Jens Lekman

Jens Lekman
Hi Jens. You’re a very difficult man to get a hold of.
I’ve been touring yeah, and I don’t bring a phone when I tour, so that’s probably why. And also because I’m homeless.

So where are you now then?
I’m in an empty apartment. I don’t know if you can hear the echo here, but it’s completely empty — just me and my phone!

Well, I hear you’re looking to leave Sweden to find a home in Australia. What has inspired that move?
After high school, all my friends just moved to London or Paris or wherever they wanted to relocate to. Y’know, they have that one year abroad after they finish school. And I completely missed that whole idea. I didn’t know that I could do that. So I was left alone in Gothenburg since all of my friends were gone. The only trip I could find was this trip to the Moselle Valley, a wine-tasting trip for old people, which was kind of nice in one way, but it also felt like a failure. I always wanted to live one year abroad, where it was different from Gothenburg. I think after having been to Melbourne, and realising that I have a lot of friends there, I just want to go there and stay for a while.

Your music often uses your surroundings as inspiration, especially on the new album. Do you think that will change at all when you move to Australia?
Yes, it’s going to be interesting. I did see that as a failure, that the album was so trapped within the 30 square metres of home. I’m hoping I will be influenced by my new surroundings in some sense, preferably musically I think. Things happen, but I want to be changed musically.

How much would you say the new album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, is influenced by your actual neighbourhood. You name check it in the title, so I assume quite a bit…
I’d say one percent [Laughs]. I think the only song that has to do with this area is "Shirin” because her beauty salon was located here. The Kortedala Beauty Centre was her beauty salon here; that’s the only connection to my surroundings.

The new album has a lot more samples than your previous work. Was this a phase you were going through?
That’s how I started making songs, and at some point I just became lazy. I started thinking it’d be nice to travel around with a ukulele and a straw hat. And it’s impossible to tour with a symphony orchestra when no one know who you are. It started getting into the way I recorded as well. I started recording songs with just a ukulele and a voice, and that isn’t the way I pictured my songs in the beginning. I felt like I was just being lazy, and it wasn’t doing it for me.

Do you approach sampling the way hip-hop artists do – to find a hook or beat and then use that to write the song? Or does the song come first and the sample after?
It’s a little bit different from time to time. Sometimes I have a Christmas tree and I decorate it, or sometimes I throw the decorations up in the air and find a tree that will fit into it.

Does clearing the songs you use ever pose a problem for you?
[Pause] Yes, it’s always hard. I was trying to sample some really big artists, just some very small fragments, and in the end I found out that it’s not even a half a second and they still want half a million dollars. And then you start thinking they’re assholes, but then again there are so many artists that never made any money when they were around and I feel bad using their music in something. I really do believe in clearing samples and I believe that people should be compensated for them but the laws are just so stupid. You have to pay for a million copies in advance and it’s just impossible to use more than, not even one sample if you don’t have any money.

You should get some advice from Girl Talk.
Yeah, the thing with Girl Talk and his record label [Illegal Art] is that they’ve really made an art of getting away with the sampling. From what I’ve heard, they don’t have a physical address, so no one knows where to send the bills. If I had the time to focus on hiding then it would be funny. It would have been a good idea since I’m hopeless. Then again, the lawyers would likely show up outside of Webster Hall or wherever I’m playing.

I was pleased to hear you sample the Tough Alliance’s "Take No Heroes” on "I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You.” I absolutely love those guys.
Wow, it’s cool that you know them!

Well, I did a big research story on Swedish music back in April, and they were likely the band I discovered that left the biggest impression on me.
I’ve always been so frustrated, especially in North America when people go, "Oh Swedish music, it’s so great.” And then they name off all of these bands that I never liked at all, that sound like British guitar bands.

I wanted to ask you about your song "Maple Leaves.” You’ve admitted that it’s a blatant rip-off of the Avalanches’ "Since I Left You,” and did so because that song saved you from the hell of selling telephones. Can you think of any other songs you would openly admit to ripping off?
My favourite is probably "The Opposite of Hallelujah” because it’s a rip-off of two famous songs, at least here. I don’t know if you’ve heard of "Movie Star” by Harpo…

No.
You don’t know that? Then you haven’t done your research on Swedish music [Laughs].

Sorry, I guess I’ve failed to impress you.
It was a hit back in the ’70s; it’s a silly little pop song. The melody in "The Opposite of Hallelujah” is a perfect combination of that song’s melody and the melody in "Gimme Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board. Kylie Minogue did it too. [Sings the song.] That song is a perfect combination. Sometimes people say, "Oh that sounds like the Chairmen of the Board’s ‘Gimme Just A Little More Time’” And then I go, "No, have you heard Harpo’s ‘Movie Star’ maybe?” "Oh yeah, there some of that in there too!” It’s a perfect meltdown of those two melodies, so it’s not either of those, it’s something new. But I love when I find pieces of other people’s songs in my own songs, because I’m a record nerd.

You’ve been making music for a few years now but this is only your second full-length. What prevents you from writing more albums, as opposed to EPs or singles?
Well, the problem in the past is that I didn’t know how to put together albums. I found it extremely frustrating; it was hell, basically, trying to put together the first record. The way I solved it this time was that I had a bunch of friends put together the album for me. They had a little Eurovision song contest. I gave them 30 songs, so they would call me up and they would grade the songs and say, ‘Song number eight, that’s definitely 12 points.’ I had a chart to see which songs made it, and then they would put together a track listing for me. It worked out great. I think that’s gonna be the way it works in the future, so there will be loads of albums coming out.

Is songwriting something you do without any particular goal in mind?
No, I do have a very clear perspective or a true aim when I’m writing a song. I just can’t put songs together. Maybe one or two, but not 12 songs.

Did you intend for Night Falls Over Kortedala to be an actual album from the start? Yes. I think I said in one interview three years ago that I would never make another album, and then that became the one thing I became famous for. People would point at me and say, "Look, there’s the anti-album man. There’s the guy who’s never gonna make another album!” And I didn’t want to be famous for that, so I decided to make another album.

"The Opposite of Hallelujah” was previously released as an EP on Joel Gibb’s [the Hidden Cameras] label, Evil Evil. What made you include it on the new album?
People didn’t seem to know that song at all. It was kinda hard to get outside of Canada, or at least North America. Here in Europe no one knew that song at all. Joel is a nice guy, but it’s kinda hard to get the records he’s put out… I put that in with the 30 songs and my friends picked it out.

Joel actually emailed me from Sweden last year saying he was working with you on an Arthur Russell cover. How is that going? Were you two collaborating together?
No, the thing was that he was having trouble finishing his track. And at some point he became frustrated because all of the other tracks were finished, so I bought him a ticket to Sweden and put his ass in a studio with a couple of musicians and told him to record the fucking song, and he did. It turned out great! I love that guy.

Yeah, personally, I’d say he’s my favourite Canadian songwriter.
I don’t know what the competition is like. Is it Neil Young and Avril Lavigne?

Well, Canada isn’t like that anymore. We've begun to improve our songwriting reputation. Well, Joel’s my favourite Canadian songwriter too.

Are most of the songs based on real life events or are they more fiction-based storytelling? I guess I’m thinking of songs like "A Postcard to Nina.”
They are based on things that happened to me, for sure. With "Nina,” that song I’m basically retelling what happened. But sometimes though I start to question my own memory because my mom calls me up every time I’ve released a record and says, "Y’know, I’ve gone through the lyrics on the record and let’s see: this didn’t happen, this didn’t happen, this you probably dreamed, this definitely didn’t happen, this I hope didn’t happen.” She just goes through everything — especially on the last record, there was that song about Sylvia, the Queen of Sweden, and she was just very, very upset that I sang that I’d met her because she said, "You never met her.” And I said, "Well, she came to our school.” "Yeah, but you never shook her hand. I would have known that.” And she thought that Queen Sylvia would press charges or something.

I’m guessing that didn’t happen?
It didn’t, but she still worries about it.

Songs like "Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig,” "Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo” and "Into Eternity” really add some diversity to the new album. Were you exploring different sounds and genres with the intention to make such a varied album?
Yeah, for sure. But at some point I was very much into ideas that the Tough Alliance had as well, working with very summery sounds and instruments that are in one way considered cheesy or maybe, I dunno if cheesy is the right word. I was listening to the "Lambada,” for example, before I wrote "Into Eternity” and that accordion in there is just so beautiful and amazing. I love that whole thing with the beats and the accordion on top of that. Me and Henning [Fürst] from the Tough Alliance play badminton, and we have these discussions about the future of pop music and we discuss different directions for our music. We were very into a certain kind of summery, innocent pop music.

I often think of the Tough Alliance as the future of pop music, and feel they haven’t taken off here because they’re really too ahead of their time for North America as a whole. People don’t really know what to think of them.
Yeah, sure, but also in the past they’ve just been so against everything or working with anything. They’re very motivated in their ideals and thoughts and the way they want to tour.

I hear their performances can be very trying…
Yeah, they put on a show and recently there have been so many riots that people don’t even want to book them. Like football hooligans show up. People expect the stage to collapse at their shows, and people get in fights. I think they just want to put on a good show.

Kind of like the early Jesus & Mary Chain shows.
They were very inspired by the Jesus & Mary Chain when they started.

Sarah Assbring El Perro Del Mar and Frida Hyvönen guest on the record. When I did that research story on Sweden I asked artists if they collaborated often with other musicians because it feels like everyone works with everyone. And yet, the answers I was given were pretty divided. Do you find there’s a communal spirit amongst Swedish musicians?
In certain cities, yeah. I know that there’s a big community here in Gothenburg, and a lot of musicians like the Tough Alliance will collaborate often. The Tough Alliance put out a lot of artists here on their label Sincerely Yours. I’ve always felt, myself, a little outside of that kind of thing, basically because Kortedala is so far away that I never come into the city. It takes so long and it’s hard to get back. So, I’ve never felt a part of any scene here. I have my friends: Henning, Sarah, and Frida lives in a house in the middle of nowhere up north.

You earn a lot of mainstream attention in Sweden. You recently topped the charts…
Yeah, but I don’t think you need to have that much effort to get on top of the charts here. No one buys records here anymore. I guess I sold something like 500 records here. I guess that’s what it takes to get to the number one spot here.

Really?
Maybe more, but I can’t say we’ve sold a lot of records.

I find it quite interesting that you, the Knife and Robyn do so well commercially over there because you would be considered more leftfield over here in North America. How would you differentiate Sweden’s musical culture and industry from how North America’s works?
I think it’s a geographical thing. The list only counts how many records you’ve sold in Sweden, and it’s a very small country.

Okay, so tell me about your live shows. You really bring unpredictability to your gigs, performing either with a six-piece girl group or just a boombox. How do you approach your performances? Does it depend on what you can afford? The venue?
I think it has to do with what day of the week it is. I think if it’s a Friday night in a small town, then I would like to have a band with me because I’ve had bottles thrown at me before and worse things happen. People will say, "Hey, we wanna dance. Play something we can dance to!” The PAs are usually shitty, so you need some kind of instrument that you don’t need amplification for, and brass is good for that. But generally I’ve always had the same philosophy as Erlend [Øye] from Kings of Convenience, for example. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them.

Yeah, and he got really pissed off at the show I saw. It was in a club where, because they’re so quiet, all you could hear was the cash register while the bar staff were selling drinks. He was getting really frustrated.
I hate that too, but he’s always trying to create something with what’s around him. And I think I’ve always wanted to do that too. Lately I’ve been kind of known for doing extra shows after the show. I usually say, "If you wanna hear more songs, then come up to me and let me know and I’ll play extra songs.” And I usually play in some backyard or parking lot. Especially having toured so much, and having seen how the whole music thing works everywhere, I’ve just become so sick of the alcohol industry and everyone getting wasted. Seeing wasted people night after night, I barely drink anymore because I’m so sick of that. It keeps all of the young people out of the clubs. That’s something I really hate, because I have a lot of young fans. So sometimes I almost plan a show outside of the club and play even more songs.

I believe you did that last time you were in Toronto.
Yeah, I think I did four shows in one day.

Will you come over to Canada any time soon?
I was hoping to. I don’t know what happened to that, I think it was a problem with work visas or something. I really want to do other cities besides Toronto, which I always end up in. I’ve only played Toronto and Guelph, I think.