Jens Lekman writes songs about girls named Julie, Queen Sylvia, and a drunken cab ride and they’re lovely things, awkward but strong, with his sonorous baritone gliding over a pretty Burt Bachrach knack for pop melody. Straight out of Gothenburg, Sweden, the young songwriter’s music ranges from K Records inspired samples and experimentation to simple pop songs; hearing his work, you’re reminded of the lovely self-consciousness of, say, Jonathan Richman. I’ve been charmed by the 20-something’s music ever since he burst onto American shores with a series of EPs for Secretly Canadian and a full-length “collection” of songs, When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog. He’s even better live, standing on his chair trying to “see everyone” and strumming his ukulele while blurting out swooning words.
Start with the song “Black Cab” and work from there: you will soon be obsessed with Lekman, whose age belies his solid musicianship and somewhat scary potential. The fall will bring the release of You’re So Silent Jens, a summnation of several EPs and new songs, and you can catch Lekman touring America in October. Popmatters had the chance to speak to Lekman via email (granted, a difficult forum to conduct an interview in, but as you can tell from his website, he’s a guy who believes in the Internet!) and he opened up on a myriad of subjects:
PopMatters: Have you ever been in a fight? What for? Was it intense?
Jens Lekman: There was another time in another park when me and a girl I was dating took on a guy on drugs who pulled a knife on us. Again, something just snapped. I remember her screaming, “Come on, asshole, you want a piece of me!” but me and her are writing a song about this called “What Zorro Would Have Done” so I can’t tell you more about that fight.
PM: Speaking of fighting, you and the Kings of Convience are playing Boston on the same night. Who’d win in a fight between you and the Kings?
JL: I don’t wanna fight the Kings. I wanna sleep with them. Erlend is a good friend and he’s hot. Maybe there’ll be some guest appearances on each other’s shows. I think so. [note: At his February show in Boston, Erlend Oye showed up in the middle of Jens’ set and started singing along with “Julie.” It was awesome!]
PM: When did you first pick up a guitar or some other instrument? What made you keep writing?
JL: I picked up a bass guitar when I was 14. When I’d learned the bassline in Guantanamera I knew I was destined for great things.
PM: How prolific is your songwriting?
JL: I was up to one song per day, now it’s about three songs a week.
PM: What’s it like, being a known person in Sweden? Are you really getting mobbed by teenage girls everywhere you go? What’s that like, if that’s the case?
JL: There’s probably about half a million teenage girls. I like getting mobbed by them. But it doesn’t happen very often.
PM: How do you transfer your song arrangements over to a live setting? How do you feel about live shows?
JL: I’ve been expanding my band from four people to 20, adding more instruments than I knew existed. It all became a big mess. My next tour back home will be solo acapella.
PM: What’s your stance on albums and EPs and the like? Because according to my teenage Swedish step-niece, you’ve given interviews where you’ve said that you don’t really want to do albums, you just want to release EPs and the like ... and personally, for me, I find that I prefer the EPs over the album due to the fact that they’re more conceptual and cohesive. While I enjoy the album, it feels more like “awesome songs by Jens Lekman” as opposed to “Jens Lekman’s statement”. Nevertheless, it’s an iPod, singles world and it’s only going to get more fractured, music-wise and technology-wise…
JL: I prefer songs over any given record format. I’ve decided to not make anymore albums at all. Just EPs, singles, mp3s and well, I like collections—greatest hits records. That’s what When I Said… was actually. But it’s a bit boring to discuss. I wish it wasn’t a big thing but the newspapers in Sweden blew it up for some reason. All people know about my next records is that it will be ... short. Not very exciting. It’s not a statement, it’s not something I do to stay indie or to mess with my labels. I just can’t seem to get twelve songs to fit together. I like songs, not records.
PM: What do you think about other fantastic music out there, Swedish or otherwise. Do you listen to Nicolai Dunger?
JL: My favorite Swedish acts are El Perro Del Mar and Frida Hyvonen. They’re amazing! Nicolai is cool! I like him a lot. But the most exciting stuff is happening on the Hapna label. There’s a newfound pride in being Swedish. In the ‘90s everyone wanted to be British, all singers were girls who’d been working as au pairs in London and had the accent right. God forbid singing in Swinglish or Swedish. The only patriotism was found in heavy metal where the Vikings have always been very popular. But those bands often turned out to be half Nazi. The music on Hapna is a perfect example of music being Swedish but not having anything to do with Vikings or Abba. There is something undefined, like in Hans Appelqvist’s last record Bremort, which is a concept album about a Swedish smalltown that doesn’t exist. Or in Sagor & Swing’s drum/organ music which draws inspiration from Swedish mythology but sounds strangely modern.
PM: You own budgies? How are they?
JL: They’re good. Thank you for asking. They had four kids last year and I kept one of them. The oldest one, Roy, likes to sit on my shoulder when I play piano. I like the way they show each other appreciation by throwing up at their loved ones. Very South Park.
PM: So this “forgotten song” with the party samples, can you talk a little bit more about it? What kind of fun does a Dictaphone bring to a party? Do you know any good icebreaker lines thanks to this experiment?
JL: Well, people like talking. I wasn’t very good at that when I was a teenager so I let the other people do it for me. And then I became obsessed, I just had to capture all the horror that I experienced. All the people who were crying over cheating partners, etc. The day after, people used to call me up and ask me to play the tape for them. The song is from the EP I Killed a Party Again. which I printed one hundred copies of and contains both Dictaphone recordings and songs.
PM: When’s your birthday? What’s your sign? My guess is the spring.
JL: February 6th, 1981. Aquarius. February is the coldest month of the year in Sweden.
PM: There’s some ready made clichés for the critic writing about you—it’s going to be hard not to cite, say, Jonathan Richman and Stephen Merritt (the Morrissey comparison, I don’t hear so much). How do these clichés and comparisons strike you, whether they’re accurate or not?
JL: I’d love to BE Jonathan. But just as he failed to be Lou Reed, I fail to be Jonathan. Because I can never be that carefree and naïve. And I think that’s the beauty of it. I would probably love Mr. Merritt’s music, but I only had time to hear 69 Love Songs before everyone started comparing me to him and now I can’t listen to him. I do understand the voice comparison, though. And we both write songs about love. So there you go. I got beat up by Morrissey’s fans when I was 17. They were the bullies back then, the people who were pretty and always had someone. Everything’s just upside-down here. My grandpa likes Morrissey; he thinks he’s nice.
PM: What’s your favorite movie?
JL: My favorite movie is Appelkriget, a Swedish prog/hippie movie about a small south Swedish town that’s about to be turned into a “Deutschneyland” by some Germans. But then the people fight back with the help of nature’s mythological creatures like ogres, elves, witches, and Nacken—a naked guy who plays violin. Max Von Sydow has a small part in it.
PM: Have you always wanted to work in music? How do you feel about music as a career? What do you want to be when you grow up?
JL: I don’t want my music to have anything to do with money. But I don’t mind staying at classy hotels when I’m touring. When I grow up I want to be a kid again. A kid who lives in a classy hotel.
PM: What girl has been the most inspiring to you?
JL: Sara. The girl I dedicated the album to. She’s the only girl I’ve been in a relationship with and everyone I’ve met after we broke up has seemed so boring in comparison.
PM: What other musicians and artists are fun to work with?
JL: I don’t like musicians. I like people who don’t know anything about music. I’ve been talking to my old teacher from school and she’s bought all the kids in her class a ukulele. I was thinking of recording a couple of songs with them.