The “art of storytelling” is no new or novel endeavor – and the bent towards innovative, well-crafted narratives isn’t lost on Swedish musician Jens Lekman, as his recent “Ghostwriting” endeavor well proves. Yet his motivation for continuing to create fresh, meaningful stories may be different than most. In 2012, Lekman told Rolling Stone Magazine: “I’m getting a little bit sick of this Jens Lekman character, so I kind of want to do an album where I sing other people’s stories from their perspective.”
Enter “Ghostwriting,” Lekman’s fansourced venture sponsored by the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, to bring complete strangers’ stories to life. In his effort to “find a more spontaneous and free outlet” for his songwriting, Lekman hand-selected several stories via email entry and recorded them in his quirky, pop-laden style. The only catch: Winners had to travel to Cincinnati for a meet-andgreet, and receive their reimagined story via flash drive as his special “thank you.”
Lekman’s act of gratitude took center stage on Friday, November 20th, in the restored Woodward Theatre – aptly timed to the official season of “thanks.” Black baseball cap clad and unassuming Lekman was very much alive, earnestly crooning his oftentimes-ironic songs against a harmonious strings sextet. “I believe everyone has an amazing story in them,” Lekman says, “and I want to hold it up to the world.”
He opened with “To Know Your Mission” and “Black Cab,” both as acoustic solos with strong, surging vocals. But the audience wasn’t waiting long before he dove into the “Ghostwriting” material, covering five songs like “Emotional Support Animal” and “What Was Worth Saving.” With his deadpan approach and crafty songwriting, he delivered sad news with humor and focused on the nonsensical aspects of life – all by marrying his signature sounds to strangers’ sentiments.
While Lekman consistently delivered dry lyrics against harmonious strings most of the evening, these recent sounds mark a departure from the earlier, sample-infused songs of his beginning.
Lekman’s history of writing about love and heartbreak is documented in I Know What Love Isn’t (2012), and in the iconic album, Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007). And while his music may present as gimmicky at first glance, the Secretly Canadian artist’s sad-but-hopeful interplay with language and music reminds us all to listen a little more carefully. Pairing melancholy to upbeat rhythms can be hard to swallow (or border on absurd), but it’s that element of surprise that separates his devoted fans from those in the crowd who simply want background music.
Erin Prus is a writer, editor and all-around word maven living in Northside. She writes on art, design and tech.