Getting Back To the World

On Election Day in 2008, Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman found himself all alone in Washington. The night before, he had played a set at the House of Sweden for Swedish TV, but once the cameras were off, “I realized that I didn’t know anyone in D.C.,” he recalls.

Lekman searched for “D.C.” in his email archives and found several messages from local fans. “I just took the first one from this person who seemed very nice and wrote her back to ask if she knew about anything going on that night. [She and her friends] were having an election party, so I went over and hung out with them.”

When the party moved into the streets, Lekman had an epiphany: “Suddenly, I realized that there’s something bigger happening that can put your tiny heart problems in proportion to the world.” The experience proved not only emotionally reassuring but also creatively inspiring. He wrote the song “The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love” about that night.

It’s a standout on his latest album, “I Know What Love Isn’t,” which features large-hearted observations about romance, friendship and America. It may also be the easiest-listening album in Lekman’s considerable catalog, with strings that swoon gently and a flute and sax that flutter around his breezy melodies.

And yet, it’s also one of his heaviest: “I Know What Love Isn’t” documents the fallout from a particularly bad breakup.

The particulars of the split are unimportant, he says. “The album is more about the time a few months later when you start to come to terms with what has happened.” The songs document his gradual recovery, as well as the emotional upheavals he confronted along the way: hookups, rocky friendships, a green-card marriage (he didn’t go through with it).

A big part of Lekman’s recovery was simply sharing his experiences with fans. “Once I figured out what the songs were actually about, I felt like I could tell the story so it [wouldn’t] be just about me anymore,” he says. “Then I knew the songs were about something essentially human, something that people could relate to.”

Inside Track

“I Know What Love Isn’t” begins and ends with different versions of the same bittersweet breakup tune, “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name.” “Making the album felt so much like a circle,” he says. “I tried to get away from writing about a breakup, but I ended up back where I started.”

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