. Included among those efforts: clearing "Young Folks" as a backbeat for Kanye West's Can't Tell Me Nuthin' mixtape, and doing the same for its track "Let's Call It Off," which found its way onto Drake's So Far Gone.
"We thought it was great stuff," Yttling says of the remixes. "I like (their) versions—it's a nice one, yeah?"
But beyond simply clearing its songs for sampling, the group also produces works for hip-hop artists—although Yttling hardly considers himself a bona fide hip-hop producer.
"We don't see ourselves as really hip-hop guys." He says,"(But) we've worked with [underground hip-hop duo] Kidz In The Hall, for example."
It's a two-way street too; Yttling explains that Peter, Bjorn & John is always looking for new ways to progress its sound. And, instead of the band creating something new themselves, the band lets others do the work for them. With the release of Living Things, the group also made available free vocal and instrumental stems for producers to download and remix—although, Yttling admits, he isn't always impressed with the outcome.
"It's a matter of personal taste," he says. "You can't love everything. But it's fun and great to hear people working on your tracks."
Regardless, though, even as the music of Peter, Bjorn and John progresses, Yttling knows that his band will probably never completely get away from its tag as "that band with the song where they whistle."
"You can't get away from that," he says. "People in the press, everyone—they'll always identify you as something. But, that's not the reason we make music."
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