Jens Lekman On Why He Doesn't Sing in Swedish, and Why He Loves Standup Comedy
It's not even November and Jens Lekman is enduring the "shittiest snowfall ever," which is blanketing his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. Proclaiming it "completely useless," Lekman knows it's a short-term nuisance. In days, he'll be in Dallas promoting I Know What Love Isn't, his first full-length release in five years.
The album provides another installment in his memoirs. This chapter is more serious, prompted by the end of a relationship that had him living for a time in Melbourne, Australia, and almost getting married. In song, he declares that the goal was actually to get a green card, but the end of the relationship left him heartbroken. Facile with language, Lekman balances themes of heartache and recovery, leavened with his usual humor and wisdom.
Given English is his second language, his lyrical dexterity is not accidental. He made the conscious choice to sing in English at the start of his songwriting career.
"Contemporary Swedish artists that chose Swedish as their language tended to sing about certain topics and use words I wanted to avoid," he explains. Using English was liberating, and Lekman sees "the language of English as neutral, in a way."
Still, it's surprising to think he has never written a single song in his native tongue. "I have translated a few of my songs, and it does allow me to dive deeper in them," he admits. "A couple years ago, I translated "Julie," from my first album, and the song took on a new meaning and perspective ten years later and the use of Swedish."
I Know What Love Isn't is not a "breakup" album, though. "A lot of the songs on the new album I wrote quickly," Lekman says. "But then I felt had to rewrite them over and over until I could discover what the songs were." After the album was completed, he realized how similar it is to Love and Its Opposite, the recent work of his close friend Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl.
With distilled instrumentation and arrangements, the music is less whimsical than his more sample-heavy past. But his wit and optimism remain intact in his brilliant lyrics, despite the theme of the album. It's no wonder he finds inspiration not so much in music, but in literature and particularly standup comedy. "I think it's healthy that people that work in a creative field look for inspiration in a different creative field," he explains. "[To] find the way a good standup comedian can tell a story using comedy as a tool [is] fascinating." He took the "extraordinary" Tig Notaro on tour as his opening act in 2009, and was instrumental in getting her signed to Secretly Canadian.
He retains fond memories of that tour, and believes the combination of standup and music makes for a great evening. "Really, to me, a really good evening would be a comedian, followed by a band, followed by a really good DJ," he declares. While this is not the lineup he has arranged for this tour, fellow Swede Victoria Bergsman's gorgeous Taken By Trees is a nice complement to Lekman's songcraft and storytelling.
Jens Lekman and Taken by Trees appear at the Granada Theater on Monday, November 12.
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