Saturday, 17 May 2008

Jens Lekman: Life Thru A Jens

Feature for The Skinny

Swedish crooner Jens Lekman briefly hung up his guitar when scurrilous stories about him became too much to take. Luckily for us he didn't retire for long, but as he tells Ally Brown, if you're trying to find out the truth about him, you may as well just make something up

Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman was born on the dancefloor of New York’s decadent disco haven Studio 54, sang in a children’s choir run by Jonathan Richman as a kid, and only moved to Gothenburg as a teen because he was in love with her out of Ace of Base. “If you want to make something up about me in your magazine, I would encourage you to do that,” Jens tells The Skinny from his Washington-bound tour van.

Obviously we would never do such a thing, but it’s still a strange request, part of an explanation as to why he gave up music altogether a few years ago. “Rumours and stories were circulating about me, I was very paranoid and thought that everyone was out to hurt me,” he says, “I wasn’t sick of music, just the stories about my family and friends, I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. If there’s all these weird stories that are circulating then I think these say more than me sitting here. It’s like what they say to boxers if they are seeing triple - hit the one in the middle.”

Luckily for us, Lekman is back in business and on his way to Scotland as part of a world tour supporting second proper album Night Falls Over Kortedala, one of 2007’s wittiest and prettiest records. Lekman is a charming and self-deprecating pop singer-songwriter in the Stephin Merritt mould, but for one key distinction that sets him apart from 99% of who we might broadly categorise as rock musicians: he regularly backs up his doleful croon and acoustic strums with samples, be they drum beats borrowed from Arab Strap, yelps from a hyperactive children’s choir, or outrageously camp disco basslines. Why so few artists outside of hip-hop and electronica embrace sampling is a mystery Jens has few answers to: “I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense. The Avalanches perfected that art seven years ago. I guess it’s a question of copyright and sample laws, not many people want to get their hands in that. For me it’s when the sounds meet up and form something new, that’s what I like, I really like putting together sounds that aren’t supposed to meet.”

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of Night Falls is “A Postcard to Nina”, where Jens describes an uneasy meeting with a lesbian friend’s parents as he keeps up her pretence by acting as her boyfriend. Of course, releasing a song of the events kinda lets the cat out of the bag, doesn’t it Jens? “The story, although it was dramatic and awkward when it happened, is not as dramatic as it seemed to be back then, it’s all known. We still e-mail, me and her dad, he’s a really nice guy, and Nina lives in Paris right now. It’s just a song about a beautiful and strong friendship, me and Nina have known each other for 15 years now.”

So what happens when night falls over Kortedala, the Gothenburg district where Jens lived until a recent relocation to Melbourne, Australia? “People disappear, there’s a few gangsters out, I got mugged about eight times there, there’s a few mentally ill people, depressed people, unemployed people”. Despite this familiar scene, Jens assures us he’s being genuine with utmost praise for Glasgow [careful! – ed]. “I don’t really like the UK that much because of the way you’re treated as an artist there, but I’ve always been treated well in Glasgow. I’ve been there several times, it’s always been great - it’s the only good thing about the UK!”

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