SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Swedish pop star Jens Lekman sounds more like Lawrence Welk and Burt Bacharach than let's say Kanye West and Ashlee Simpson. Adding to his allure, the three-time Swedish Grammy nominee was voted one of the sexiest men in Sweden. Well, he does write an awful lot of love songs, some are witty, some are wry, finger snaps, hand claps and a ukelele. Jens Lekman joins us now from the studios of Radio Sweden in Stockholm.
Thanks so much for being with us.
JENS LEKMAN: Thank you.
SIMON: What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
LEKMAN: Mostly Greek folk music I think. Every summer evening all my neighbors used to gather up and have a big barbecue party and they would sing Greek folk music and it would be like songs that nobody knew, but everyone could sing along anyway, and it's really nice.
SIMON: You're from a town that's kind of a shipping center, aren't you?
LEKMAN: Yeah, that's correct. Yeah.
SIMON: How do I say that? Gothenburg?
LEKMAN: Gothenburg, or Guteborgi is the Swedish pronunciation of it.
SIMON: And how did you begin to play music?
LEKMAN: Actually I started playing--I think it was some standard like "Guantanamera" or something like that. I didn't know any chords or anything, but I learned this bass line from a Vaseline song called "Molly's Lips" and I think that's the only two note--two, like doung, doung, doung, doung, something like that. It's just over and over, and I learned that and I thought I was a genius so I kept on doing it.
SIMON: Well, let's hear, if we could, a little of "A Sweet Summernight on Hammer Hill."
(SOUNDBITE OF "A SWEET SUMMERNIGHT ON HAMMER HILL")
LEKMAN: (Singing) Oh, I still remember ...(unintelligible) sweet summer of 1993, it was a sweet summer's night on Hammer Hill.
OK, that was from a bootleg, actually, one of my earliest show. I played in the woods behind a festival. I wasn't booked for the festival and I was kind of upset, and so my friends just put a guitar in my hands and asked me to play some songs and they all started singing along. It was amazing.
SIMON: Now why do you sing in English?
LEKMAN: Well, I think that when I started writing songs, I didn't consider Swedish being a very sexy language. It's like when you say `I love you' in Swedish it just sounds like you're throwing up or something.
SIMON: Could we hear what `I love you' sounds like in Swedish?
LEKMAN: Mmm. Jag alskar dig.
SIMON: Right back at 'cha, Mr. Lekman.
LEKMAN: Thank you very much. But nowadays I think that Swedish is pretty sexy actually, so...
SIMON: Well, I have to mention--of course, as we noted, you were voted one of the sexiest men in Sweden. But I have to note, you were voted the 15th sexiest man in Sweden. So who the hell are the other 14?
LEKMAN: It was basically the whole Swedish football team.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LEKMAN: Yeah. Yeah. I actually dropped down to number 33 this year. So I took it very seriously when I was voted the 15th sexiest man. I tried to think about how to stay sexy, but apparently I didn't do a very good job.
SIMON: Just use the right creams, Botox if you need to. How old are you, Mr. Lekman?
LEKMAN: I'm 24.
SIMON: Twenty-four. OK. Well, you're just getting to the point--your youthful effervescence is giving way to a certain mid-20s gravitas. I think that'll work for you.
LEKMAN: Thank you.
SIMON: We'd like to hear another song.
SIMON: Because you are in the middle of a cold Swedish winter.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LEKMAN: (Singing) When people think of Sweden I think they have the wrong idea, like Cliff Richards who thought it was just porn and gonorrhea. And Lou Reed said in the film "Blue in the Face" that compared to New York City, Sweden was a scary place. They seemed to have a point that after meeting with this girl--maybe not Cliff Richards, but Lou had surely met her. The doubt in her eyes when I said I wanted to kiss her, for the sake of liking her and not because of the blizzard. She said, `Shh, please be quiet. I know you don't want to, but please deny it.' She said, `Shh, please be quiet. I know you don't want me but please deny it.' 'Cause the cold Swedish winter is right outside and I just want somebody to hold me through tonight.
SIMON: I've got to ask you about that lyric. Lou Reed saying that compared to New York City, Sweden was a scary place.
LEKMAN: Well, he said--I mean, the thing he says in that movie was basically that he was in Sweden and he saw all these jars of medicine that said, `If you try to kill yourself call this number,' or something like that. So I guess he just fell for the old myth that Swedish people are suicidal.
SIMON: What do you think of the United States?
LEKMAN: I really like it--most of it, but it's like--the one thing that I've found out after traveling so much is that everything I've ever heard about people all over the world is true. Everything--you know, like, what I've heard about the people in Finland, that they're all drunk and they all carry a knife or an ax and they're all very silent and everything. That's--it turned out to be true. And everything I've heard about Californians to be, you know, really laid back and they all--they're all writing up the big novel or they're all painters, but they never get anything done because the sun is always shining, so they can just go down to the beach and--that all seems to be true. But I really like that about California.
SIMON: Oh, my.
LEKMAN: Except--I guess that just goes for San Francisco. I guess LA is a bit different, but...
SIMON: Boy, I suspect if we have any listeners in Finland, they're rushing to their computer keyboards at this point to send us e-mail...
LEKMAN: Yeah. But I...
SIMON: ...and angry e-mail because you know those Finns.
LEKMAN: No, but I love the Finns for being like that actually.
SIMON: When do you tour the United States next, Mr. Lekman?
LEKMAN: That might take a long time actually because at the moment I'm just--when I did the last US tour I just came to a point where it felt like I was living in a bad compromise and I wasn't really doing what I wanted to do so...
SIMON: What do you really want to do?
LEKMAN: I want to do music, but I just wasn't prepared for it, I guess. I wasn't prepared for all the rumors that are circulating about me, that I've died in a horrible motorcycle accident, that I'm being married with some famous movie star or whatever.
SIMON: You like making music, but the whole business of being in the public eye is difficult for you.
LEKMAN: Sort of, yeah. 'Cause I don't want to talk about what I eat for breakfast, you know, so I talk about what I'm feeling.
SIMON: Did you bring some instruments along with you?
LEKMAN: I did actually, yeah.
SIMON: Anything we can hear?
LEKMAN: Sure. (Plays harmonica)
SIMON: What are you playing, Mr. Lekman?
LEKMAN: I'm playing (plays ukelele) the ukelele and...
SIMON: Yeah, OK.
LEKMAN: ...the harmonica.
SIMON: Yeah, please.
(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE WITH UKELELE)
LEKMAN: (Singing) A man walks into a bar, orders a beer and a bowl of peanuts. But the bar turns into a spaceship and the bartender gives him a haircut. I can't remember the end of that joke. You once told it to me when we smoked on your father's expensive cigars. All I remember is the part where a man walked into a bar. (Whistles) How many lovers does it take to put a light bulb into a socket, and why did Mona Lisa smile? I have the answer written down in my pocket. I just remember I laughed till I cried because you told it with your funny voice. Your Southern accent makes me rejoice. Those special times we had when love was just a silly ...(unintelligible). (Whistles) I know why Mona Lisa smiled. Da Vinci must have been a really funny guy, and laughter is the only way into my heart. I know why Mona Lisa smiled. Da Vinci must have been a really funny guy, and laughter is the only way to get into my heart. A man walks into a bar, orders a Scotch and a bottle of Coke. But the laughter is gone in his heart. He never told me the end of that joke.
SIMON: Mr. Lekman, thank you so much.
LEKMAN: Thank you.
SIMON: Singer and songwriter Jens Lekman speaking from Radio Sweden in Stockholm. His latest release is "Oh, You're So Silent Jens," and you can hear more of Jens Lekman on our Web site, npr.org.
And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.