EXCLUSIVE | Jens Lekman Interview
The Swedish singer-songwriter talks love, Tracey Thorne, and crisp flavours...
Roaming Swedish troubadour, hopeful (not hopeless) romantic and retired bingo hall employee Jens Lekman releases his new album I Know What Love Isn't this week, his first long-player for four years.
Despite being a break-up record of sorts it's a thing of cautiously optimistic beauty, and as with his previous work it features lyrics drawn from his own adventures that both entertain and stir the heart, all set to tunes that the milkman could whistle, if milkmen still existed.
We caught up with Jens to talk about the new album, what it's like being both the songwriter Jens and the 'Jens' who features in his songs, and, of course, the impact of growing up in the shadow of the local Estrella crisps factory.
- How close is the 'Jens Lekman' who features in your songs to the 'real life' Jens Lekman?
I think of the Jens Lekman in the songs as a completely different person who's stealing my stories.
- A lot of your songs talk of heartbreaks and disappointments you've experienced and awkward situations you've found yourself in. When things go wrong in your life to find yourself thinking 'great, now I've got a story to write about'?
The only situation like that was when I visited my friend Nina in Berlin and she took me to a dinner with her parents and I found out I was there to act as her beard.
But apart from that one, I usually can't see the beauty in a story until I get some perspective.
When it comes to heartbreaks and disappointments I often have to be more or less done with them to be able to write about them, then you might ask why I would write about them at all, but I think I owe it to the Jens of the past.
- Compared to your previous albums, 'I Know What Love Isn't' feels a lot more like a cohesive whole rather than a collection of songs, even down to the way it is bookended with two versions of 'Every Little Hair Knows Your Name'. Did you plan it that way from the start, or was that just how things worked out given the songs' subject matter?
It just happened. I felt like I was working against it, I didn't understand for a long time that the album wanted to be an album.
- Tracey Thorn wrote about you in her song 'Oh, The Divorces!' and now you've written back to her in your new song 'Become Someone Else's'. Have the two of you had any direct contact, or do you think you'll just remain as lyrical pen-pals?
Yes we email sometimes, she's really nice. We met through Geoff Travis from Rough Trade when I was working on an Arthur Russell tribute EP.
I didn't notice until the album was finished how similar it was to her latest album, even down to the title, ‘Love And Its Opposite’ – ‘I Know What Love Isn't’.
It's like we made the same record but from different points in life. Tracey is one of my biggest inspirations, I've been a fan since I was 14. And I love that she sang to me like I was a romantic fool in her song, when in fact I picked up that romanticism from her.
- One of the album tracks ‘The World Moves On’ includes the line, 'You don't get over a broken heart / You just learn to carry it gracefully.' While this could be seen as a depressing statement, in the context of the album as a whole it comes across as resigned but still optimistic. Is this how you feel now?
I feel like that line is the key line on the album. Like it summed up all my feelings. If there was any conclusion on the album, that would be it, that this idea we have of closure is so absurd.
But then after the album was finished and I found myself sitting in interviews, sometimes the journalist would bring a preview copy and put it on the table, and it struck me there and then: that's it, all those feelings are in that little plastic thing.
And like a tombstone I can just leave it there and move on. It was a very weird feeling. I did not expect it to be like that.
- You've described yourself as a 'potato chips factory boy' when introducing the song 'Waiting For Kirsten' live. If you were a pack of Estrella chips, what flavour would you be and why?
I remember when I grew up and Dad would take me to kindergarten in the morning and you could smell the chips in the air from the factory nearby.
Back then there were only two flavours: salty and dill, just like there were only two channels on TV - channel 1 and channel 2. Then one morning on our way to kindergarten we stopped, stunned, and just breathed in the morning air.
There was something new in there. It was creamy. It spoke of distant civilisations and a life beyond the expected. The next week they released sourcream and onion.
And I guess with that story in mind I should say that I would be a bag of sourcream and onion but I find it very hard finding similarities between me and a bag of chips.
Jens Lekman plays the following UK dates later this month:
Wed 19 - Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Thu 20 - Hackney Empire, London
Fri 21 - The Haunt, Brighton
I Know What Love Isn't is out now in a variety of formats. Go buy it.