For Swedish singer Jens Lekman, remaking old albums was a lesson in self-love: NPR
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
In the early 2000s, Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman was just beginning to find his voice. He made thoughtful, funny and romantic indie pop, weaving personal and well-observed stories into a technicolor patchwork of samples that burst at the seams.
“I learned to make music by making collages with sample records I found at flea markets and elsewhere,” Lekman explains. “Hundreds and thousands of tiny audio clips from this place and this place.”
Fans and critics everywhere couldn’t get enough, and Lekman quickly released two of their most acclaimed and successful albums: 2005’s “Oh You’re So Silent Jens” and 2007’s “Night Falls Over Kortedala”.
But then, as with all Jens Lekman stories, there was a twist.
In this age of file sharing and free love, some artists – including Lekman – weren’t very careful about getting permission to use samples, which can be a difficult and expensive process. But over the next 15 years, the bill fell due.
As the legal pressure mounted, Lekman was unable to clear all samples of “Oh You’re So Silent” and “Night Falls”. And as a result, Lekman’s label, Secretly Canadian, had to stop pressing the records and pull them from streaming services.
First, “Oh You’re So Silent” disappeared in 2011.
“It was like the record never existed,” Lekman says. “There wasn’t even a vacuum at Spotify. There wasn’t any.”
Then, “Night Falls” followed in March 2022 (with a funeral service on YouTube to start).
But unbeknownst to grieving fans, Lekman had a surprise up his sleeve: During the COVID-19 pandemic, he had secretly started re-recording some of his old songs to bypass the undeleted samples.
“It was something I had thought about many times,” Lekman says. “And every time I thought about it, I was like, ‘No, I can’t do that. It would just be sacrilege. It would just be offensive.'”
And yet, Lekman ends up admitting to himself that “there is always something in the forbidden which [is] kinda intriguing.”
In the spring of 2022, Lekman delivers the fruits of his forbidden labor: A new version of “Oh You’re So Silent” entitled “The Cherry Trees Are Still in Blossom” and a new version “Night Falls” entitled “The Linden Trees Are Still in bloom.”
These are more than just re-releases, but they are not full remakes.
“I wanted these recordings to be like portals or tombstones to the original recordings,” Lekman explains.
In the new releases, a number of the original recordings are intact and all the lyrics are still the same.
But some familiar things are missing, or have been changed or reinvented – like the outro of “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig”.
“Initially, I had a snippet in there that broke the whole song,” Lekman explains. “And in this case, I found this live recording of me playing the song at a New Year’s Eve show, and…instead of playing the melody, we had this saxophonist just improvising at the time. “
Lekman replaced the sample at the end of “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig”… with a bootleg recording of himself playing the song live.
“I’m actually a big fan of bootlegs from my own shows,” Lekman told his fans. “Keep sending them.”
Other changes on “Cherry Trees” and “Linden Trees” are more crude, as with two of Lekman’s greatest hits.
“‘Maple Leaves’ and ‘Black Cab’ are completely new, mainly because those songs basically consisted of all the samples,” says Lekman.
Over the course of revamping these albums, Lekman faced more than just tricky songwriting issues. There was also something deeper he had to deal with – baggage around his old persona.
“I remember giving an interview to a Belgian journalist when ‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’ came out,” says Lekman. “He was just like, ‘So this is just another collection of, you know, awkward, loving man-child songs. … I hate that.'”
“And I realized that I wanted to move on,” adds Lekman.
In the years since “Night Falls” was released, Lekman had grown weary of his youth. As sweet and intelligent as his early writings may have been, even he would admit that he could come across as sappy – or even cringe.
“I’m a very self-critical person. Once in a while, I don’t like myself very much,” says Lekman. “And my music is so connected to who I am, so when I don’t like myself very much, I don’t like my music very much.”
But for this project, Lekman had to dive deep into the songs he had written at the time – like one of his first big hits, “Maple Leaves.”
“Maple Leaves” has all the hallmarks of one of Jens Lekman’s early hits: doomed romance, high emotion, and a bit of pun at its core.
“It’s all about the misunderstandings of love,” says Lekman. “‘She said it was imaginary, but I thought she said maple leaves.'”
But back then, when it came to love, 21-year-old Lekman didn’t really know what he was talking about.
“I actually kind of used my songs, in a way, to push me to go talk to girls,” Lekman admits. “So a lot of those songs were like trying on different costumes.”
In the 20 years since, Lekman has actually had a real romance, a real heartbreak. And the more he learns about love, the more you’d think he’d recoil from an old song like “Maple Leaves.”
But when he took it over for this project:
“Looking back on Maple Leaves, I think I nailed it in that song,” says Lekman.
This time, he saw something new there.
“It’s like I went around in circles and then I came back to that and was like, ‘Oh wait, wait. It’s such a perfect portrayal of love or heartbreak,'” Lekman said. “These things that we think we’re going to understand as we get older, but as we get older we realize there’s nothing to understand.”
Michael Buckner/Getty Images
For the self-critical Lekman, remaking these two albums has become something unexpected: a labor of self-love.
“Working on these songs became like a dialogue between my 41-year-old self and my 21-year-old self,” says Lekman. “A very compassionate dialogue.”
“Now when I look back, I just see a 21-year-old, you know, dealing with those emotions for the first time…and then it’s softer,” adds Lekman.
“It was just a moment to see myself from the outside and love what I saw and be proud of what I saw.”
As Lekman begins work on two brand new albums, he is energized by what he has rediscovered in his early work.
“After a while, you have to struggle more to find new directions and something interesting,” says Lekman. “But back then, I was just, you know, an unwritten sheet of paper, and I could do whatever I wanted.”
“I lost my job around that time, and I was unemployed, and I just remember thinking, ‘I’m really going to make the best of it,'” adds Lekman. “And I just got up at six in the morning every day, and sat at my computer and recorded songs all day.”
Lekman says he was inspired “remembering how I was writing songs back then, how simple it was – that you don’t have to complicate things so much and you can just writing songs for fun.”
In two new music videos promoting remakes, today’s Lekman looks at footage of himself from the past – from the early 2000s.
So, after all this experience, what does Lekman see now, literally, when he looks back at that young Lekman from forever ago?
“I think you should get rid of those sideburns,” Lekman laughs.