Jens Lekman is an expert in writing love songs. Funny love songs, sweet love songs, lonely love songs — the man has approached the subject from nearly every conceivable angle. Along the way, he’s refined his sense of humor and tenderness while polishing his resplendent indie pop sound to a lovely sheen.
With I Know What Love Isn’t, due today from Secretly Canadian, Lekman sounds like he’s entered his “blue period.” The five years since his last full-length album may have been difficult for him (he vaguely describes a serious romantic break-up, among other things). As such, the new songs occasionally ache with melancholy and loss. He does succeed, however, in finding hope by the end of the album’s narrative, not to mention in penning pop gems along the way.
While he wasn’t fully forthcoming regarding all the details of this journey, Lekman did take some time recently to talk with Tiny Mix Tapes about the genesis of I Know What Love Isn’t.
There have been five years between your last album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, and I Know What Love Isn’t. Why was there such a long separation?
I’d like to say, “Because I don’t make crap records.” This album took longer because it was tricky to find out where it was going. There was something wrong with the flow and the dramaturgy. It wasn’t until I made the An Argument With Myself EP that things started falling into place. Once I got rid of those songs I saw where the album was going. And then just a few months ago I wrote “I Know What Love Isn’t” and “The World Moves On,” which to me are the key songs on the album and without them there wouldn’t have been an album at all. So it had to take five years. And also, I don’t make crap records.
If felt like many of the songs on Night Falls Over Kortedala were written about different characters. The central character from “A Postcard to Nina” sounds like a very different person than the central character from “Shirin,” etc. However, I Know What Love Isn’t sounds like most of the album could be about one person or situation.
Yes, Night Falls was about friendship. And all those songs were basically for different friends. I Know What Love Isn’t came out of a break-up. But even though that break-up was real, I think of the situations and characters as more universal this time. I don’t feel like going into the story much. It’s too personal and somehow doesn’t seem important. The album mostly deals with the feelings you have afterwards, when you’re picking yourself up.
I notice a very clean, sometimes chilly sound on I Know What Love Isn’t. Combined with the saxophone, it can sound very slick at times.
Yes, I felt like for Night Falls I had a broad palette of every color I liked. For this album I decided to use the same palette but only use the more sombre colors. It seemed to suit the songs better. I wanted it jazzier, more soulful. But chilly? I don’t know… the songs are kinda sad but the melodies are warm. I think it’s a hopeful record, a warm record.
I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a few years now, which is nice; I think whatever doesn’t fit in my suitcase is not worth keeping. For a former hoarder like me it’s a healthy thing. But the one thing I’ve been missing is a book shelf.
I really loved the video for “Erica America.” I liked the fact that it was one shot and the lighting and tone of the set was interesting. The only other official music video of yours I know of is “You Are the Light,” and that one seemed to be a bit more “concept-based.”
I love it too. And [I love] the new one for “I Know What Love Isn’t.” And we’re probably making another one, me and the brilliant Marcus Söderlund, who’s made most of my videos. Yes, I think for this album I really wanted a more naked and intimate visual language. A storyline or a concept often feels contrived.
I had a chance to see your live show in Washington D.C. in 2008, and at that time you were backed by an all-female band. Was that coincidence or intentional? It appears from the “Erica America” video that the band has changed.
It’s interesting when you ask that, since no one would ever ask an all-male band if the fact that they’re all-male is a coincidence or intentional.
At the time it was a coincidence. There’s actually just as many women playing music as there are men, but ingrained structures keep them out of the business unless they are a “girl band.” I have to put together new bands for every tour and usually just pick the best musicians I can find. At the moment it’s two men and two women.
Can you tell me a bit about the importance of the song “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name,” and why you chose that song to bookend the album?
I’ve been living out of a suitcase for a few years now, which is nice; I think whatever doesn’t fit in my suitcase is not worth keeping. For a former hoarder like me it’s a healthy thing. But the one thing I’ve been missing is a book shelf. I found myself missing organizing my books and seeing how the colors of their spines would work next to each other. And anyone owning a bookshelf knows the importance of bookends so the books don’t fall out. I don’t think it was the song in itself that had a significant importance, it just had a nice melody that I think opened and closed the album in a nice way.