Wednesday 5 September 2012, 11:27 | By Andy Malt
Q&A: Jens Lekman
Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman began self-releasing music in 2000, and already had a considerable following by the time he signed to Service Records, a label based in his home town of Gothenburg in 2003. The following year he signed to US label Secretly Canadian for releases throughout the rest of the world and released his debut album, ‘When I Said I wanted To Be Your Dog’.
The follow-up, ‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’ in 2007, cemented his position as a critically acclaimed cult figure. Having previously been fairly prolific with EP releases between albums, Lekman became less so after ‘Night Falls’, so last year’s ‘An Argument With Myself’ EP was a welcome return. And almost exactly a year since its release, he returns this week with his third album, ‘I Know What Love Isn’t’.
Due to kick off a European tour later this week, Lekman will be in the UK for two shows later this month, at the Hackney Empire in London on 20 Sep and The Haunt in Brighton on 21 Sep. Ahead of that, CMU’s Andy Malt spoke to Jens to find out about the new album, his writing process, his opinion of major labels and why he’s waiting for a call from Drew Barrymore.
AM: This is your first album for five years. Did it take you that long to work out what love isn’t?
JL: Yes, ha ha! I never actually set out to write about love or what love isn’t. I feel like the guy who invented penicillin by mistake.
AM: When did you actually start working on this album?
JL: 6 Feb 2009. Which is my birthday. I thought it’d be a good day to get back to the creating, in celebration of my very own creation.
AM: On the new album and last year’s ‘An Argument With Myself’ you seem to have moved away from using as many samples as you did in your earlier work. Was that a conscious decision?
JL: Yup, I set it as a challenge to myself. Because in the past I started most songs by creating collages of samples, and I thought if I changed the very blueprint of how my songs were built they would get a different focus. Mostly I wanted to focus more on the lyrics and melodies, so I decided to start at that end instead.
AM: When you write, do you do so with an album or EP in mind? Your releases all feel like cohesive bodies of work, but is that how they were conceived?
JL: Really? Well, that’s good then. I felt like my previous albums were just thrown together. As if you’d dug your hand down your pocket and just thrown the contents on the table.
‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’ was put together by my friends, sort of like a miniature Eurovision Song Contest where they would award the songs points. So I guess I just didn’t see the golden thread in these albums myself, though later on when I’ve looked at them I’ve noticed things that tie the records together. Like ‘Night Falls’ was a lot about friendship. Which I felt was misinterpreted by media sometimes, they seemed to think every song was about romantic love. Most of my friends back then were girls.
Anyway, to get back to the question, I didn’t used to write with an album in mind, but with this record it snuck up on me. It wasn’t until I let the album show me the way that I finally realised what it wanted to be.
AM: You draw on real life situations a lot. Has anyone ever had a problem with being the subject of one of your songs?
JL: No, but a lot of people have had problems with not being in one of my songs.
AM: You’re playing at the Hackney Empire later this month, which was originally opened as a music hall in 1901. Which artist or artists from the last 111 years do you most identify with, and why?
JL: Not so many musicians really. I feel like I had learned what I needed to learn about music about ten years ago. I had all the chords I needed. Though once in a while I will pick up a new chord or chord progression. Like for the new album I learned that a Bb7 can lead up to an Em in a nice jazzy way. If you then go to an Am or Cmaj7 after that… bellissimo! And I think I picked that up from Paddy McAloon.
But usually I find much more inspiration in comedy, for example the intricate stories of Stewart Lee, where one story opens an unexpected portal to another. That’s what I was thinking of when I wrote ‘Waiting For Kirsten’ for example. Another inspiration might be the news. Or the stories that I exchange with people through my blog and email.
AM: You’ve self-released various EPs and always released your others through independent labels. Have the majors ever come knocking, and would that world appeal to you?
JL: Did you ever see that terrible B-movie ‘Evolution’ with David Duchovny from 2001? Where an alien life form lands on earth and fast forwards through the evolution, reaching caveman like creatures within a week or so. In the end when they nuke it, it turns into the simplest life form it can think of: a gigantic bloated tick. That’s how I think of the major labels and the music industry. When it’s under threat it comes together and forms a gigantic bloodsucking blob. All this stuff about the music industry suffering is not true, the major labels are doing better than ever, they just had to get even more evil. Does that answer your question?
AM: I think so, yes. So what would you say is the biggest challenge facing independent artists today?
JL: The fact that people think that you make money from playing live. I’ve never made any money from playing live. So you’re in a situation where you support an album that everyone’s downloading for free by playing live which you also don’t get paid for. Lucky for me, once in a few years someone like Drew Barrymore comes in, takes me out for a coffee and uses my songs in a movie. But we can’t all rely on Drew to solve our financial situation.
AM: So, while you wait for Drew’s next call, what else do you have planned?
JL: The future right now seems to me like one of those fancy notebooks that you buy in a really nice stationery store. The kind of notebook that is just too nice to write in. But I have a lot of songs that didn’t make it on this album so I’m hoping to put out an EP or mini-album soon. And do a lot of touring.