Q&A with John Eriksson of Peter Bjorn and John
Although John Eriksson, who stars in this week's Westword profile of his band, Peter Bjorn and John, was trained to be a classical percussionist, and spent years as a member of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, he's come to appreciate the perks of being a rock star -- particularly the gastronomic ones. The Q&A below begins and ends with food. Apparently, he feels that a drummer is only as good as his stomach is full.
Peter Bjorn and John.
As he's enjoying a delicious-sounding hotel-room meal, Eriksson talks about his formative years, spent in a small Swedish village; the influence on his career of his father, a classical guitar teacher; his classical training and related projects, all of which got backburnered when the 2006 PB&J album Writer's Block hit; his nascent attempts at pop tunesmithing, as well as his efforts not to compose like the drummer he is; the breakthrough of the single "Young Folks," which got attention on these shores thanks to a little TV show called Gray's Anatomy; the decision to follow Block with Seaside Rock, a not-very-commercial instrumental album that wound up exerting a strong influence on its successor, 2009's Living Thing; the manner in which he and cohorts Peter Morén and Björn Yttling balance their contributions; assorted percussion experiments, one involving a matchbox; and the pros and cons of opening an amphitheater tour for a group, Depeche Mode, with an especially loyal fan base.
Unsurprisingly, food plays a role. Eriksson's certainly got good taste.
Westword (Michael Roberts): Is this a good time for you?
John Eriksson: It's the perfect time. I'm just having some breakfast.
WW: What are you having?
JE: Some omelet with avocado and some tomatoes.
WW: Sounds pretty extravagant.
JE: Oh, yeah. It's out there (laughs).
WW: Well, while you're enjoying that, could you tell me a little about your background? Where originally are you from? And how would you describe the town you grew up in?
JE: I'm the one in the band who comes from most further up in Sweden. The northern part, in a small village on the coast called Hortlax. I think it's quite similar to Peter and Bjorn. We all come from small villages with very little to do. All my friends were playing ice hockey except for me, and all my friends had these small pets, and I didn't have that. So I practiced drums for seven hours a day and did, like, some skits on the tape recorder.
JE: Like these crazy mix tapes. You put five seconds from a Van Halen song and five seconds from a Lionel Richie song. Almost the same things we do now (laughs). Playing drums, doing music. I haven't really developed beyond that.
WW: What drew you to the drums in the first place? And how old were you when you started playing?
JE: I think my first drum kit when I was about five. I think my parents noticed that was my interest. I don't know how they got that....
WW: Were you always pounding on things?
JE: I think so. All kids do that, but maybe I did that more (laughs). And also, my parents took me to a lot of concerts. My dad was a classical guitar teacher. And then I saw a percussion ensemble, and I thought it would be really cool to play on all that different stuff.
WW: Did you start out playing classical music? Or did you gravitate toward it as you got older?
JE: I experienced classical music from an early age, and I wanted to do that almost from the beginning. So I started on classical marimbas and things like that as early as possible. I took private lessons from when I was, like, eight-years old or something. At the same time, I was listening to hard rock and heavy metal, and I wanted to play that on drums, too. I did both, and I've been doing both ever since. I studied classical percussion at the University of Stockholm for four years and worked in a Swedish radio symphony orchestra. And then I worked in a classical percussion ensemble for seven years. And then Peter Bjorn and John hit, and "Young Folks" came out, and since then, it's been moving toward this band. Now, it's impossible to do both. I'm leading the shy little dream of being in a rock band (laughs).