It's not true that all a Swedish musician needs to win over America is a fun name and a funny accent. Sure, ABBA and Yngwie Malmsteen had both bases covered but, musically, Swedish upstarts Peter Bjorn and John have as much in common with those acts as they do with Borat. And having received approval from Drew Barrymore, Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, and band hero Murray Phillips, it seems like everyone but our favorite fake Kazakhstani journalist has jumped aboard the PB&J bandwagon.
"We're all taken aback by the whole thing," explains vocalist/guitarist Peter Morén. "But we like to appeal to all ages, from the young to the very old. There seem to be a lot of young kids who listen to the single, anyway. You can find a lot of videos on YouTube of babies in diapers dancing. And that's a compliment."
No question, PB&J fever is here, and it has hit full pitch. The band's first extended stay in North America has quickly become a whirlwind of acclaim and curious interest that, increasingly, is fostering a perverse, but perhaps inevitable, blogosphere backlash. Not that the band it centers around have had time to notice. Between spring gigs at SXSW and Coachella, adjusting to the North American cuisine ("Everything is bigger and fatter here, so I have to watch out"), and keeping up with the frantic promotional obligations their rapid-fire ascent to indiepop royalty requires, their schedule is nearly as dense as the album Writer's Block, which keyed all this success.
Buoyed by the unstoppable momentum of the star-making "Young Folks," the album's become an unexpected success. And while that song is obviously the catalyst for most people's interest in the band, it's the rest of Writer's Block that ought to remind listeners that perfect pop songs are just one arm of their multi-faceted arsenal.
"Sometimes people are surprised there's so much rock 'n' roll going on, because that song is so light and breezy," says Morén. "But I think most people really appreciate and enjoy the other songs, and sing along to them as well, which is really nice."
That's exemplified throughout Writer's Block, an album of expansive instrumentation, deftly arranged dream-pop, and clanging rock jingles. The second single, "Objects of My Affection," bullrushes in on a wave of pomp and panache before revealing its reflective, melancholy heart through marching drums and hanging melodies. "I think it's really important to show different sides of a band," explains Morén, noting that in Europe the almost alt-country "Let's Call it Off" was the band's second single.
Of course, if you're still only into PB&J for "Young Folks," be forewarned that their Portland set will add a wrinkle or two. Morén will be voicing both parts of its boy/girl narrative, and he's advertising that PB&J will be welcoming one guest bongo player from the crowd to join them onstage every night. "It would be nice if someone wrote us mail so we can see if they can play," he laughs. "If a 100 people turn up, it might be tricky. We can't have 100 bongo players onstage."
You heard the man: Start practicing now, aspiring bongoists.