- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - At South By Southwest, disastrous shows can happen easily. This year, the Swedish pop trio Peter Bjorn and John was one of the unfortunate bands led to SXSW slaughter.

The hundreds of bands are rushed on stage rapidly at the annual Austin music conference and festival, and they rarely get enough time to properly set up or tune.

The start of the first show by the acclaimed Peter Bjorn and John on Wednesday night was delayed and, when they finally started playing, equipment problems caused long interruptions and ruined the set. The unsympathetic crowd heckled and booed.

“It was an awful show,” said Peter Moren, the band’s lead singer, able to smile painfully about it in an interview Friday. “But it’s also good that stuff like that happens occasionally. Otherwise you become bigheaded.”

For Peter Bjorn and John, the 10-year-old trio whose fifth album “Living Thing” will be released on March 31, the issue of performance perfection is always relevant. They are pop craftsmen who create tightly woven songs (often about love) by mixing guitars, sythnesizers, acoustic instruments, samples and other sounds.

But live _ when everything doesn’t go wrong _ their songs don’t come off too stale or manicured. They’ll play a punk song amid a set of synth pop. Drummer John Eriksson says he likes “mayhem and mistakes” and even would have enjoyed being in the audience for their train wreck show.

Peter Bjorn and John emerged in 2006 with their third album “Writer’s Block,” which carried the infectious hit single “Young Folks,” (even Kanye West sampled it). They followed it up with the instrumental 2008 disc “Seaside Rock.”

The three members _ all songwriters _ have side projects, as well. Moren released a solo album last year named after the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel “The Last Tycoon.” Bjorn Yttling has become an in-demand producer. He co-produced last year’s acclaimed debut from Lykke Li, “Youth Novels.”

“Living Thing” finds the band navigating away from indie territory. Moren says it’s influenced by `80s pop like Autolux, A-ha, Fleetwood Mac, OMD and Depeche Mode _ who they’ll open for on tour this summer.

“There are almost Phil Collins effects at times, which is kind of glossy but also cold and a bit bubbly, spooky,” said Moren. “Less like an indie rock lager beer; more like a pop bubbly champagne thing.”

The Depeche Mode reference is especially evident on the new “It Don’t Move Me.”

“Normally we do, like, four or five different styles of each song,” said Eriksson, speaking on the varied music tastes of each member. The drummer gravitates toward current rock and hip-hop; Yttling is an expert on dance and electronic music; and Moren says he knows “the story of rock ‘n roll very well.”

A trio where all members write material is uncommon.

“For us, everyone is a control freak, super conscious about everything,” said Moren. “I guess we’re more like Crosby Stills and Nash than the Rolling Stones.”

One song on the new album, “Just the Past,” includes a simple intro melody Moren sang when he was 5 years old _ the first song he ever wrote, which his mother recorded on a cassette. Ever since, he’s been obsessed with writing music.

“You always think about songs,” said Moren. “Constantly.”


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