On the short list of Sweden's most popular exports, adorable indie pop musicians are right up there with IKEA and gravlax—think Lykke Li's bouncy Olsen twin impression, or the magisterial mopiness of El Perro del Mar. The most huggable Swede of them all is undeniably Jens Lekman, whose upbeat, sample-heavy pop hooks and frank, romantic lyrics have earned him the unqualified affection of mushy-hearted music fans worldwide.
On the phone from Melbourne, Lekman is as poised and gracious as his records—and his generous, stylish live performances—would suggest. Though he hasn't released an album since 2007's Night Falls over Kortedala, and says he's not currently working on a new one, he promises a handful of new songs for his current tour. The lack of a new album has much to do with the 28-year-old learning to navigate his own creative process. After temporarily renouncing music in 2005 to take a short-lived job at a bingo parlor, Lekman reports that he's since learned to balance songwriting with the need for an occasional timeout.
"I feel more natural about taking breaks now. Back in 2005 I felt like I had to quit music for a while to be able to clear my head and to deal with stuff, but this time I didn't have to make such a big deal of it. I had a bit of a creativity ban last year, where I just stopped writing for a while," he says. "I just can't write when I'm going through stuff. It's like pouring manure into an espresso machine and thinking there's gonna be a cappuccino coming out."
The last time Lekman played Portland, a March 2008 show at Berbati's, it was with a white-clad female backing band, in a welcome inversion of the familiar rock-band formula. "That band just came together," he explains. "There are a lot of female musicians in the world... I think next time you talk to an all-male band, you should ask them, 'How did this happen?' I change my band for every tour, though; this time it's more of a mixed band. The Swedish model—50/50." And the matching outfits? "Lately, we've been very obsessed with our touring socks, which we plan every day."
Despite a reputation for staunchly supporting up-and-coming bands, lately he's forgone touring with other bands altogether—a recent Swedish tour featured comedian Todd Barry (best known for his role as Mickey Rourke's boss in The Wrestler). Comedian Tig Notaro joins Lekman on the current West Coast tour, invited after Lekman saw and loved her set at SXSW in 2008. "I like these tours, the in-between album tours, because you have so much more choice of who you're going to bring," he says. "I'm a huge comedy fan, and I like that model, of comedy, and some music, and Viktor [Sjöberg] DJing after—such a perfect buildup, instead of just having band, band, band, and then you get a strained neck."
While an unconventional show structure and the promise of cute Swedes in fancy socks gives Portlanders plenty of reasons to be excited, Lekman is equally enthusiastic about returning to Portland.
"I'm looking forward to Portland very much. I love that city. I had this feeling there that I had in my hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, a feeling that they don't care what's going on in the rest of the country, or the rest of the world, for that matter—like people are just creating, and minding their own business, and looking to their own backyard."