Jens Lekman moved from his hometown in Sweden to Northcote, Melbourne in 2009 and stayed for more than two years. He didn’t have a working visa and he couldn’t play any real shows, so instead, he toured the country playing for free in people’s backyards and basements, in exchange for a night’s accommodation or an airplane ticket.
“I would do a deal with someone who had a backyard somewhere in Melbourne or another city in Australia, and I traded for flight tickets, or a small fee – whatever it took to actually arrive there,” says Lekman, while waiting for his best friend to arrive home with his morning coffee. Lekman is staying at a friend’s house in Brunswick before his show in Melbourne tonight. “It was very underground and indie, something very romantic, somehow,” he continues. “Something happens to people when they don’t get treated like shit by the bouncer or the bartender, or have to pay $10 for a beer. People become very enthusiastic and happy.”
In the space of two years, Lekman collected a legion of fans that warmed to his utopian performance style, around the same time that his music – which offers much of the same appeal – was growing in popularity around the Europe and the United States.
Ethereal is a word best used to describe Lekman’s three studio albums to date; they create an alternate, more enlightened universe, framed by the Swede’s discerning lyrics and divine string and wind sections. Above all, though, Lekman’s sweet disposition carries through, both in person and onto his records, as he delves deep in to the human consciousness and conscience. He is generous in his performances and compelled to share his stories with his audience in a much more sincere and comprehensive way than most.
Lekman did away with his touring band around the same time his sojourn began, mainly because he never got to see the places he was travelling to. It’s a common problem for touring musicians – they visit more places than any of us would dare to dream of, but rarely see beyond the confines of their hotel rooms.
Nowadays, he interchanges members of his band depending on the songs he wants to play and the style of the performance he wants to give. “Every time I go on tour I watch a tour DVD called Take Me to the Plaza by Jonathan Richman. He was in a band called the Modern Lovers. Do you know them?” he asks. “He tours all the time with just a drummer, and it’s about establishing something in the moment, some sort of communication with the audience. So I always watch that before I go on tour.”
Lekman says his full band performance is like going to watch a movie. “I like letting people just sit back and watch,” he says. “But when you play in a duo, it becomes more about the stories and about communication with the audience. Because you rely on them to be your band, to clap and sing along.”
A thinking man’s musician, Lekman deals more in feeling than in tone. When you watch him perform live, at the very least, you’ll be treated to something considerate and connected. Or as Lekman puts it: “something very romantic, somehow”.
Jens Lekman is performing in Melbourne tonight (Friday February 15) at The Garden Party, next to the Melbourne Recital Centre on Sturt Street, Southbank.