You've recorded three albums with Peter Bjorn and John. The Last Tycoon, out this month from Quarterstick Records, is the first album you've recorded by yourself. What could you do by yourself that you couldn't do with Bjorn and John in the room?
Just go further to an extreme. As a band, since we have a lot of different influences and we listen to a lot of different music, we tend to go somewhere in the middle. Like, it's pop music but it's not very punk-y and it's not very soft. It's in the middle of everything. With this solo album I just wanted to do something closer to how I write a song at home, which is basically on an acoustic guitar. I just love playing fingerpicking guitar and being a bit more folky. It was all recorded live with vocal and guitar, so it's a different way of working. With the band we record all the music and then put the vocals on last. I've been working with Bjorn since I was 15 years old.
How did you meet?
We met in high school. We're both from way up north in Sweden, really small villages. So we moved to another town to go to a music high school and I never had a band before I met him, so this album is sort of a throwback to my early teen years when I played guitar by myself in pizzerias. But then I met Bjorn and we found out that we both liked Stone Roses and Ride or whatever—early '90s pop.
The Last Tycoon was the title of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished last novel. Is that where your title comes from?
Yes. And no. I haven't read the novel. But I've seen the movie. [Laughs] I shouldn't say I haven't read it, but I haven't. To begin with, I just liked the way the title sounded, and I found it kind of interesting to have a grandiose or ambitious or pretentious title for an album that is very low-key and, like, homey. So it's a funny mix of things to have that title.
The Fitzgerald novel begins with a plane full of Hollywood people having to make an emergency landing in a storm, and it ends (or would have, if Fitzgerald had completed it) with a plane crashing into a mountainside and killing everyone on board. On a scale of 1 to 10, how scared are you of dying in a fiery plane crash?
I'm scared of dying, that's for sure. Because I just love life. And I think life gets better with every year. But I'm not really scared of flying. I like to fly, actually. I don't like airports. I hate airports. Airports make me stressed up. But as soon as you're up in the air, watching a movie or something, time flies.
Fitzgerald was struck down by a heart attack at 44. Are you more scared of dying in a fiery plane crash or having a heart attack?
A heart attack. I love food. I love sweet things. I love beer. And I don't really do a lot of exercise. But I like to walk and I don't think I'm in any trouble. I don't have a big stomach or anything. Not an unhealthy-big one.
The first song on The Last Tycoon, "Reel Too Real," is about failing a test for military service. What were you doing testing for military service?
All Swedish boys who are about 17, 18, 19 have to do a military service test. It's obligatory. But it's really, really easy to fail. You have to do, like, eight months of military training if you succeed at this test. I went to the psychiatrist and was honest with him and I didn't need to do the training.
For psychiatric reasons? That's awesome.
Yeah, because I looked pretty sad I guess. And he asked me if I'd had a bad breakup with my girlfriend, and I had, and then I told him that I dreamt about Hitler growing up.
You dreamt about Hitler growing up?
It wasn't really a dream. It was more that every time I faced my head toward the wall when I lay in bed at night I saw his face agitating, having a speech. So I always had to sleep with my face facing the room. I couldn't have my head facing the wall because then I saw Hitler. That was totally true. But then I also faked on the hearing test.
Where do you think the Hitler thing came from?
I saw all these documentaries of the holocaust and the Second World War and they just scared the hell out of me. I still watch those things when they come on TV. I find it very interesting because of course there are still people like that in different parts of the world. And also we had some Nazis, some skinheads, in my class. It's pretty common in the countryside.
You crazy Europeans.
I think you have that, too. You have a lot of racists in America, don't you?
Yeah. I was just kidding. There's this line on Writer's Block—"I laugh more often now/I cry more often now/I am more me." Not many singers could pull that off. Stuart Murdoch could pull it off. Are you a fan?
Not obsessively. I like some of the stuff, some of the early stuff. I've got two Belle & Sebastian albums, I think. We probably share a lot of influences, though, because I like a lot of '80s indie stuff like the Go-Betweens and Felt and stuff that I know that he likes.
It's funny that it's called Writer's Block, which doesn't seem to be a condition you've suffered from.
No, definitely not. The thing is, you're always starting new songs, so by the time you start to record a new album, the songs you record are actually two years old. I always have a lot of songs and that's part of the reason I did this album, actually. John started writing songs. It used to be just me and Bjorn. So, obviously, there's just not enough room for all those songs.
We recently had a cleaning day here in the office, we were throwing away old furniture and stuff, and we needed something to listen to, and I put on Writer's Block and it made everyone so energized. The Last Tycoon is much sadder. Are you trying to bring us down?
[Laughs] I'm not. I mean, to me, it's not especially sad. It's probably just that there aren't a lot of drums, basically. I could easily have done this as pop, but then there would have been no point to do it as a solo album, since the band is still around and we're obviously still making music—we're recording a new album right now. There's no point in doing another PBJ record by myself. That would be stupid.
What can you tell me about the new PBJ album?
The next one is already finished. It's instrumental.
What do you do if you have no words to sing?
I play violin. I play guitar. I wrote a couple of songs. It's probably my favorite PBJ record so far because it's very different from what people expect. Again, like The Last Tycoon, it's just something else.
Peter Morén plays Tues April 29 at the Triple Door, 8 pm, $15, all ages.