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Jens Lekman goes for more punch than punchline with new songs

Peter Mongillo
Jens Lekman performs music from his new album, “I Know What Love Isn’t,” Tuesday night at the Mohawk.

Jens Lekman flew to Seattle shortly before Halloween, avoiding the travel problems caused by Hurricane Sandy, but some of his band needed some help to get out of New York. “My pianist got stuck,” Lekman said over the phone last week. “I had to mobilize my fans and get some people to drive him up to Boston.”

The group gathered in the Pacific Northwest to kick off the second leg of Lekman’s tour in support of his new album, “I Know What Love Isn’t.” On his first full-length in five years, the Swedish singer-songwriter abandons some of the humor and quirk that won the indie pop act — who has an affinity for American soul and R&B (Lekman’s mid-song cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s 1970 hit “Give Me Just A Little More Time” turned shows into a dance party) — a good number of fans the last time around. In its place, Lekman takes a bit of a darker turn, telling the story of the end of a relationship.

“I was trying not to write a breakup album, because I feel like when I sat down and tried to write about that, I sounded like a whiny 17-year-old emo kid,” Lekman said. “I’m very uncomfortable with the label ‘breakup album,’ there are so many albums about that subject. It’s just a certain time in my life that turned into a record.”

Lekman said that he was nervous when he started touring on the new material. Lekman’s unique narrative style remains, but gone are some of the lighter moments that define his earlier work. “Sometimes it feels like people are waiting for a punch line or something, and instead of a punch line they get a punch,” he said (he has been incorporating some of the older songs into his set).

Lekman bases his songs on personal experience (though he changes names, dialogue and other elements), offering up piles of specific and often strange details that give the songs a prose-like feel, including on the album’s title track, which tells the story of Lekman considering a marriage of convenience in Australia to secure a visa.

He said that despite the structure of his songs, he isn’t interested in trying his hand at writing stories. “I read a lot of short stories, and every time I do, it hits, me, oh ‘this part here, it could be a really nice guitar solo,’” he said. “The music can be used to paint a picture, it can be part of the narrative. I don’t think I’d be very good at writing short stories, I need the music in there.”

Jens Lekman performs Tuesday night at the Mohawk with Taken by Trees and Big Search.

SXSW releases first round of bands. 1960s psych rockers the Zombies with perform at South by Southwest 2013, along with Austin-based bands including Shakey Graves, Quiet Company, the Black and White Years, the Boxing Lesson, the Calm Blue Sea, My Education, Colin Gilmore, the Sour Notes and Crooks, the festival announced last week. Other groups on the list — which accounts for only a small percentage of the 2,000-plus acts that will visit Austin in March — include Akron/Family, Alt-J, Broncho, Turbo Fruits and He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister.

SIMS benefits. Hearing expert Melissa K. Rodriguez will discuss hearing loss Thursday at the Scottish Rite Theater “Hear the Music & Hear Your Life: A Music & Hearing Awareness Event” will include drinks, food and music from the Jeff Lofton Trio. The event starts at 7:30 p.m.; a $10 donation is suggested. The event will benefit the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health services to Austin musicians.

In other SIMS news, Jazz Mills (Cowboy and Indian), Nina Diaz (Girl in a Coma), Pamela Hart and Adrian Quesada, among others, will come together Dec. 1 at the Scottish Rite Theater for Femmes for SIMS: Night of the Chanteuse. Tickets start at $50. For more information visit simsfoundation.org/femmes.html.

More psych. The Black Angels-curated Austin Psych Fest, which went down this year at Emo’s East and the Beauty Ballroom, will take place next year April 26-28 at an unannounced “central Austin location,” organizers announced last week.

Moz in Austin. After postponing his current tour last month, Morrissey has announced a rescheduled list of dates that includes a Feb. 13 show at Austin Music Hall. Tickets are $52.50-$85 and go on sale Friday at austinmusichall.frontgatetickets.com.