Labour Of Love

14 February 2013 | 5:30 am | Cam Findlay

I’m doing this Valentine’s Day show in Sydney as well so I guess that’s how it’s going. And I’m not ashamed of that or anything. Love and all those emotions like that or, like anyone else, a part of my life."

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Everyone has their own go-to love/heartbreak albums. You know the ones: the albums that suit a certain mood perfectly; the ones you pick up when you're deep in the throes of passion, or conversely deep in the bowels of heartbreak. It's one of the standout qualities of music that it can emulate emotion in such a direct way, and love suits itself perfectly to that fact. For many, Jens Lekman has been one of the modern artists most adept at filling this niche, whether it's deliberate or not. And it's not through some kind of general or abstract idea; Lekman thrives on normal everyday ideas like playing bingo or cutting your finger, and lets the story unfold within something we can all relate to. His most recent album, last year's I Know What Love Isn't, attempts to address the big questions on love, but still continues that honest, human interface.

I'm doing fine, really fine,” Lekman says in his iconically casual delivery from his (at least temporary) home in Gothenburg, Sweden. “The album's been going really well. It's only been a few months, but I feel like I Know What Love Isn't has really... has really hit a note with people, and they're really getting something out of it.” It's really a great commendation from fans, that after five years between full-length LPs, I Know... has been received well from the outset. Lekman agrees. “It felt like I had to pick up and start from somewhere new; at the drawing board, so to speak. Those five years were a big gap for writing a full album for me, and the hardest part was probably getting back into the rhythm of writing that much. But I'm really proud of it, and I think people are really getting that and enjoying it.”

Those intervening five years, between I Know What Love Isn't and 2007's huge Night Falls Over Kortedala, were not uneventful for the still-young musician. In 2011, he released an EP titled An Argument With Myself, which would technically serve as a lead-up to I Know... but at the same time work as a cycle all on its own. It received great reviews from the music industry, and refreshed the idea of Lekman's unique songwriting. At the same time, it exposed the life Lekman had lived since the release of ...Kortedala. “The process of writing the EP, and now the album, took the shape of me... not necessarily getting over what I had been doing the last few years, but really putting them into song and letting that tell the story,” he admits. “I'm not really fantastic at talking about my life, but when I put it to music it becomes much more direct for me. That's how I've always worked, and why I've been able to make a living out of it, I think.”

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The years Lekman mentions involve a series of unfortunate, lovely and completely leftfield events, in true style. Following what he describes as “the worst heartbreak of his life”, Lekman entered into a de facto relationship with a friend, something he describes as “one of the most honest and perfect relationships I've had.” It ended up with him moving to Melbourne and almost marrying into a platonic marriage to secure a long-term Visa. “I think a big element [in the writing process] was trying to make Melbourne a home,” he tells. “I think that's why I ended up using a few references to Melbourne in the album. I was trying to tell myself, 'This is where you live now'. And there's a lot of songs that didn't make it on the record that deal with that same thing, too. Like, there's a song that didn't make it to the record that was all about the Northcote Plaza. And the Northcote Plaza might not be the most beautiful place, but I was really drawn to the idea of taking this ugly shopping mall and writing this beautiful song about it. It was really that process of taking things around from the place I was in and making them personal, I guess. I don't know, maybe it was just me trying to convince myself that I live somewhere. I kind of came in and out on different visas. At one stage, I was only on a tourist visa, so really I was just pretending to live there. So yes, I think I was trying to strive to belong, and that was a big deal for me.”

The idea of Jens Lekman writing a song about a shopping centre will not surprise any fans of his music. For those of you who aren't, the mention of cutting one's finger earlier isn't an unrelated reference. Your Arms Around Me, from ...Kortedala, is one of Lekman's most famous songs, which is a big deal for a song that begins with the words 'I was slicing up an avocado...'. The following story, of cut fingers and hospital queues, revels in bittersweet harmony and gorgeous orchestration. That's just an example of Lekman's ability in lyricism and arranging. “I'm always brought back to thinking of things like The Lord Of The Rings, and that kind of grandeur of storytelling,” he laughs. “I mean, in that way, most stories start with very, very normal and everyday occurrences. It's not very often that the sky opens up and the stars fall down. I like that aspect of songwriting, for sure. And I think it's very integral to how I write songs. Sure, I often have these big, moving moments in my songs... or that's at least what people tell me. But I always start with these very simple moments. I don't want to make any big statements; I don't want to say I know what love is... which, I guess, is a bit ironic with the name of the album. But I do know the everyday stuff, and that's what I try to build on.”

This coming tour of Australia will be Lekman's first in years, and his return after the admittedly short-lived time living in our country. For now, he is happy – or at least satisfied – with being what can be described as a nomad.

“I don't know, I'm back in Gothenburg now but I don't think it's permanent,” he admits. “I love Sweden and Gothenburg – I love the place – but I still feel that I have so many other places to go.” The idea of returning to Australia will be an eventful time for him, though. “I don't know, it'll be interesting. I've said this before: I never really wanted this album to be about love and heartbreak because that's not all of what I know. But it's come out that way, and that's what people think about it. I'm doing this Valentine's Day show in Sydney as well so I guess that's how it's going. And I'm not ashamed of that or anything. Love and all those emotions like that or, like anyone else, a part of my life. And I guess people pick up on that in my songs. It's pretty hard to run away from that.”

Jens Lekman will be playing the following dates:

Thursday 14 February - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW
Friday 15 February - The Garden Party, Southbank, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 16 February - The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Monday 18 February - The Festival Gardens, Perth International Arts Festival WA