John Eriksson was groomed from an early age to be an orchestral musician. He began taking lessons at age eight, earned a degree in classical percussion at the University of Stockholm and spent years playing in the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. But something got in the way of his boyhood goal: In 1999, he agreed to keep time for Peter Morén and Björn Yttling in a combo cleverly dubbed Peter Bjorn and John. And while he was able to balance classical and popular music for several years, the success of 2006's Writer's Block forced him to make a choice — and he picked the latter. Now, he says with a laugh, "I'm leading the shy little dream of being in a rock band."
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This task isn't just sticks and skins. Although Eriksson's previous compositional experience consisted of "some really crappy classical pieces when I was younger," Morén and Yttling encouraged him to pen material for their combo. By the time Writer's Block arrived, he was writing and warbling a third of the material, and that tradition continues on the trio's latest recording, Living Thing. The opening and closing songs are his, even though neither "The Feeling," which starts off the album, nor the concluding "Last Night" are overstuffed with complex paradiddles. "I try not to write things like a drummer, with a lot of strange rhythms," he concedes. "I like it more minimalistic." He's also more than willing to hand over lead vocal duties for his tracks when necessary, as he did to frontman Morén on the album's centerpiece, "I Want You!" His reasoning? "When we decided to use that as a single in some territories, it was very natural," he says, adding, "I think it's better for me to sing the Ringo Starr tunes."
Of course, PB&J's best-known cut remains "Young Folks," a Writer's Block single that became an international smash. In the States, the song broke thanks to its use on an episode of Grey's Anatomy — a program about which Eriksson only knew the basics. "A girlfriend of mine told me there was a really cute doctor in it," he notes, chuckling. The idea of the group getting more exposure from TV licensing than radio airplay still strikes him as odd, but he's grown accustomed to it. In fact, the players have assembled a list of products for which they'll approve their music's use in commercials. He won't share the entire roster, but he does confirm that "when it's beer, we think it's okay."
Peter Bjorn and John
Peter Bjorn and John, with Depeche Mode, 8 p.m. Thursday, August 27, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, $55-$89, 303-830-8497.
Sounds like the transition from classical percussionist to rock drummer is complete.
Visit blogs.westword.com/backbeat for more of our interview with Peter Bjorn and John's John Eriksson.