The Skype call sound plays on a brief loop before Jens Lekman accepts the invitation. Speaking from what he describes as a bunker — “where I sit and work with music” — in his home of Gothenburg, Sweden, he utters a placid hello.
He releases his words slowly, first thinking about the question before responding in a pensive and comforting tone. Though Lekman sounds truly relaxed, he feels the opposite. With his new album, Life Will See You Now, arriving Friday (Feb. 17), he says the real work starts now. “This is when I try to figure out what the hell I’ve done,” he tells Billboard.
What the Swedish musician has done is create a body of work, 10 tracks in total, rife with fictitious tales of (somewhat) ordinary occurrences — like falling in love, a couple’s first fight and hotwiring a ferris wheel — that come alive with bubbly beats and radiate positive energy, despite the not so positive lyrical content of some songs.
The debut single off the album, “What’s That Perfume You Wear?” for example, is about learning to carry a broken heart with you. “It makes you who you are and can be a beautiful thing,” he says. Lyrics aside, the instrumentation of the song (which samples steel-pan beats off Ralph MacDonald’s The Path) is undeniably catchy and nearly dares listeners to try and not dance.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility not to leave the listener in a pool of dread,” Lekman insists. “I think all the best songs do that, they offer some sort of hope and light in the darkness. Sometimes I can [offer] that in the lyrics, but it’s easier to do in music.”
Letting go of control while recording this album proved more difficult for Lekman. He is admittedly a perfectionist micro-manager when it comes to his music, and in the past has primarily worked alone. This time, though, he enlisted a team of collaborators and in doing so forced himself to confront his doubts and fears — an underlying theme of the album.
“I had to develop these strategies to keep myself from breaking down mentally,” he says of working with others. “When I was sitting in the studio with the producer I was biting my tongue really, really hard. That was one strategy that worked, it often involved physical pain to distract myself, but it was necessary. It was necessary to let go and realize you can’t control everything.”
By letting go, Lekman soon found himself letting others in — not only into his process but into the stories that inspire his songs. While working on this album, Lekman found himself writing what he calls “emotionally autobiographical” songs. He says he became increasingly interested in making things up as he was writing this album, or rather, embellishing upon bits and pieces of the truth. “I wouldn’t write about something that I haven’t experienced myself,” Lekman assures.
He shares the story behind “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” to better explain how real life inspires the stories he spins out. “I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve never hotwired a ferris wheel,” Lekman says with a laugh before telling of a time he and a friend walked by an amusement park that had a ferris wheel. “We started talking about how we should break into the amusement park late at night and hotwire the ferris wheel, just like the story,” he says. “The only difference is, we didn’t do it in real life, but it would be much better if we actually did.”
Lekman says that as he settles into his mid-30s, “You see the patterns that keep repeating in your life and you realize you have to do something about it.” Crafting fictitious stories built around true events, emotions and experiences is his way of breaking that pattern, of living something new — even if only an illusion cloaked under an indie pop song.
Following the album’s release, Lekman says he has few set plans aside from touring. He recently started rehearsing with a new band where “everyone is fulfilling a particular role.” From a groovy drummer to a rock and roll bass player, he says what brings the band together is the keyboardist who works part-time as funeral organist. Considering Lekman works part-time as a wedding singer, the juxtaposition is all too intriguing. “We’re going to have that feeling of somewhere between a wedding and a funeral,” Lekman says of the band’s live delivery. “I think it’s very fitting for the new record.”