Spotlight

Starting a Youth Movement

Peter Bjorn and John (from left, Bjorn Yttling, Peter Moren and John Eriksson) found success on the Internet with the song
Peter Bjorn and John (from left, Bjorn Yttling, Peter Moren and John Eriksson) found success on the Internet with the song "Young Folks." (By Johan Bergmark)

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By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007

If you've heard Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" or seen its charmingly lo-fi animated video, you know that the song is mighty hard to get out of your head.

What makes "Young Folks" so catchy -- addictive, really -- is its opening verse, lazily whistled rather than sung over a funky bass line, shimmering bongos and keyboards. That's followed by a low-key boy-meeting-girl duet in which boy nervously asks girl, "If I told you things I did before / Told you how I used to be / Would you go along with someone like me" and girl sweetly replies, "It doesn't matter what you did / Who you were hanging with / We could stick around and see this night through."

The whistling reappears after a carefree chorus in which the couple insists, "We don't care about the young folks talkin' about the young style / And we don't care about the old folks. . . . All we care about is talking, talking only me and you," and once again at song's end, by which time the hook is deep in your mind.

"Young Folks" is a snapshot of hook-up anxiety in a perfect pop setting, which explains why the track was snapped up for episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" and "How I Met Your Mother" and why the video has had almost 2 million views on YouTube and a million more on MySpace. It's why "Young Folks" was recently co-opted for a youth-oriented commercial by AT&T Wireless. England's NME magazine named it the second-best song of 2006.

The group performs Monday at the 9:30 club; the concert will be streamed live on http://www.NPR.org/music and then archived online.

According to the Swedish indie-pop trio (guitarist Peter Moren, keyboardist Bjorn Yttling and drummer John Eriksson), that whistling intro was nothing more than a happy accident. Yttling, who also produced the group's new "Writer's Block" CD, explained from Stockholm recently that "Young Folks" was inspired by studio recordings for "O Lord, Why Can't I Keep My Big Mouth Shut," an album by his jazz project, Yttling Jazz.

"On that record, I was doing quite a lot of overdubs using whistling. When I did the demo for 'Young Folks,' I needed to show the other guys the melody that was supposed to be in the beginning of the song, so I took the mike and did the whistling again."

That whistling stayed as maracas, drum and bass were added to the conversational duet by Moren and ex-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman, at which point engineer Linus Larsson sat up in the studio and said, " 'That sounds so great!' Then everyone said it sounded great," Yttling said.

Yttling admits he was surprised when "Young Folks" was embraced last year by commercial radio stations in Sweden "that we never expected to be played on. That was a bit of a break in the mentality because I couldn't really see that before." After all, "Writer's Block" is the group's third album, and Moren and Yttling had played together since the late '90s.

The embrace of "Young Folks," Yttling marvels, "started happening in every country in Europe, then Japan and Australia, and then America, of course." It was helped immensely by its lighthearted video, inspired by Bamse, known as "the world's strongest and kindest bear," a classic Swedish cartoon character from the '60s and star of comics and animated shorts known for their low-budget charm.

"Writer's Block" is something of a song cycle about relationships, from first moments full of hope and possibility to shared pleasure and giddy mutuality and finally post-breakup malaise. In the latest single and video, "Objects of My Affection," the protagonist is ready to ditch his solitude ("Some days, I just lie around and hardly exist / And can't tell apart what I'm eating from my hand or my wrist"), take risks ("Young Folks") and enjoy the rewards in "Start to Melt" and "Paris 2004," in which he declares, "I'm all about you / You're all about me / We're all about each other." The downside catches up with him on "Let's Call It Off" and "Up Against the Wall" ("It's almost that I wish we hadn't met at all").

"We just write songs about our own concerns," Yttling says.

Not surprisingly, given the album's plentiful indie-pop charms and the YouTube/MySpace popularity of "Young Folks," Peter Bjorn and John have been, for the most part, embraced by the music gurus of the Internet. For instance, the group was part of music Web site Pitchfork Media's showcase at the recent South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin. "Young Folks" was ranked No. 5 on Pitchfork's "Top 100 Tracks of 2006."

But what the blog giveth, the blog liketh to take away. Hence Stop Peter Bjorn and John ( http://www.stoppeterbjornandjohn.blogspot.com), a site for folks (young and otherwise) sick to death of that "whistling song" and eager "to stop the band . . . from getting any more popular than they already are." According to founding blogger the Wrong Folks, "if blogs can start an indie rock band, there is no reason why we cannot use the same methods to stop one."

The blog began March 7 . . . and closed shop March 16.

"That was one of the best blogs I ever read," Yttling says, "but it stopped too early."

Appearing Monday at the 9:30 club

Sounds like: Sweden's Shins, and when Peter Moren's doing the vocals, the Shins fronted by John Lennon.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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