Melodic Swedes heading for world domination

It is summer in Ireland and an incredible song comes on the car radio. An infectious whistled melody and some rattling maracas casually meander into the vocals as the car winds its way along a mountain road. Two voices begin to sing about the early, tentative stages of a relationship.

There is something very familiar and vaguely Nordic about the whole thing. When the song fades out the DJ confirms my mounting suspicions: “That was the fabulous Peter Bjorn and John with ‘Young Folks’, currently the most requested song on Irish radio.”

Currently the most requested song on Irish radio! The rental car almost winds up floating in a picturesque lake. Peter Bjorn and John are regulars on the Stockholm live circuit. I have seen them perform several times but had no idea that their music led a duplicitous life of its own beyond the shores of this oblong land.

Mind you, it is not the first time Swedish musicians have sprung such a surprise. Last year Gothenburg guitar man Jose Gonzales was all the rage from Galway to Gloucester with his cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats. At that stage few people outside of Sweden had any idea that the song that launched a million colourful rubber balls in a Sony commercial was in fact a cover version.

But now The Knife too have broken into the Anglosphere, and you are nobody in the indie clubs of Blighty if you are not tuned in to The Concretes or Radio Dept.

Speaking of The Concretes, it is that band’s former singer Victoria Bergsman who plays the dulcet female lead in the relationship drama that is ‘Young Folks’. “I like a duet to be built up as a conversation and we all really liked Victoria’s voice,” says Björn Yttling, speaking to The Local from outside a club in York, where the band are due to play later that evening.

He describes the band’s latest UK tour as “very good”. The success of ‘Young Folks’ has certainly done their popularity no harm. “We’ve had a few sold out gigs and the crowds seem to know the songs,” says Yttling, the band’s bassist, producer and expert whistler. Meanwhile their star continues to rise and the British press has identified the band as one of the main attractions among the latest batch of successful Swedish music exports.

“Everyone is asking why we make such good music in Sweden. I think that maybe the major labels weren’t picking up the good stuff here and a lot of excellent bands ended up on smaller labels. There it is quite non-commercial, and people get to develop at their own pace. Artists usually record before they have a decent contract. Jose Gonzales is a good example of that,” says Yttling.

The band has been together since 1999. Peter and Björn already knew each other well, having played music together for 8 years. When John came along the trio of northern Swedes was ready to hit the studio. Björn shed his two dots and an internationally pronounceable band was born. Second single ‘Failing and Passing’ gave an early indication that they were headed for great things. A solid debut album in 2002 was followed by a second full-length offering, ‘Falling Out’, in 2004.

Continuing the tradition of releasing albums at two year intervals, this summer saw the release of ‘Writer’s Block’, the band’s third album and one that could well push them within earshot of the greater listening public. Any fears that the album would fail to match the magnificence of ‘Young Folks’ are dispelled from the moment the laser hits the disc and ‘Objects of my Affection’ comes hurtling through the speakers.

It is a fine album all round and the band are already chomping at the bit to get some new songs recorded. Yttling in particular clearly loves the studio. Apart from producing the likes of Nicolai Dunger, Robyn, his own band, and many more besides, he also does a sideline as Yttling Jazz. So while the lure of the tour is all fine and dandy, he is keen to be back among his beloved knobs and buttons.

With the slightest hint of regret he tells of how the band has been nominated for an MTV award, and how ‘Young Folks’ is doing very well in Australia and has made the top ten in the Finnish charts.

“We wanted to get into the studio and record an album this fall but our plans have been delayed due to success.”