It’s hard to survive in the music business, but Peter Bjorn and John have done that and then some. The Swedish indie-pop trio have been triumphing via their pitch-perfect alchemy of varying sounds and styles for two decades now, and their ninth album Endless Dream is proof of the unique creative chemistry that Peter Morén, Bjorn Yttling, and John Eriksson have successfully worked with for so long. Every PB&J album sounds liked falling in love with music for the first time, and the deceptively light confections contained on Endless Dream continue with the trio’s latest romance, the Endless Play EP.
(Photo Credit: Johan Bergmark)
1. Delay Pedals/units
Like most people this year, I’ve had plenty of literal “solo” time and spent lots of it playing guitar. Just before the pandemic we were gearing up for a 20th anniversary tour, and I decided to update my pedalboard a bit for the upcoming shows. In the past I’ve been rather put off by the “gearhead”-part of music making. Discounting vintage guitars with mojo, I’ve usually relied on a decent amp and whatever popped up in my way and made it work. From pedals via management sponsorships or boxes lying in the studio perking my attention to accidentally ending up in a boutique brand’s workshop on tour and coming home with something fresh. But I never set out to deliberately try and find new stuff. Not so anymore!
What started out by swapping out a few things on my big board continued in an endless search for new, different, and better — and an aim to have some smaller complementary boards as well for gigs and studio work. What might on the surface seem like just an angst-ridden GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is also something that can be very inspirational. At this mature age, I’ve come to realize that the way you arrange the order of effects and what combinations you throw in the mix really can affect the sound. It’s obvious but I seriously never thought of it before, I just played! Now I love trying out new combos.
As Johnny Marr puts it: ”Produce with your feet.” Different effects are different beasts though. In most cases I find a couple options I like and I’m quite content; say phaser, compressor, tremolo etc. However, two sorts continue to mystify. There’s the overdrive pedal — a hard nut to crack, since what you really are after is a small amp cranked and you usually can’t crank it. So in spite of nice various flavors, nothing’s perfect really.
Then there’s the delay pedal, by far the most inspirational, interesting one in my opinion. Delay/echo of course is the sound of twangy surf guitars, dub-reggae, the slapback rockabilly sound of Elvis’ voice, post-punk, indie and Ringo Starr’s drums at their most perfect. Echo/delay sounds good on everything, and is often heard on PBJ-tracks.
For the perfect echo effects of records in the golden olden era, they used real studio tape machines set at different speeds. Then came the smaller units like the Echoplex, Echorec, Echolette, and Space Echo (the last is most commonly used on our records through the years, I believe). The pre-amp in these units and the saturation of the tape means that a lot of that “overdrive” I was yearning for earlier also can come from the echo — as well as wobbliness, flutter, glitch…
When it comes to touring it’s easier to rely on digital recreations, some of which come very close. Then we have the dirty bucket brigade analog delay pedals, which might at the moment be my favorites. Especially if you can hands on interact with them; tap the tempo, ramp them into self-oscillation, create weird soundscapes and play with its modulation. Since all these forms of delays are unlike each other, you can pick and mix and have different sorts placed in different orders with different tasks to perform. And get lost for days!
Right now I’m experimenting with three delays at the same time… Yes! Of course guitar straight into the amp is great, too. When we finally get to tour again, maybe that’s all I bring. We’ll see!
2. Electric Bike
First I was gonna go for a no-brainer, which is playing tennis. I got myself a max limit playing no more than 10 hours per week, so you could definitely say I’m hooked.
But the best thing I got this year is an electric bike! I got it in May and I’ve been riding it all the time since then. No more stinking subways and packed busses for me. And it’s much quicker than getting a cab, too. Since Stockholm is so hilly it just has been too exhausting on a conventional bike.
3. Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris
Apart from maybe finally understanding how fragile (and distorted) our western way of living is, this year also made us lose our perception of time. The weeks melted together, our presence ping-ponged between sharpness and numbness, and the space around us was literally “in our face.” So during this free-floating time I discovered that it suddenly felt natural or almost necessary to spend a lot of time in the forest and to read poetry. In some way the brain needed these things. I am so glad that it made me discover the American poet Louise Glück, who got this year’s Nobel Prize for literature. I have had the unnaturally great pleasure to read six of her vibrant books and The Wild Iris (which came out in a Swedish translation by Jonas Brun in 2020) is absolutely brilliant. When I first opened this book I was at a falafel place in Stockholm, and after a couple of pages I was crying my eyes out. (It was not the hot sauce.) In a poignant and breathtaking mode it sort of captures the smallness of mankind. Strong existential poetry, looking down, up, and inside of us and the world we spend our limited days in. Mind-expanding and strangely comforting, a perfect book for this time and age.
(Photo Credit: John Bergmark)