Peter Bjorn and John’s Peter Morén on Bob Dylan
How did you first get into Bob Dylan?
I first got into The Byrds and his songs via them. When I was around 12, Traveling Wilburys released their record, and since I was such a huge Beatles fan, I got into him properly via the George connection. And pretty soon I was a huge fan of his own records.
How has he influenced your music?
In many ways I think. I love wordy songs and Dylan and Costello where my main influences in getting into trying a similar thing myself. Just the sound of his words, the rhythm of them and how he phrases and make them swing. But also the actual “color” of the words and the mood they put you in.
I love when he’s angry, bitter and really mean. I sometimes try to write really angry songs and Dylan’s are the best in the field. But he can also be sad and have a pathos and combine emotion and cleverness in an unsurpassed way. As a songwriter these are all things you aim for but seldom reach.
He was a really good political writer so you can understand how the left mourned when he didn’t want to be their spokesperson. He mixes up references from past and present, politics, society, personal matters and culture in to a whole mixed bag that is his own objective distorted view of the world. That also something I see myself doing from time to time, often in the songs I like the most. I would love to be in his camera. He really paints and projects with images and wordplay what he sees around him. As a kid I could put on the earphones and see a Dylan-movie or read a Dylan-novel if you’d like. Even the ostensibly least understandable songs makes you go places you wouldn’t dream up by yourself. All good music takes you places but I think with Dylan in his prime the overwhelming amount of words just drew you in and made you wanna stay forever.
I also love his voice and harmonica, the way he made rock adult with his folk and blues influences and essentially created this unique sound with the double keyboard attack and soulful backing. I can honestly say he’s one of the artists I listened the most to over the years and I never seem to tire. Obviously he made me start finger picking and pick up a harmonica for starters. I will never forget the first time I heard the “Highway 61”-album in a library as a kid. For me it was a personal revolution when I finally “got it” after the initial rejection earlier. And that album was already over 20 years old then.
How many times have you seen him play live? What were those shows like?
I think four times. They have been good – especially the two shows I saw in the mid-90’s – but not mind-blowing. My impression of him as live artist is more influenced by the 1966 footage and music I’ve heard, but also some of the stuff from the mid-70’s like Hard Rain, which is astonishing.
Did it take you a while to get into Bob Dylan, given his strange singing style?
In fact, yes. I heard him when I was really small on the radio and I didn’t like it at all. But I did remember it, so he left an impression.
What’s the closest you’ve ever gotten to him/what was it like working with him?
The closest I ever got to him was the front row at the Roskildefestival in 1995.
Do you have a favorite Bob Dylan quote or lyric?
I love “Positively 4th Street”: “I wish that for just one time / you could stand inside my shoes / you’d know what a drag it is / to see you.”
Not one of his cleverer songs but as I said I love when he’s a dick.
Also “Idiot Wind” where the anger is a bit more nuanced but no less biting when it bites. “Dear :andlord” is another one I come to think of I really like. “Hard Rains Gonna Fall” of course. “My Back Pages”, “Desolation Row” – really this question is impossible. There are too many sides of his stories and you’d have to pick a different favorite from each of his different type of songs.
But the very first thing that comes to mind for some reason is the end of “Ballad in plain D”: “Ah, my friends from the prison / they ask unto me / ‘how good, how good does it feel to be free?’ / And I answer them most mysteriously / ‘are birds free from the chains of the skyway?'”
I love that sad and very personal “end-of-an-affair” song.
What are some of your favorite songs or albums, and why?
I’m a cliché that way – I really, really love his classic albums and songs. The ones I keep returning to are Another Side Of, Bringing It All Back Home and Desire. I also really love Oh Mercy and Time out Of Mind. They have a vulnerability lacking in some earlier work. If I gun to head had to pick just three, I’d say “Blood On The Tracks,” “John Wesley Harding” and “Blonde on Blonde.”
Especially “Blonde On Blonde.” It’s something about the sound and arrangements on that record, not just the songs. It’s just perfect in every sense; warmer and more melancholic than “Highway 61”, richer and more pop than the starker stuff coming after, more grown up and world weary than the early folk stuff and with a surrealist magical shine on top. I kind of get he followed it up with a bike accident. And a suede jacket have never looked better than on the cover. It was a peak.
And my favorite song on it would be “Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands”. It has one of Dylan’s best melodies, the performance of the musicians is so understated and sensitive but still pretty full. The imagery is pretty weird and tangled and still you feel you totally understand it. I’m sure he wrote it in 5 minutes. I’m glad it’s so long. I could listen to a version that would last a day.
Is there a period of Dylan’s music you think is underrated or overrated?
The late 70’s and early 80’s period is probably a little underrated. Albums like Street Legal, Slow Train Coming and Infidels have some great songs. I also kind of like Nashville Skyline, and it’s usually not viewed as great.
Overrated – I couldn’t say any period really. His worse albums are usually the ones no one really like anyway. Maybe some of his more recent ones are not as great as some people say but they are not bad either – not including the Christmas album.
What do you admire about Bob Dylan?
I probably answered that already.
Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn and John Covers “Dear Landlord”
Read more 30 Days of Dylan.