Jens Lekman Performs in NPR's Studio 4A Swedish indie-pop star Jens Lekman draws inspiration from some unlikely places for his latest album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, but the witty singer songwriter makes it work with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and carefully crafted sound.
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Jens Lekman Performs in NPR's Studio 4A

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NEAL CONAN, Host:

You're on your way to the dinner with an old friend. But as you walk up to her apartment, she tells you that in fact you're about to have dinner with her parents, and she wants you to pose as her boyfriend so her father won't find out that she's a lesbian. Awkward? Yes. Obvious pop music material? Well, maybe not.

Then again, Jens Lekman is not an obvious pop star. Critics describe his music as sentimental, even schmaltzy. They also used the word brilliant. His most recent CD is called "Night Falls Over Kortedala." And he joins us here today in Studio 4A.

If you've got a question or a story for Jens Lekman about his music, the music scene in Sweden or the music industry, give us a call. Our number, 800-989- 8255, the e-mail address, talk@npr.org and you could also head over to our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Jens Lekman, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JENS LEKMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: How about we start with a song?

LEKMAN: All right.

STUDIO PERFORMANCE OF SONG "THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH"

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: Jens Lekman on piano and vocals. Also on percussion, Tammy Karlsson. And Jens Lekman, let's get some of the obvious questions out of the way - gee, your English is awfully good and what do you think of Abba? Nevertheless, I have to ask you, when you - well, let me begin by asking "Night Falls On Kortedala" - I'm hoping I'm pronouncing that correctly. What is Kortedala?

LEKMAN: What it is?

CONAN: Yes.

LEKMAN: It is a suburb outside of Gothenburg in Sweden, a quiet, miserable and boring place. It's a place where a lot of wackos live. When they close down the mental institutions, the mental hospitals in Sweden in the early '90s, a lot of people were placed in gloomy, dark apartment there. And there's a lot of unemployed people, a lot of crazy old people. And - it's a place I couldn't wait to get out of but a place I couldn't help but romanticize at the same time.

CONAN: It's a funny dichotomy to get out of, and nevertheless, that you feel sentimental about?

LEKMAN: I do, yeah. But I never really went out in Kortedala. I just stayed in my gloomy, dark apartment...

CONAN: And your gloomy, dark studio.

LEKMAN: ...and wrote song and imagined the world outside. So, yeah.

CONAN: Uh-huh. And how did you migrate here to the United States?

LEKMAN: How?

CONAN: Yeah.

LEKMAN: I took a plane.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, that part I figured. No. What prompted you to make the move across the Atlantic?

LEKMAN: I have shows to play.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

LEKMAN: Yeah.

CONAN: So, are there obligations to meet? So, you're going back to Kortedala when the tour is over?

LEKMAN: No. I moved to Melbourne, Australia a few months ago. And I do have a place there. I've realized now that I have some problems with my visa there, so I'm practically homeless right now, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LEKMAN: This NPR Studio is my home right now.

CONAN: For the moment, for the next few minutes, anyway. Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. Again, if you'd like to talk with Jens Lekman about his music, give us a call: 800-989-8255.

And let's go to Rob(ph). And Rob's with us from San Antonio.

ROBIN: Hello, Jens. How are you?

LEKMAN: Hey, Rob. How are you?

ROBIN: I'm doing well. I wanted to see if I could spark your memory. In your Smalltalk portion of your Web site, I sent you an e-mail awhile back, asking you what your thought was about McDonald selling empanadas. And you said that you're - you were very neutral at this point. So, I want to see if you remember that...

CONAN: Hard to forget such an e-mail.

LEKSMAN: Well, hang on. McDonald's, what was that?

CONAN: Empanadas.

ROBIN: McDonald's selling empanadas.

LEKMAN: Oh, yeah. I have a vague memory of that conversation...

ROBIN: Great, great. Cool. I'm glad that you do.

CONAN: And Homeland Security has been made aware of it too.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROBIN: So, my question was for you, Jens, is - I'm a really big fan. I really enjoy your music. I've never seen you live, so pardon my ignorance. But when you perform your music, is it difficult to recreate your music as a musician from your album in a live setting, specifically for you since you use a lot of sampling of other music?

LEKMAN: It is. I sort of solved that now, I think, by bringing along this amazing band that's taken years to put together. And I have a friend of mine, Victor Ferburry(ph), who's a genius, pushing little buttons and making the samples come alive. But I think, frankly, I quite prefer when the crowd is my band; when I play in a little alley or somewhere or in the park or something, and whoever is surrounding me at the moment becomes the band creating the song again.

CONAN: Does your music - do you feel a little thin without the added samples that there - are on the album and on your live performance when you're (unintelligible)?

LEKMAN: No. I kind of - I think I really like just playing with Tammy because it sort of creates the focus on stories and melodies instead. And yeah, I like that.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Rob.

And let's see if we can go now to Matt(ph). And if I push the right button, Matt is with us from Long Island in New York.

MATT: Hey, (unintelligible).

CONAN: Thank you.

MATT: I'm actually - I used to be in a band. I used to cover one of your songs called "A Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill."

LEKMAN: Oh, wow.

MATT: Yeah. I love that song. And we actually, you know, in the course of learning the song and, you know, the intricacies and nuances of it, we kind of discovered that the core production if not identical similar to "Heatwave" by the Supremes.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MATT: So, it just gave me kind of a new lens to look at you through. I'm just wondering what was it that really inspires you? What do you listen to to make you sound the way you do?

LEKMAN: I listen to whatever I find in these cheap flea markets in - the once where you can get 10 records for $1. And I think I must have picked up a Martha and the Vandellas' record somewhere there in one of the bins, yeah, for sure.

CONAN: That was about as elegant a correction as I've heard in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Getting the Martha and the Vandellas correctly in there. I was kind of (unintelligible) much more obvious.

LEKMAN: I really like how I discovered that all the time, how a lot of songs throughout the history seems to be flowing through my songs. And I'm definitely not ashamed of anything I have ever stolen. I'm very proud of it. We always incorporate that into our shows actually. And I especially like when there are two songs that are being put together, like in the song I just played "The Opposite of Hallelujah." After I played that song, a lot of people came up and said, that sounds a lot like Chairmen of the Board's "Give Me Just a Little More Time."

But I was thinking about the Swedish song called "Movie Star" by a guy named Harpo. I don't know if you remember that. Then, I realized the two melodies had melted together and become something new. Something like that.

CONAN: Matt, thanks very much for the call.

We're talking with Jens Lekman and his new album is "Night Falls Over Kortedala," that's on the Secretly Canadian label. Also with us is percussionist Tammy Karlsson. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Why don't we try one more tune?

LEKMAN: Sure.

LEKMAN: Why don't you start this, Tammy?

STUDIO PERFORMANCE OF SONG A POSTCARD TO NINA

CONAN: Jens Lekman joined us here in Studio 4A.

You heard him on guitar and piano. He was joined by Tammy Karlsson on drums.

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