At the heels of releasing his third album I Know What Love Isn't, Sweden's Jens Lekman talks fame, music, and why he doesn't much care for either.
One of the more lovable characters to come out of Gothenburg, Sweden is Jens Lekman, a decade-long industry veteran who has garnered comparisons to Belle & Sebastian due to his twee poppy sound (though with far funnier lyrics). His new, third album I Know What Love Isn’t earned him a stint on Fallon, but we found that fame really isn’t on his radar. Seriously, it’s not, so don’t share this with your friends, and don’t comb this interview for dreams or aspirations.
But do look for his experience on his current American tour with Taken By Trees, on the US election, on his (lack of) local celebrity in Sweden, and on why he doesn’t listen to music.
How has your American tour been?
It’s been great. I still have months to go I think. But I have been touring for 10 years so I feel like the tour has never ended really.
What are some towns you love to visit that maybe surprised you?
Well, I’ve always loved playing the smaller towns that are close to bigger towns. Especially coming from a town like Gothenburg, which is not even the capital of Sweden which is not really a big country, you feel like artists go there, and they do this half-assed show. They’re just tired, and they’re like ‘this is not a very important place’ and they go up and do a decent show, and I hate that. I feel like people are much more appreciative in those cities. I love playing Carrboro, North Carolina, and Bloomington, Indiana for example.
So you were surrounded by the US elections.
Yeah of course. I’ve been following it, and I was so relieved that the results came in before the show, because I was really worried that people would be standing around with their iPhones. The results came in two hours before the show. It was at the Fonda Theater in L.A.
Okay, L.A, so they were in good spirits after the results?
Yes for sure.
What was your experience on Fallon like?
I think that in particular show was really fun! I’ve done a lot of TV before in Europe for example, and usually it’s a horrible experience, where you’re just waiting around and people are yelling at you. Everyone was really nice to us and it was kind of a different experience. It’s also very surreal because you’re sitting in the backstage for hours and hours, and then you go on, plug in your guitars, play the songs, and five minutes later you’re in a taxi cruising Manhattan, saying what just happened?
Do you find that reception has changed either post-Fallon, or since your last album?
No not really, I haven’t really noticed anything after Fallon really or anything like that. I don’t feel like things have changed that much, and I don’t think they will change very much. It’s not going to get any bigger than this, and I feel very happy with the venues and the crowds and everything.
Are you a local celebrity in Gothenburg?
Not at all! I’m actually not very known in Sweden at all. When my first record came out, things got pretty big, I was on TV all the time. It was a strange place where you really have to just tour and tour and tour and do TV all the time, and do stupid game shows on TV if you want to be known in that country. So no, I’ve never had anyone come up to me or anything.
Watch the titular track from Jens Lekman’s album I Know What Love Isn’t
Is there any music you like that would totally surprise us?
I find myself listening more to comedy records. I’m a very big fan of comedy. I don’t listen that much to music, which I think is a good thing when you’re making music. It’s very important to be inspired in this field on your own, because otherwise I think I would just get really wired up in whats going on musically right now, what do other peoples records sound like — instead I find myself more inspired by storytelling.
Interesting you say that because there was a lot of clever turn of phrase in this album that sometimes had me laughing out loud.
I love language and words and poetry, And I think on this record particularly, I found some kind of slow imagery that I hadn’t had before. I’m not really sure where it comes from, but I just love what happens when you put pen to paper and see what comes out. And me not being a native English speaker I have a fascination for words in English that maybe native English speakers don’t see.
You seem very content with your level of fame, but is there anything that you secretly wish this album could accomplish for your career and fanbase?
No, I think that I have a very good communication with the people listening to my music through my Smalltalk blog and my e-mail, and I‘ve always seen that as a measurement of how big I want my crowd to be. If I don’t have time to read everyone’s e-mails, there’s a sign that I’m getting too big. There’s nothing worse than when you feel like you have to appeal to everyone. When you have a crowd that’s too big, you have to appeal to so many kinds of tastes. You would end up doing something washed out or a boring compromise. It’s better when you have a small crowd.
Seems like a rare stance for a musician.
Yes well, I remember listening to one of my favorite comedians, Daniel Kitson. Once said he had overheard a conversation in the bathroom of one of his shows. And he thought ‘I don’t want those guys at my show!’ He realized at that point that he didn’t want to become any bigger at all, He stopped doing DVDs, TV, all that, and just did small shows in theaters. Because, you know, there’s just no way to communicate with that kind of crowd. And I sort of feel that way, too. I think 12 is a good crowd.