Humour's a serious matter for tunesmith Jens Lekman
Writing songs is easy for Australia-based Swedish solo artist Jens Lekman. That will come as a surprise to anyone who's been lucky enough to stumble upon 2007's “Night Falls Over Kortedala”, a lovingly assembled, retro-rific record that sounds like something Lee Hazlewood might have concocted after a lost weekend with Pepe Deluxé and Sufjan Stevens. But even though Lekman claims he's never stumped for ideas, he freely admits that there's one area of the process where he ends up struggling.
“Things usually come really fast—most songs are finished within a few days,” he says on the line from a San Diego tour stop. “The only hard thing is how you wrap things up. It's quite easy to come up with a catchy chorus, but when you want to wrap up the story—that's something that I've become very fascinated by.”
Tellingly, given the darkly funny tone of the songs on “Night Falls Over Kortedala”, it's not other tunesmiths that Lekman is drawn to.
“I've become fascinated by comedy,” he says. “Especially, when I'm finishing things up, to think about how a lot of great comedy shows did their last shows of the whole series. A lot of them are very serious”¦The last episode of M*A*S*H inspired me so much on the last record. A lot of my songs have a comedic element to them, but that last line has to leave a little tear in the eye.”
There is, indeed, no shortage of amusing content on “Night Falls Over Kortedala”—hell, look no further than song titles like “I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You” and “If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)”. But don't go thinking that Lekman is the Swedish equivalent of They Might Be Giants or the perfect opening act for Art Brut. As Lekman notes, he's out to do more than make the masses giggle; songs don't come much more emotionally resonant than “Shirin”, a gorgeous old-MOR-tinted tribute to a hairdresser who has fled the war in Iraq. As the strings swell and the guitars jangle, Lekman sings lines like “Shirin pulls my hair to the side, but in the mirror I can see a tear in her eye.”
On the musical side, the songwriter couldn't be more deadly serious about his craft. Part crate digger and part guitar-slinging troubadour, he meshes vintage-flavoured vinyl samples with live instrumentation. The results make it clear that he's got more than a passing obsession with the sound that made the '60s and '70s golden, without shamelessly aping a time he never knew. Even when he's trotting out ragtime piano in the soaring “The Opposite of Hallelujah” or layering Sgt. Pepper's horns and kaleidoscopic xylophone on the sun-dappled “A Postcard to Nina”, you get the feeling that Lekman is more concerned with moving forward than looking back. And that's exactly what he's doing on his current tour.
“I'm going out on the road again to force myself to wrap this record up once and for all,” Lekman says. “Then I'll get started on the next record. What I've been really interested in is that movie Picnic at Hanging Rock. You know how the music in that movie is all composed of pan flutes? It's South American music accompanying all these really typical images of Australia. I really love that—the idea of taking something from far away and making it fit another landscape.”
Jens Lekman plays Richard's on Richards on Sunday (June 7).