April 12th, 2019
Today, April 12th, my musical project CORRESPONDENCE that I did with Annika Norlin last year is released in it’s entirety! With new string arrangments on half of the tracks and nicely mastered. The final result can be enjoyed HERE!
After completing his previous projects Postcards (where he wrote 52 songs in 52 weeks) and Ghostwriting (where he offered his songwriting to tell other peoples stories), Jens Lekman came up with a new idea. He asked fellow Swedish songwriter Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide, Säkert!) to join him. The idea was that throughout the year of 2018, the two of them would correspond through music. Each month, one of them would write a song and the next month, the other one would reply. Before starting, they did some research on famous letter writing in literature. They were struck by how you usually have to be dead and declared a genius for your correspondence to be published. That’s sad, they thought, and decided this would be great to do while they were still alive.
The rules were simple:
- One letter each month throughout the year - in total, six songs for Jens and six for Annika.
- Only one instrument could be used for each song. This was to help them focus on the songs/letters instead of the production.
Correspondence gave Jens and Annika an outlet for more spontaneous ideas, and they decided to stay under the radar by only releasing the songs on the Correspondence website, and a Spotify playlist. Most of the time they forgot that anyone else could hear the songs, and they turned out very personal. But looking back at 2018, maybe most of the personal things they wrote about - exhaustion, longing for human connection, harassment, climate change anxiety - summed up 2018 at a larger level as well.
As the project came to an end, Jens and Annika listened through the songs and felt pleased with the results. An epistolary novel in the form of twelve folksongs. Jens wrote string arrangements for half of the songs and brought in violinist Ellen Hjalmarsson and cellist Petra Lundin. Today, April 12, all twelve songs are released as a full album (digital only, the songs are too long to fit on a vinyl, sorry). To hear the original recordings and read the lyrics, go to the original website: c-o-r-r-e-s-p-o-n-d-e-n-c-e.com
In their own words, here are their thoughts about each track:
01. January: Who Really Needs Who
JENS: In september 2017 I moved to Tromsø, a small town in the arctic north of Norway, way above the polar circle, because my partner had started studying there. I found myself in a situation I hadn’t been in for decades - with no contacts, friends or even a job or purpose there I had to make new friends from scratch. How the hell do you do that? All my friends since I was seven and started school came through the friends I already had. I thought of joining a badminton club, I tried randomly going out to the pub, I posted an ad on Facebook for other musicians in the hopes that music would help me. And I was reminded of the state I was in when I met Annika for the first time.
02. February: Showering in Public
ANNIKA: Me and some friends were talking about locker rooms and I said I’d always hated showering at gyms. They asked me why and I said I didn’t know. When I started writing the song, I honestly thought it had to do with my personality, I’m someone who likes a bit of space. But while writing, I suddenly realised what it was really about. This was written in the afterglow of #metoo and that probably influenced the song as well. I wanted a chorus that felt like a football chant and imagined people sitting in a pub, arm-in-arm, singing the words ”Showering in public” together. When you listen to Correspondence as a whole, I think it sounds a bit heartless - Jens reaching out to me in January, and me not mentioning that at all in this song, just starting to talk about my old gym memories. The song did, however, originally start out with a bit of ”Hi Jens how are you”. That made the song super long, so I cut that out.
03. March: Forever Young, Forever Beautiful
JENS: Annika’s song reached me as I was on tour in the US. One night after a show I met a guy who was a mountaineer, he told me a story of how he’d done a job once where he helped an older woman climb Mount Everest so she could visit the body of her husband who had died there on a failed expedition decades earlier. The story captivated me, I wondered what it’d be like to see the love of your life, frozen in the beauty of his youth, when you yourself had grown old and wrinkly. I envisioned this woman remembering him as a sexual object.
After the song came out someone asked me ”Have you ever looked up what these dead bodies on Mount Everest look like? Even though the decomposing goes slower it’s not a pretty sight”
So I googled ”dead bodies on mount everest” and I really regret doing that.
04. April: Hibernation
ANNIKA: 2017 was a super busy year for me and when the autumn came I was struck by a very specific need to spend time in the forest. I later read that’s actually a thing, spending time in forests is proven to lower your stress hormone levels. I started feeling like just being there for an hour or two wasn’t enough. I wanted to live there. I started googling ”Hibernation for humans”. It’s sadly not possible, it has to do with our metabolism. But I dreamt about it anyway. And in the spring of 2018 I started feeling better, like if I really had spent September - March in a hole and suddenly I was hit by the first rays of spring light. There was originally a verse where I woke up and roared, but I cut that out.
05. May: Not Because It’s Easy But Because It’s Hard
JENS: I’ve had this fantasy my whole adult life that I have clones of myself and that we work together as a team. I envision how much work we’d be able to do, how we could fulfill all those dreams we (I) have. But since we live in this world where you’re never good enough, we’d probably work four times as hard but still feel we should work harder.
When Annika’s song spoke of feeling overwhelmed, something I’d seen many close friends struggle with over the last years, and Tim Bergling / Avicci was tragically found dead after struggling with exhaustion and stress, I wanted to write something comforting, I wanted the message to be: “if you need a break I’ve got your back”.
06. June: Joining a Cult
ANNIKA: I’m a constant worrier, but 2018 was the year I for real started worrying about climate change. I also worried that it felt like our elected leaders all over the world weren’t taking the climate crisis as seriously as they ought to be. Simultaneously, I was watching that Netflix documentary, ”Wild wild country”, about the Rajneesh movement. The premiss for the show is obviously that a lot of sad things happened and you shouldn’t put all your trust in separate leaders, but while watching it I still felt a slight envy. In the beginning, the cult members were so certain about this and actually believed things could change for the better. I have this constant longing in me for someone to come along and say, ”Trust me, this is what we’re gonna do.” Another thing I worried about was that Correspondence was turning out to be be the world’s saddest project, so I felt the need to turn this into a somewhat upbeat song. Because of the Correspondence rules (only one instrument/song) I had to rely on knee claps. I really love that part in the song that goes ”Send in the choir” and feel a bit upset I’ve used that part for this song. It doesn’t even really fit. I could have saved it and based an entirely different song on it.
I also feel upset no one has noticed my cult name would be Warlord Springgrass, which I personally think is a kickass name and someone should totally write a space movie based on it.
07. July: Revenge of the Nerds
JENS: Since Annika wrote about joining a cult, I first wanted to write about my perceived notions of parenthood. But another story kept bugging me, it was the one about the incels. After the Toronto attack in april this group of men had all of a sudden sprung into the center of the world’s attention. I was intrigued because I could relate to them somehow, some part of my teenage self identified with them, they reminded me of my friends back then and a narrative that we grew up with through nerd culture - that we had the right to sex and love because we were the nice guys.
This was the one song I wasn’t entirely happy with and it took a long time to figure out why. I think it’s because when you write like we did in this project, with a finger on the pulse of the present, it’s easy to look at things from a moral viewpoint and come across as too righteous or preachy. As much as I tried to make this a personal story I couldn’t help but feel I stepped too far into that direction. Oh well, the chord progressions and strings turned out nice at least.
08. August: Failure
ANNIKA: This one line in Revenge of the nerds stuck on me. It was Jens mentioning that song his friends wrote, Too ugly to get laid. There’s some kind of psychology in there that my younger years can relate to. Like, it’s best if I hate on myself first, before anyone else gets a chance to. I tried to protect myself from getting hurt I guess. I remember the first time a paper wrote something extremely negative about something I’d worked hard on. I was devastated, but at the same time I recall another strong feeling growing, like, Wasn’t it worse? This is what I’ve tried to avoid all this time? Thing is, I felt pretty proud of what I’d done myself, and reading someone else hating on it, it became obvious to me I’d done it for myself and that I didn’t really care if someone else wasn’t into it. So that’s a gospel I’m trying to preach, failing is not that bad. (Unless you’re like, an airplane mechanic. Then it’s bad.)
09. September: Cosmetics Store
JENS: I spent the first half of 2018 trying to hold up a facade on stage and in life as my relationship had started crumbling behind the scenes. When it eventually ended I couldn’t feel anything anymore. One day I stepped into a cosmetics store, one of those Aesop stores that have those expensive moisturizers and lotions that succesful people have in their bathrooms, and asked for a good moisturizer. When the store clerk took my hand and applied the cream gently something broke off from my heart like a giant ice shelf breaking off from Antarctica.
10. October: Election Day
ANNIKA: I played a show in Göteborg on Friday, stayed in town for a couple of days, and because I try not to fly anymore I spent a good twelve hours or so on different trains getting back to Umeå. It was election day in Sweden, a really important one. I sat on the train and pressed update on various sites to see what the predictions were. I also bought a really big apple, and before I left I briefly met up with Jens at the train station.
I wrote the lyrics during the train ride. This is probably my own favorite of my half of the Correspondence songs. There’s a line that goes, ”All is quiet, but it feels like a bomb with a really long fuse” that I like, because for me, that’s exactly what this year has felt like.
11. November: On the Edge of Time
JENS: 2018 felt like a dark year and it was hard to find anything but hopelessness among reports of elected populist far right leaders and climate change. While dealing with a bad case of eczema caused by all the stress in my life I read a lot of science fiction classics to escape to other worlds, I read the utopian classic ‘Woman On the Edge of Time’ by Marge Piercy which I loved. But I was so unaccustomed to the future being portrayed as anything but dark that I sometimes cringed. Portraying a utopia is saying what you want which is so much more vulnerable than saying what you don’t want.
12. December: Silent Night
ANNIKA: When I heard On the Edge of Time, I wanted to comfort Jens, like he had comforted me in June. I wanted to tell him: occasionally, something good will happen, and when it does, you probably never would have guessed it beforehand. Music comforts me a lot. And I heard the original Silent Night somewhere and I came to think about how weird it is that someone actually once wrote that song.
April 11th, 2019
First post on Instagram since 2012 - done!
April 9th, 2019
There’s a song of mine that I’ve been coming back to recently, it’s from the Postcards project I did in 2015. At the time I had a scenario that occupied my mind and made it into the song, the beginning of a dystopian sci-fi movie. The scenario was that humanity had collectively decided to delete itself along with everything it had ever built and created. A government led operation was in motion and everyone worked tirelessly day and night to demolish buildings and return every particle to it’s natural source. Every brick in every building and every molecule in our bodies. That was really all I had for this story and I wasn't intending to do anything with it. But the scenario fascinated me simply because it was the opposite of most mainstream apocalyptic stories where humanity is faced with a disaster and does everything it can to survive.
As a conversational tidbit, I started shopping this scenario around to see what my friends would make of it. About 95% were perplexed and said “but isn’t that what we’re already doing?”. And I agreed that in terms of for example the climate crisis you could definitely talk about a collective suicide. But I see that more as a denial, like an addict who denies their addiction. Like that story in the movie La Haine - the guy who’s falling from a skyscraper and for every floor he’s fallen thinks “so far so good”. What fascinated me about my scenario was not the outcome but the deliberate action taken to destroy ourselves. A collective drive to not only cease to exist but also to not leave any traces behind us. No tombstone, no monuments. All that human knowledge, the miracle of self consciousness, valued to zero. By ourselves. What could lead us to this conclusion?
Several friends brought up antinatalism and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, a movement devoted to this cause, though slightly less extreme. It believes in a peaceful extinction by simply not making any more babies. The question of suffering is at the center of all this and the antinatalist view is that while absence of suffering is good, absence of pleasure is not bad, therefore it's better to never have been born. While these questions can seem juvenile and a bit dark they also lead us into some wonderful absurdities. Like the case of a Mumbai man trying to sue his parents for giving birth to him. His parents were lawyers themselves and said they took it well and were prepared to meet him in court. But his mother also said that she wished she had met him before he was born and let him have made the decision. It reminded me of an old french movie I once saw called 'Sur la Terre, Comme au Ciel' in which unborn babies suddenly inform their mothers from the womb that they don't want to be born anymore because the world has turned to shit.
One friend was really interested in eusocial insects, like bees and termites who live in hives, and she thought of humanity as a hive or a superorganism. Are termites and bees individuals or are they more like a body or a brain? Are you an individual when you are composed of microorganisms that outnumber your own cells 10 to 1? Could humanity in this scenario be one self deprecating brain with each human functioning like a sad neuron?
The climate crisis and the darker sides of humanity as a collective seemed to spring to mind for most friends. However, when I gave him the premise of my story, one friend was reminded of a destructive relationship he was in where he eventually started feeling sorry for his very existence. It was awful to listen to but he suggested for this story that maybe we had met an extraterrestrial civilisation that acted in this way. A civilisation that constantly criticised us, manipulated us and undermined our self esteem. He jokingly suggested the alien civilisation could say things like "hey, did you put on some weight? I noticed you're almost 8 billion people" or "I'm not stealing your oxygen, stop being so sensitive".
My friend then turned the light back at me. “Why are you so fascinated by this scenario, Jens?”. I thought about it for some time. I've always been fascinated by humanity's drive to multiply, spread out, take up space and see itself as the crown of the creation because I find it hard to relate to, my instinct is often the opposite.
And I think of the undulating motion of creativity. I think of it as eons in earths history. I've often compared creative periods to the Cambrian Explosion, an era when life seemed to blossom and evolve at a rapid rate. To this picture I would like to add the mass extinctions that always follow. The urge to delete harddrives, remove my presence from media - social and less social, apologise for what has sprung out of my mind and hands, quit music to get a dayjob at a bingo parlour, become more or less hostile towards those who show appreciation for me or my work because if you like me then by association I don't like you.
Over time it has become as natural as breathing, the movement and it's counter movement. I've learned to not give myself peptalks or make rash decisions during this time but rather lean back and observe, sometimes engaging in smaller projects, pottering around, knowing that the seed sown will one day crack the concrete.
And then one day it does.
And it's april 9th.
And I miss you.
And I want to create and communicate.
One little neuron is rebelling against it's end.
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