Interview: Peter Morén
Tue, 21 Oct 2014 08:22:13
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Outside of Peter Bjorn and John, Peter Morén continues to captivate with his solo output. Following up Broken Swenglish, Vol. 1, Broken Swenglish Vol. 2 [iTunes link] evinces his songwriting prowess and versatility, yielding some of the catchiest and most entrancing material of his career to date. Given his track record, that says a lot too. You're going to be speaking Broken Swenglish with him, after one listen, we can promise that. It's undeniably potent and passionate…
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Peter Morén talks Broken Swenglish Vol. 2, movies, and so much more.
The new EP flows really well from start to finish. Did you approach it with one particular vision or vibe in mind for all five tracks as a whole? How do you feel it connects to Vol. 1?
I agree it works. It's funny because it’s sort of coincidental. The four songs on Vol. 1 were the first of the translations I had finished recording. I had some problems with parts that got lost on a broken hard drive—like the string-section—so even though the songs were all written I couldn’t release them as close to each other as I wished. Because of that, the first EP became more ballad-y with one exception. This is more “pop”, I’d say. So, even if coincidental, it works! I might have preferred mixing it up given the option. For instance, “The Odyssey” is a really, catchy song, and it would have been smart probably to have it on Vol. 1 as an attention-grabber. But, what the heck? It’s all good! I’m not a person known for smart career-moves anyhow [Laughs].
The songs also feel visual. Is it important for you to conjure imagery and tell stories lyrically?
I’m glad you’ve noticed that! It depends. Since these particular songs where originally written in Swedish, part of the attraction for me was to, yes, tell stories in maybe a more visual and referential way then I have done in the past—even though there are English examples of that as well. I wanted to paint pictures through imagery and scattered references to food, culture, literature, politics, places etc. Setting scenes and moods, if you will. That’s easier to do with a bigger vocabulary. I like that in other songwriters—the wordy aspect. Sometimes it might just be impressionistic and surreal, other times more to the point but all the same, it draws you in. You want to be in that universe. It's something else then just humming along to a catchy chorus. On a couple of these songs like “The Odyssey” and “Capri, Cannes & Brighton”, there’s also the traveling involved so that really suits this way of writing, taking in sceneries and people, spitting it out randomly without too much ruminating and explanations. It's like splashing color on a canvas. I prefer my canvases colorful. I learned a lot from writing in Swedish and feel that I can now write similarly in English with a little bit more confidence.
What artists shaped you?
That’s a big one. I usually say I have a broad taste in music. I’ve figured out that it started with The Beatles, becoming a huge fan at six. I see connections in everything I like and do. To me, it’s all completely natural even though the links might not be obvious to others. For instance, the way rhythmical guitar-playing is connected in soul/funk/disco, African pop, 80’s British jangle indie, rockabilly and acoustic folk.
If the Beatles were a modern band today they wouldn’t do just R&B, electro-house, indie-pop, hardcore or folk. They would do it all on the same album! So I was shaped by them, their melodies and classic pop-songwriting but also their eclecticism, weirdness and groove, including all the solo-stuff. Later on, there are a lot of other people but the list would become endless and ultimately pointless. I’m too much of a music-nerd to feel comfortable dropping a few names or genres when I love so much. It’s easier to say what I don’t like. I’ve never been into metal for example. So let’s start and end with the Beatles. The stuff they were influenced by usually became huge influences to me and from there on I got thrown into lots of different directions all at once. The journey is still exciting. I’m constantly discovering new and old music all the time. I also still re-discover forgotten classics by say, Paul McCartney, as well! My main interest as a performer will probably always be the pop-song even though I do need to branch out in other fields to keep interested. In that age when you really are easily influenced for life, like 12-18, I would say that people like Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ray Davies and a few more were really important for my songwriting style if not always my performance or arrangement style.
What's the story behind "Esther"? That was a stand out!
Glad you like it! I really like the autumnal, folk-rocky melancholy of that one—and still it swings! I think we nailed it. “Esther” is our dog. However, the song is more about feeling bad about not being the good person you want to be, falling into traps repeated times without learning, and neglecting what’s really important. The small but ultimately BIG joy of seeing your dog happily wagging her tail when you approach becomes a reminder of how you can start getting the balance right and focus on trying to be happy. It’s fucking hard being happy even when you have all the means to be so, right? Weird… How to be satisfied, a lot of songs are coming out of that I suppose.
"The Pyramid" is a perfect ending. Where did that song come from and what does it mean to you?
Agree! I like the concept of "The Pyramid". It’s very elastic. You can use it for all kinds of theories and apply it to everything in life; career, love, life, and death. I bounced off Maslov's hierarchy of physiological needs and Marx theories about economy and class. It all makes perfect sense to me. You might be in a good place in the Marx pyramid and a bad place in Maslov's. Then, obviously, something is lacking and you won’t be happy. It’s about inadequacies, insecurities, and bad conscience again. Musically, it’s like a violent version of Northern Soul. It's a bit like what Costello did on “Get Happy” but even more distorted and energetic. I love the sax solo! People are too damn afraid to bring in saxes in pop music.
If this EP were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be? What's the cinematic equivalent of it?
Good question! I almost see the songs as movies of their own in a way but not specific other movies. However, I’d say it starts in L.A. Somehow, the Steve Martin-flick L.A. Story comes up, which is weird, not a favorite. When I think of the song “The Odyssey”, I see that “look”. Then there's maybe The Player by Robert Altman. We end black and white, grim and violent with “The Pyramid”. Maybe it's like a mix of On the Waterfront and John Cassavetes's Shadows—or something German from the 70’s? A bit of Fassbinder maybe? In between all of those…
I’d say “Hit where it hurts” is something French, romantic and slightly impressionistic, like a twenties silent-movie L’atalante by Jean Vigo or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, more Technicolor-60’s but still with a nostalgic, dazed feel.
“Esther” is Swedish. Something from Bo Widerberg. Since it’s about a dog, throw in Unberto D by De Sica as well. I’m just dropping old classic stuff here. "Capri, Cannes & Brighton”, I guess could be an American indie-film. A little Wes Anderson here, a little Richard Linklater there! It has to be really sun-drenched in a 70’s way, almost unbearably so. In that case, let’s drop Death in Venice by Visconti as well, but mostly for the film stock and light and not for the story.
What's next for you?
We’ve been working on a new PBJ-record on and off for a couple of years. It’s turning into our version of Dr. Dre’s Detox, a record that never gets finished… No, but seriously I see some light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a very good and bright light. Apart from that I’m always writing new material, for myself, the band and co-writing with other people for other artists. And I also do some session-work as bassist & guitarist on records. Being a dad also takes up A LOT of my time these days.
Have you heard Broken Swenglish Vol. 2?
Get the EP on iTunes!