November 2nd, 2012 | by ROBERT HAM Music | Posted In: Deep Cuts, QandA

Deep Cuts: Jens Lekman, "The World Moves On"

jenslekmanJens Lekman. - IMAGE: Kristin Lidell.

Today, we're bringing back Deep Cuts, a feature wherein we zero in on one song by an artist and dig into that song's meaning and inspiration with its creator. 

In the five years between Jens Lekman's last two albums, quite a lot happened to the Swedish singer-songwriter. Most notably, the 31-year-old moved to Melbourne, Australia, and endured a painful breakup. But, as those experiences should, they fed his art, and what came out is one of Lekman's most crystalline achievements, the recently released album I Know What Love Isn't

Now, any of the 10 songs from the disc could have been perfect for this feature, but there's something about the way "The World Moves On," well, moves that made it the right choice. Over a shimmying beat, words and images spill out of Lekman as he brings himself and listeners back to this period of his life. He brings in snapshots of this time, half-remembered conversations, and his own failings as a friend and lover, turning them all over and over again as if he almost can't believe they really happened. 

But—as he says in this interview—there's something universal about the song as well. Even if we've never laid on a floor, hugging frozen peas to our chest, or befriended a stray opossum, the emotions are something every adult has had to deal with at some point in their lives. So when he finally hits the last line—"You don't get over a broken heart/You just learn to carry it gracefully"—the effect can knock you flat. 


THE LYRICS

The thermometer ran out of numbers
When it reached fifty degrees
I just lay down on the floor
With a bag of frozen peas
We saw plumes of smoke
Rising in the distance from our balcony
I poured a glass of wine

Sucked the juice out of a kiwi
Catherine turned on the TV
They showed acres after acres
Of absolutely nothing
And then Stevie called and said
Are you watching what I'm watching?
I said I'm watching what you're watching
Oh what is it I'm watching

The night before I had been bored
My legs had been restless
It was my birthday
I'd already opened up my presents
At the social club I met some friends
Who were friends with this girl
One by one they dropped of
Till it was just me and her
We made out in every bar in town
While the state of Victoria
Burned down to the ground

And the sun rose over the city
The wind swept through the valley

You don't get over a broken heart
You just learn to carry it gracefully

Edinburgh gardens offered some kind of shade
I would pick up some beers and head down to the lake
Watch the possums and listen to the growling banter
There was one I liked especially
I named her Santa sentimental
I would offer a slice of apple from my hand
She would sniff it, frown, and then lumber back to the trash can

I was going uphill on my mountain bike
When I was passed by a scooter
You got a dollar or a cigarette
Hey I'm talking to you poofa
What I should have said was nothing
What I said was get lost
Next thing I'm upside-down
With my bike in the ground
Hitting dirt all the way home
Cursing the buried ground which I was chewing on

And the sun rose over the city
The wind swept through the valley

You don't get over a broken heart
You just learn to carry it gracefully

And that's what it's like
When you've had your heart broken
The world just shrugs it's shoulders
And keeps going
It just moves on in all it's sadness and glory
Oh but then you're with a friend
I tell them my story
I saw Bunny put the book back on the shelf
She says maybe it's time you take a look at yourself

No one's born an asshole
It takes a lot of hard work
And God knows I've worked my ass off
To be a jerk
So many hands I've held
While wondering why I felt nothing
Why when I let go of that hand
I always start to feel something
Like a bottle smashed against my head
She said I wish you would have just cheated on me instead

Loving without loving
Is always the worst crime
I know all the signs and signals
Cause now I've been on both sides
The way you choose your words
The limpness of your hand
I almost died when you introduced me as a friend
How can you call me a friend
If you don't love me
Then please have the dignity to tell me
I never said any of that
I just shook that hand and looked
Down at the doormat

And the sun rose over the city
The wind swept through the valley

You don't get over a broken heart
You just learn to carry it gracefully

THE INTERVIEW

Willamette Week: The guitar sound that starts off the song feels like a mix of African highlife pop and disco. Were those particularly influential to you when you were writing this? 

Jens Lekman: Um, no. The guitar was, in the beginning, a sample by a band called the Pascals from Japan. I think it’s a line played on a mandolin. Then in the end, I realized I didn’t need to use that sample and it was getting too complicated to clear it, so I kept a sort of similar line on the guitar.

Are you playing most everything on the song then? 

There's no samples, no. I don’t play the drums though or the strings.

The song builds in a kind of unexpected way, with the guitar and finger-snapping, and then piano comes in, and then at the one-minute mark the rest of the song takes over. How did you construct that as you were coming together with this song? 

I started with the lyrics and I just sang the lyrics to myself. It’s not the way I usually write songs. I started feeling the rhythm of the lyrics early on and I thought, "This is the part where things are taking off and this is the part where things are building up." I could really feel it, when I was just singing the lyrics. 

Is your usual way to write the music first and then write the lyrics around it?

Yeah. There was a kind of change on this particular record. In the past I used to build these collages of samples and then I would sing on top of that, but on this one I started with the melody and the lyrics. 

There's a real talking blues/Dylanesque kind of vibe to the lyrics. 

I guess, I’m not really sure. I mean the song has so many verses. From the beginning it had like 20 verses. It was insane. I realized pretty early on that I couldn’t have 20 verses in the song cause that would be ridiculous, but at the same time there were a lot of images and feelings that I wanted to keep. After a while I realized there was going to be a flow of words—that’s how the song works. I’m not really sure where the inspiration came from really, at all.

So how did you then start writing this song? Were you just spilling out a bunch of words or pulling things from different notebooks? 

I had the image in my head of that opening line, “I just lie down on the floor with a bag of frozen peas,” which I started with. I love that image of me hugging a bag of frozen peas, and then it was built on something that happened. And then I had to go from there. I started thinking, "Why was I hugging a bag of frozen peas?" And I realize that was because it was during the heatwave in Melbourne in Victoria, which then led to the horrible bushfires, the Black Saturday bushfires down there. I started thinking about my life at the time, I had just moved to Melbourne and just associating memory after memory to what was going on at the time.

When did you move to Melbourne? 

I moved there in early 2009. 

A lot of the imagery in the songs is so specific—the opossum, the dude on the scooter slagging you off. Did all of that really happen? 

Yes and no. I construct situations in my songs a little bit. But they are based on things that I’ve experienced for sure. For example, that particular conversation with the guy on the scooter happened but not necessarily on a scooter. It was a good rhyme that I liked. I’m not gonna go into much of what actually happened and what didn’t happen. I think everything is just based on experience, but I like constructing situations a little bit. 

I had read that the inspiration for a lot of the new album came from a particularly painful breakup you went through. Is it cathartic in a way to write these songs and get that stuff off your chest? 

It's not how I expected it to be. I think that if there was a conclusion to the album it was through this particular song, with the line, "You don't get over a broken heart/You learn to carry it gracefully." Closure is a modern invention. I don’t think it’s something that I necessarily believe in. And I think that we often look for closure and expect it to be this automatic thing that happens to us if we do a certain thing, like we wait a certain time, and I don’t think it really works like that. But funnily enough, I think when I started doing interviews for this record and the journalists would bring a preview copy of the record and put it on the table, it was the first time I’d actually seen the physical record and it made me realize, all of a sudden that, there it is! There’s all that time and all those feelings, they're all in that plastic piece down there. And it felt strangely relieving that I could just leave it there.
 
How does it feel to perform these songs night after night when you’re on a tour like this?

In the beginning it felt really nerve-wracking and way too personal because it dawned on me all of a sudden that it’d been five years since the last record, and that record has been growing over those five years and I’m up onstage trying to sing these new songs that no one really wants to hear. But then I realized also that this record is not a record for everyone, but it’s a lot for someone out there, and I always kept looking out into the crowd and looked for that person who knew every verse of “The World Moves On,” for example, and I would find that person and I would just focus on that person and I would realize that this means something to this person right now. And as the tour progressed, the songs started growing and all of a sudden there were 100 people that knew every verse to that song, and the songs just started growing to where I actually could rearrange the set and put these new songs in new places, like even in the encore. It was quite a fascinating experience—a very heartwarming experience, I should say.

When you're playing a song like "The World Moves On," is it necessary to almost dredge up some of the pain of that time, to aid in the performance? 

I have to say that even though the record wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a particular breakup, it’s very much about a more essentially human feeling, I think. I think of every time I’ve had my heart broken. Not that it’s been that many times, but it’s more about the time afterwards, I think. I think in this particular song I don’t think about it that much, maybe until I get to the point in the very last verse when I sing, “How can you call me a friend if you don’t love me/Then please have the dignity to tell me,” which is a line that I almost didn’t even... I think when I was writing that last verse that just came out without me even thinking about it. And then I saw it being written down, and it almost sort of broke my own heart, in a way. 
 
SEE IT: Jens Lekman plays Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., on Saturday, Nov. 3. 9 pm. $20. All ages.

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