Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman has always relied on a unique tapestry of influences. Drawing on the folksy storytelling of Belle and Sebastian and the Magnetic Fields, he injects his tracks with swooning strings, sample-based electronics and intensely specific autobiographical details.
On February 17, Lekman will release the new album, Life Will See You Now, through his longtime label Secretly Canadian. As expected, it features some expected twists and turns, both musically and lyrically. Over the course of a half-hour conversation with Exclaim!, Lekman—reached on the phone while he munches a sesame cracker in his Gothenburg recording space—sheds light on some of the forces that shaped Life Will See You Now. During the conversation, the talkative Lekman is every bit as quirky and insightful as he is in song.
Here are the strangest influences that shaped Life Will See You Now.
In 2014, Lekman sent a near-finished album to his friends and label, but no one liked it. Looking back now, he admits that he made a sub-par album as an act of self-sabotage.
"There was a part of me that almost wanted to ruin everything for myself. I have this part in myself that sometimes gets me into situations that can never end well, just because I want to prove to myself that I'm no good. It felt like I had made a really crappy album that could prove to myself what a terrible songwriter I was and how worthless I was. It wasn't a very good album."
2. Being a Grown-Ass 35-Year-Old
Lekman was in his mid-20s when he achieved his breakthrough with 2007's Night Falls Over Kortedala. Now, a decade later, inspiration doesn't come quite as easily as it once did.
"The way to write really good songs is to write about the things that happen in your life and where you are in the moment, and writing about stuff that happens in your 30s is not the sexiest song subject. That has really made this record a challenge. It is a bit of a challenge to do this when I'm 35. It also feels like it becomes more real. You have to do a lot of digging. You have to do a lot of soul searching. You have to flip the coin and see what's on the other side of it. I think it becomes more real and more true in the end."
3. "No Jens Lekman"
Lekman has always been highly autobiographical in his songs, often even mentioning himself by name. At first, he intended to step outside of himself on Life Will See You Now.
"When I started making the album, I was trying to write myself out of it. I had this idea that I would make this album with no Jens Lekman in it whatsoever. I think I was going to be in the first song as a side character, making a cameo in my own music. And then the rest of it, I just wanted to slip into other people's shoes and be them and be other people. But it was hard to get emotionally invested in it as a listener."
4. The 1980 Comedy Airplane!
Standout cut "How We Met, the Long Version" tells the story of how Lekman met his girlfriend, starting with the Big Bang and tracing the course of evolution up until the present day. This was inspired by a certainly wacky comedy film.
"It was sort of riff of that stupid old comedy Airplane! from the '80s. Someone says, 'Can someone give me an update on what's happened so far,' and someone else says, 'Well, first came the dinosaurs…' I think all of my favourite songs that I've written started as jokes. In the end, that song became about choosing your destiny. The whole record is very existentialist. I think it's a lot about making choices and seeing the consequences of your choices. That song is more of a positive take on that."
5. 1970s Funk Sung by Children
Life Will See You Now is more upbeat than its predecessor, 2012's I Know What Love Isn't. Its arrangements are strewn with straight-ahead dance beats, splashes of vintage soul and bubblegum pop, which were inspired by an unexpected musical influence.
"I was listening to children's music. You know that genre twee-funk? It's all those Jackson 5-type bands that came out in the '70s. Funky music with children singing, basically. I was listening to a lot of stuff like that, trying to let melodies float and not force them in a direction. When you're writing about difficult things and darker issues, it's nice to offer some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Some sense of hope. Sometimes the best way to do that is by offering it in the music, so that you can dance your way out of the darkness."