For Swedish singer Jens Lekman, recrafting old albums was a lesson in self-love Two of Jens Lekman's early albums were taken off streaming services due to sample clearance issues. During the pandemic, the singer recrafted and revisited his old work.

For Swedish musician Jens Lekman, recrafting old albums was a lesson in self-love

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman used to make music with samples and samples on samples. But he didn't actually have permission to use them all, so he had to pull two of his biggest albums from streaming services. Recently, he remade them and did one of the scariest things an artist can do. He revisited his old work. NPR's Alex Cheng has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "YOUR ARMS AROUND ME")

ALEX CHENG, BYLINE: In the early 2000s, Jens Lekman had just started his career as...

JENS LEKMAN: I'm Swedish pop star, I guess.

CHENG: He was making thoughtful, funny, romantic indie pop chock-full of personal stories and bursting...

LEKMAN: With samples from records that I found at flea markets - hundreds and thousands of tiny little snippets of audio from this place and that place.

CHENG: In that era of file-sharing and free love, some artists, including Jens, were less than careful about paying for samples. But over the next decade and a half, the bill came due.

LEKMAN: It's very, very difficult and expensive to clear samples.

CHENG: And because he couldn't clear them all, Jens had to delete two of his biggest albums from the world. Both 2005's "Oh You're So Silent Jens" and 2007's "Night Falls Over Kortedala" were pulled from streaming services. And Jens' his label had to stop pressing them, too.

LEKMAN: It was like the record never had existed in the first place.

CHENG: But Jens had a surprise up his sleeve. He had secretly started rerecording to get around the uncleared samples.

LEKMAN: I found a time to actually do it during the pandemic.

CHENG: And a couple of months ago, Jens released a new version of "Oh You're So Silent" called "The Cherry Trees Are Still In Blossom" and a new version of "Night Falls" called "The Linden Trees Are Still In Blossom." They're more than just reissues, but they aren't full remakes.

LEKMAN: I wanted these records to be like portals or tombstones for the original records.

CHENG: So the lyrics are all the same, but some familiar things...

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "KANSKE AR JAG I DIG (ORIGINAL)")

CHENG: ...Are missing or tweaked or reimagined.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "KANSKE AR JAG I DIG (NEW VERSION)")

CHENG: And other changes are more wholesale, like with two of Jens' biggest early hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK CAB (ORIGINAL)")

LEKMAN: (Singing) Black cab, black cab.

"Maple Leaves" and "Black Cab" are completely new.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK CAB (NEW VERSION)")

LEKMAN: (Singing) Black cab.

Mostly because those songs consisted of basically all samples.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK CAB (NEW VERSION)")

LEKMAN: (Singing) Black cab.

CHENG: But there was also something deeper that Jens had to contend with - some baggage around his old persona.

LEKMAN: I remember doing an interview with a Belgian journalist when "Nights Falls Over Kortedala" came out. He was just like, so this is just another collection of clumsy, lovestruck man-child songs. I hate it. And I realized I wanted to move on from that.

CHENG: Jens had gotten tired of that clumsy, lovestruck man-child, tired of his younger self. But for this project, he had to dive deep into the songs he'd written back then, like one of his first big hits, "Maple Leaves."

LEKMAN: It's all about the misunderstandings of love. She said it was all make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAPLES LEAVES (ORIGINAL)")

LEKMAN: (Singing) But I thought she said maple leaves.

CHENG: The thing is, back then, when it came to love, Jens didn't really know what he was talking about. He was kind of just making it all up.

LEKMAN: I actually kind of used my songs in a way to push myself to go talk to girls. So a lot of those songs were like trying out different costumes.

CHENG: In the 20 years since, Jens has actually experienced real romance and real heartbreak. And the more he learns about love, the more you'd think he'd cringe at an old song like "Maple Leaves." But when he picked it up again for this project...

LEKMAN: Looking back on "Maple Leaves," I think I nailed it in that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "MAPLE LEAVES (NEW VERSION)")

CHENG: This time, Jens saw something new in it.

LEKMAN: It's like I've been going around in circles. And then I came back to that, and I was like, oh, wait. Hang on. This is such a perfect portrait of love or heartbreak, these things that we think that we're going to understand as we get older. But as we get older, we realize that there's nothing to understand

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAPLES LEAVES (NEW VERSION)")

LEKMAN: (Singing) I never understood at all.

CHENG: For self-critical Jens, remaking these two albums became something unexpected - a labor of self-love.

LEKMAN: Working on these songs became like a dialogue between my 41-year-old self and my 21-year-old self. It was just a moment to see myself from the outside and like what I saw and be proud of what I saw.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "A POSTCARD TO NINA (NEW VERSION)")

CHENG: In two new music videos promoting the remix, present-day Jens watches footage of himself from the past, from the early 2000s. So after this whole experience, what does Jens see now, literally, when he looks back at that younger Jens from forever ago?

LEKMAN: I'm thinking, you should get rid of those sideburns.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A POSTCARD TO NINA (NEW VERSION)")

LEKMAN: (Singing) Yours truly, Jens Lekman.

CHENG: Alex Cheng, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "A POSTCARD TO NINA (NEW VERSION)")

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