PETER MORÉN

"I want to be open-minded in every kind of aspect, from lyrical subjects to musical styles."

Peter Morén is well known for the band, Peter Bjorn and John in his homeland Sweden, yet he also has his own successful solo career. So far, he's released three albums, most recently Pyramiden (2012).

We caught up with Peter to talk about his music, his thoughts on sound quality and the best way to enjoy music, and much more.

Part I: I'm Peter Morén till I die
"My solo albums are my chance to play around with ideas/sounds/songs and have the last say in everything; I'm my own boss. I want to be open-minded in every kind of aspect, from lyrical subjects to musical styles; anything goes if it feels good in my stomach," Peter explains over a cappuccino at a café in Stockholm.

A pop songwriter
"Since Peter Bjorn And John is a very democratic three-piece, I need that outlet and freedom to decide and express myself. But regardless, it's not like a crazy unlistenable project of free-form stuff. I'm a pop songwriter and that's what I want to do with both projects.

It might change in the future, but now at least I'm into song-based music, melodic with interesting arrangements. I mean pop music can be a lot of things, from folk-pop to techno! It's also not a lighthearted side-project; it's something I take very seriously and hope to develop further in the future.

It's true that the band is my way of bringing food to the table, but the solo thing is just as important (if not more at times), artistically. Also, a band is always a band, but Peter Morén I will be until I die, so I can't get rid of that or split up with myself," Peter muses.

The new album
So does this show on your latest album?

"The latest album is my most developed album so far, especially production-wise. It's a bit more polished and uses quite a lot of different musicians, engineers and studios, compared to the first album for example which was mostly home-recorded.

It's also the most eclectic thing I've done. It's recorded over a long period of time and takes in the influences I had on I spåren av tåren of old soul, folk and rock 'n' roll, but also the folk-jazzy-vibe from The Last Tycoon and the indie-power-pop roots obvious in Peter Bjorn And John."

"So it's the best of everything that is Peter, maybe. Lyrically, it's my most negative, political and self-critical so far, but it also has some positive love songs on there. We mostly started with live takes, me (on bass), a drummer and a keyboard player, then added overdubs and built and changed around stuff based on that foundation."

His own favourites
If you were to highlight a couple of songs, which would it be?

"Two favourite songs I have from the latest album are the opener Erik M. Nilson and the sun-drenched wordy pop of Capri, Cannes & Brighton. Erik M. Nilson is a tribute to a Swedish documentary filmmaker I really like, but it's also about just being lazy and not feeling like doing much. I think it's one of my favourite melodies/compositions I've ever done! It feels like a classic! I love the way it sounds," he explains from a winter-struck Stockholm.

"Of course, it's flirting with the dreamy, slightly psychedelic sound of early Bowie, The Zombies and John Lennon, but HEY, you could have worse influences! Capri, Cannes & Brighton was written during my honeymoon in Italy and deals with melancholy as a desired state and how beauty can hide a lot of rot beneath; nothing one-dimensional really!

We wanted a summery feeling but a summer on the brink of hazy autumn and used a bed of guitars and harmonies over swinging folky drums and as icing on the cake, harp, flute and lots of zither and guitar through tape-delay effects to get a blurry and dreamy feeling! Love it! It's happy sad like the Tim Buckley album!! All the best pop songs should have both sides of that coin, nothing one-dimensional, as I said!"

Metapop
The video for the song Odyssén from your 2012 album, Pyramiden, is available in this interview. Please tell us about the process, from writing the song to the final recording and video?

"Odyssén is a song that has been around for a long time. I wrote the music together with a fellow songwriter/producer called Peter Ågren who, among other things, sings in the band The Amplifetes. At first, it had English lyrics, but with the same theme, this kind of love/hate relationship I have with pop music and the music industry."

"It's a catchy pop song about scepticism of pop music, which I find quite funny, meta-pop! At first, I thought the song would fit Peter Bjorn And John, but then I came up with the idea for the Swedish lyric and saved it for the solo record.

When we recorded it, we used a lot of the ideas and even some of the sounds from the demo I made with Peter, but replaced synths and drum machines with pianos, guitars and a drumkit.

I love all the little rhythms and riffs that go on at the same time, it's quite a well-arranged track I guess. As with most of the things I do with co-producer Tobias Fröberg, we played around with tape delays, which you can hear.

For the video, I collaborated with some really creative friends. We wanted a high-energy video with lots of movement and colour that would in a humouristic way use the theme of 'pop' in the lyric. We used the green-screen technique common when MTV was young to get some '80s vibe, which suits the song."

One inspiration was Paul McCartney's great clip for Coming Up where he himself plays the different characters in his (big) band who all have different musical 'images'.

"I nicked that idea for my smaller combo with a punk bassist, mod guitarist, hippie organ player, and student/jazz drummer. All characters I feel a kinship with myself. For the 'dance' scene at the end, we asked some friends and hung around to participate and did a simple choreography. The aim of the video was to make a fun video that you would like to watch again. And again, I think we succeeded."

Part II: Quality sound – as long as it's not boring!

What inspires you when creating new music? And which kind of music has inspired you?

"As soon as I get a kick out of something I want to do something similar. But of course, it ends up sounding like me most of the time. I have a certain melodic DNA that runs through all I do.

But I do like to experiment with different genres and styles. Mostly when I end up writing a song it's because I have a lyrical idea I want to get in print. Just a riff or a melody is not enough for me to put a piece together, I need the verbal inspiration to finish something. So in this sense, the news, films or just everyday life and the people I meet are just as important as any musicians."

Peter mentions The Beatles and their eclecticism as inspiration at an early stage in his life. Since then, he's been inspired by '70s disco, older R&B and folk-rock, as well as Brazilian and African music:

"Lately, I've also come back to my roots in guitar-rock/new wave/power-pop-indie from the '70s to the early '90s. I also get into periods where I dig deeper into old favourites and records I've earlier missed, like Kinks albums from the late '70s-80s or McCartney's solo works that are often underestimated, but great!

I dig a lot of modern soul and indie as well. The only music I've never really been into is metal, progressive rock and hardcore dance music, but it's probably only a matter of time," Peter acknowledges.

What good sound and good music is
Being sound and loudspeaker fans, naturally we had to ask Peter about his view on good sound and loudspeakers:

"I love hi-fi music and super-good 'good' sound. But also really crappy lo-fi. It usually has to do with my mood what ideas are presented in the songs and in which context.

As long as it's not boring, it's fine. But that of course is very subjective. I like music from all eras which all have different qualities in several ways, but if you aim for the best most natural-sounding stuff hi-fi-wise it's probably produced between 1976 and 1982.

There's also a lot of good-sounding new stuff, but often it's compressed to death until the sound is destroyed completely and can't breathe."

I have a pretty good stereo system but can't remember what it's called. It's kind of ironic these days that a lot of people spend time and money to produce good-sounding music when people then listen on cheap headphones on their computer or telephones"

Obviously, a lot of dimensions get lost. Unfortunately, I think producers sometimes produce tracks with this in mind and take away subtle things from the production that they don't think the listeners will get."

The best way to enjoy music
You're releasing your music on LP as well as CD, and it's available on streaming services such as Spotify as well. As a musician, what are your thoughts on the digital evolution?

"I'm very old-school when it comes to listening to music. I use streaming a lot, especially when travelling. I enjoy making playlists, and Spotify is good when you're working/recording as a reference bank and for finding out about new music.

But when I'm at home, I almost exclusively listen to records, vinyl or CD. I love the whole package you get with an album, the feel of it, the cover and the idea the artist has about the tracklist and presentation. And it sounds better of course. So I still think it's the best way to enjoy music. Unless it's live."

Your solo album from 2008, The Last Tycoon, is in English, while your 2010 album, I Spåren Av Tåren and the new album, Pyramiden, is sung in your native language, Swedish. How come these shifts between different languages?

"The shift came by as a happy accident. I was playing around with a Swedish idea for a song and struck inspirational gold. I now regard Swedish as my main musical language.

It makes me feel much more liberated to sing about what I want with words that I want to use, since I know the language so much better than English. In this sense, I can be more respectless and play around with it," Peter says.

"I can sing about stuff like politics, history and Swedish culture in a way I never could in English. But I might still do another English solo album as well since most of my audience is outside of Sweden. But I have felt pressure to deliver English lyrics as good as the Swedish, a need to be original and I'm more critical of myself.

So maybe the way to go in the future is to write in Swedish first and then translate to get more honest or playful lyrics. I don't think Swedish is a stiff language to sing in. I think it's pretty sexy in fact. At least, it's closer to the bone, so it should be sexier," Peter says with a laugh.

More good music, forgotten talents – and more crap
What are your thoughts about the musical scene today?

"It's very diverse and very big, so it's impossible to get an overview of everything that's out there. But since there's more music made than ever, I probably think there's more good music made but also more crap.

I'm sure a lot of extremely talented people are being neglected or forgotten just because they don't scream the loudest with the sharpest elbows or have the most well-connected parents or most obvious hits.

That's one thing I have a problem with. I often feel media today don't have time for more subtle expressions, at least not when it comes to pop music."

So a lot of the hits of today are sometimes too simple in an annoying way, almost like the songs undervalue the intelligence of listeners. But then I'm only talking about the really commercial pop music.

And I still hear commercial stuff I like too, so there's nothing definitive about the statement. Still, I think the best pop music is often made in the grey zone between arty and commercial."

2013-14
At the moment, Peter and his band Peter Bjorn and John are busy recording their seventh album. He's also doing solo shows, and next year he'll probably start touring with Peter Bjorn and John again.

He also enjoys jumping in as a session player on other people's records – and tries to keep writing new music as frequently as possible.

By now, he's caught the Stockholm subway home and finishes the interview in a cosy apartment with lots of burning candles surrounding him, while The Smiths and Aztec Camera play on the stereo.

Find out more about Peter Morén on Facebook and www.petermoren.com.

- Rune H. Jensen, rhj@dali.dk

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