Jens Lekman Takes Sad Songs and Makes Them Better

Jens Lekman
Jens Lekman Photo by Ellika Henrikson
Jens Lekman is a man of remarkable candor. Over the course of his career, the Swedish singer-songwriter has earned a reputation for inviting fans to listen in on some of his most vulnerable moments, ranging from drunken arguments with himself through the streets of Melbourne to misadventures spent posing as the boyfriend of his lesbian best friend. Even when he's confessing doubts about his own songwriting ability over paradoxically beautiful arrangements, one never gets the sense that Lekman isn’t telling the whole story, or that he might be hiding more unsavory aspects of his character from listeners; to know Lekman is to love and empathize with him, and for nearly two decades, fans have borne witness to his ongoing growth as both a person and an accomplished songwriter.

So it should have come as little surprise then that Lekman would be inclined to invert the traditional musician-interviewer dynamic. Speaking with New Times in advance of his first Miami show at the Ground this Saturday, January 27, Lekman flipped the script following a question about his lone prior experience in Miami, instead asking what spots or sights he ought to check out while in the city.

“This is my first show in Miami, but I've been to Miami once before on vacation. I really enjoyed it; I was just there for like four or five days, but I had a really good time,” Lekman says before asking what he might be missing out on. “I feel like, not being too familiar with Miami, the image that I get is me sitting on the beach with a straw hat, drinking a piña colada; I feel like there's a lot of culture in Miami that I don't know about.”

For what it's worth, he seemed amenable to checking out Pérez Art Museum Miami and Gramps.

Lekman’s performance is arriving on the heels of last year’s Life Will See You Now, one of the most underrated releases of 2017. In addition to his trademark confessional lyrics, Life Will See You Now saw Lekman lean a little harder into his inclinations for pop and dance music.  Though more danceable cuts have always had a place in Lekman’s discography — the Night Falls Over Kortedala track “Sipping On the Sweet Nectar” rightfully received the remix treatment — Life Will See You Now offers listeners many more opportunities to cut a rug, with tracks such as “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” and “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?” being particular standouts. Although he more often invites comparisons to fellow singer-songwriters like the Modern Lovers' Jonathan Richman, Lekman readily admits to carrying a torch for disco and classic Chicago house, acknowledging his fondness for the likes of Arthur Russell and Ten City’s “That’s the Way Love Is.”
“I have my own vision of how I like dance music — how I like music made for the dance floor. I've always felt very uneasy about some dance music that's very aggressive, for example,” Lekman explains, citing his admiration for and habitual sampling of the soothing, seductive sounds of disco.

“I want the music to say, You don’t have to dance if you don’t want to, but try to resist this,” he says. “I love old disco with lots of strings because it's romantic and warm and sweet, but it's also got this groove underneath. And I think that's what I loved about Chicago house too, like that Ten City record; it's got a very inclusive, including feeling to it.”

The artist also feels a kinship between his own candid style of songwriting and the strain of emotional perseverance that runs through the best, most moving dance records. Naming “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel” as an example, Lekman says that much of his music is “an attempt to take sad songs and make them positive or happy.”

“A lot of my songs have worked like that, where I try to take something — take a sad, darker moment from life and then give it hope somehow — instead of leaving the listener with just a bunch of dread, to give them some sort of light at the end of the tunnel,” Lekman says. “I feel like the easiest and best way to do that is by putting a steady beat underneath, because that gives it a drive, it gives it a motion forward. It gives it an agency of some kind.”

“I think a lot of my favorite dance songs and disco songs, if you just took out the beat, they would be really sad ballads. But once you put that kick drum underneath, it gives it like some sort sort of aggression, or some sort of feeling like I’m gonna get out of this, I’m going to survive… I’m going to be happy again.

Jens Lekman. With Peter Oren and SMVT. 8 p.m. Saturday, January 27, at the Ground, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-375-0001; Tickets cost $15 to $20 via
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Zach Schlein is the former arts and music editor for Miami New Times. Originally from Montville, New Jersey, he holds a BA in political science from the University of Florida and writes primarily about music, culture, and clubbing, with a healthy dose of politics whenever possible. He has been published in The Hill, Mixmag, Time Out Miami, and City Gazettes.
Contact: Zach Schlein

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