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INTERVIEW: Jenny Hval Talks About Her Solo Work and Her New Lost Girls Project

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen

Jenny Hval has wowed us again and again with her inventive approaches to pop music and her ever-evolving live show. Her music builds multi-faceted compositions of subtle electronics, spoken word, and ambushes with soaring vocals. Her lyrics are an intelligent and humorous look at life, death, capitalism, and the roles of women in a weird and unpredictable world. Though she’s low key about it, she is also incredibly prolific, with the EP, The Long Sleep, released in May, a 12 inch single out as half of Lost Girls, and a new novel out in the fall.

Jenny talked to us on the day between a set at Roskilde with Lost Girls, her side project with long time collaborator Håvard Volden, and a set at Brorsons Kirke as part of Jazz Fest. She answered some questions for us over the phone while walking through Christiania (“I’ve actually never been here before. I’m walking around a bit, it’s really nice. I don’t know if actually saw the entrance. I just came in through some back roads.”) and shared her thoughts on touring as an income, the different aspects of productivity, and how both collaborators and visas have influenced her work.

What do you have planned while you’re in Copenhagen?

I haven’t been that much in Copenhagen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day to go anywhere to see anything before. I’m always just playing and then going somewhere far away the next day. This time I’m here for a few days because we’re doing several things, so we have a day off. It’s really nice. Just seeing things and rehearing a bit for tomorrow.

We were playing a Roskilde set and then also playing a set with my band. It’s just a lot of preparation because they’re not so dissimilar but the band is a five-piece band instead of a duo when we play Jenny Hval concerts at the moment. It’s super exciting for me because I have a trumpet player and a saxophone player. I’ve never had that kind of band before. It’s really exciting but we haven’t been able to rehearse because everyone’s away on summer holiday. It’s going to be a little intense tomorrow, but it’s going to be great.

Is this the first time this band is playing together?

It’s only the second time because we had a show in Oslo originally, but it was new. Then we had some shows that were booked before I knew that this band was happening. We’ve done so many different things, actually, and this always happens. I wish I had a way to figure out how to book things so that we could do something that’s a little more stable, but things are kind of falling out of the sky a bit. Some shows are booked six months in advance, some shows are booked a year in advance, some shows are booked two weeks. And then the band changes all the time. We’ve done shows with a choreographer and dancer who is now seven months pregnant, so she is now resting. But she was with us and then I needed to find someone else. So it keeps changing, and it’s really nice, but sometimes it’s then also creating this weird sudden changes in line-up and what we do. And that can be eccentric. But eventually it’s always great. Just sometimes it’s a little too fast for me and we have to think for a bit. But it’s been really good.

I tell people to go see you live specifically because the show is always so different. A friend of mine saw you play in New York and then I saw you play two weeks later in Denmark and it was completely different.

It’s kind of come together that way because of visa problems. Originally we couldn’t bring a band over to the US because — this was several years ago — the band didn’t have visas. It’s very hard. It’s even harder now, actually, to get visas to the US. So I started working with some Americans that I also worked with for music videos. For a while we had this strange, completely different way of arranging a show when we were in America and when we were in Europe. It was just a practical movement but it ended up being very educational and really wonderful for me. I’ve brought the American artists over to Europe, that’s much easier with visas. I’ve tried to make people see both versions over the past three years, but it’s really weird how very practical situations make for huge changes in the art sometimes. I’m really grateful for that. Thanks American visa situations!

That might be the only time anyone ever says that.

Yeah, and I’m not really saying it. But I’m very grateful for the artists and friends I’ve been able to work with. They influence the show greatly. Everyone I work with will change the show. It’s not really about me changing things, it’s the situation changing. Maybe I’ve made the concept of what a concert is pretty open so that I’m able to allow other people to change it. Hopefully I’m contributing to that. To me, it feels like sometimes I’m doing the same show until we start playing and I realize, “Oh, these other people are now changing things so I can do new things.” It really is very much about what other people do for me. Credit to them.

Related to how people change the performance, the Lost Girls was a very different experience seeing you perform. Has the project performed much?

We’ve done quite a few shows and also we’ve done many of my shows as a duo, as well. Sometimes because we’ve been on a long tour in the US and we couldn’t bring anybody because we couldn’t afford it. Sometimes because people were doing other projects. That’s kind of the core of my show as well, with different material and a different set up.

My project and the Lost Girls we don’t really see as something we need to separate so much from each other because when we play shows on the Friday and on the Sunday in the two different formats, it’s really quite ridiculous to try to force a separation. What you’ll see on Sunday will sometimes be very related. We’re playing a couple of the same songs, too, but hopefully the experience of the full performance will be different or at least a new experience, rewarding in its way.

How do the songs present themselves in the recording process as belonging in one place or another?

They don’t. I think we’ve worked together for so long that the thought process just needs to be within the music. We haven’t actually recorded anything knowing we’re Lost Girls ever. We recorded two songs for the 12 inch we released, but they’re so old. When we recorded Håvard’s track, we didn’t even know it was going to be a collaboration. Originally he was going to release it under his name.

I had a track that was like a third of my show for two or three years, it kept changing a lot, but it was this moment in a concert that was very, very, very much a part of my solo project, but only as a live version. We couldn’t make it fit on any of my albums. It was just too old and to different, I guess, from the albums I was making. These two tracks were just lying around and we finally got to finish them and we realized it should be a collaboration because we’ve contributed to each others’ work so much that it’s more of a collaboration than a solo thing for very different reasons. I still think they made a really nice combination on the 12 inch.

We’ve never recorded anything while we’ve been consciously aware of having a project. This will happen hopefully in the future. Not sure when. But it might or might not contain any of the stuff we’re doing now. We still haven’t figured out quite how we exist in a recording type thing.

You’ve created so much work in the last few years and it seems like you’re always on tour. What is your process that allows you to produce as much as you do while touring?

The reason why I can be productive is partly because of Norwegian funding. Because I can afford to do the touring. People say that the touring is an income, but it’s not for me and a lot of other artists unless you scale things down a lot to the bare bones or you have some kind of security net, which I do have, because I’m so lucky I’m Norwegian and I’ve been able to get touring grants and other grants for my work. That’s how I can focus on working. I don’t have to go back to a day job when I come back from a tour to fund the next tour.

But I think that I’m productive because I feel like I have to tour. I love playing shows but I’m very much of two minds about the need to be so visible. I think I have to compensate by producing a lot of stuff when I don’t tour because otherwise I’ll just die in a sea of visibility. My main work is not the traveling, my main work has always felt like the writing. When I’m on stage for that one hour when I am on tour, I feel like that’s the writing process. But the rest of it can be very difficult and tiresome.

That’s how I get energy also when I’m at home: I need to have a project and so I make a lot a new stuff. And I collaborate probably with the most productive person I’ve ever met. It’s very easy to get energy from other people’s constant ideas. It’s not about producing a lot of work, it’s more about this hunger for ideas and to engage with the world that I get from other people that I work with. The ideas and writing world around me is pretty rich, so I can join in on that energy also. I think for me it’s been easy. I also work really fast.

In terms of how you write or how you record?

I write pretty fast. For good and bad.

When I do write fiction, I’m fast but also slow. I’m fast to write a load of first draft stuff. Then it takes me a long time to expand and go really deeply into what I’m trying to say and create the rest — because I usually write down stuff and think, “It’s all here.” Then I realize, “No, it’s all here if I’m inside my head.” I need to go into an editing processes to make other people read what I heard in my head. And that takes a long time.

I envy a lot of people who do less. I think that there’s always a danger that being productive could also just be fitting in nicely with currently capitalist trends. The more you produce, the more you can be visible. At least for me it’s a way to be visible without compromise because — well, there’s always compromise — but at least then I have something that I’m proud to allow other to read or listen to instead of just being visible by having a scandalous Instagram. Some people are good at that, but I’m not. I struggle with the general visibility and accessibility. It’s easier for me to write and present new work than it is to tweet.

I know so many writers who put so much of their energy into social media because they feel like they have to even if they don’t want to.

I think that I probably would have produced a lot more and maybe bigger things if I didn’t have to do things like accounting and all the practical things. I probably do spend 50% of my time doing those things. Even if I seem productive, I’m also very productive — like everyone has to be — with all the stuff you just have to do. Because artists are forced into being freelancers and having our so-called businesses, a commercial business. Which means you’re trying to fit into something you don’t fit into. They’re very frustrating. But thankfully you can return to your art sometimes and get some other energy.

Just as you were saying touring isn’t the income source people think it is, there’s that whole unglamorous layer that people who receive regular paychecks don’t have a concept of.

Some artists, when they write about money, it’s amazing how much they know. I’m following a few and they write really great stuff about money because they know so much about the tax system, the interest rates, various loans you can get, the structures of how ideologies exist in the world. Sometimes that’s because of very unfortunate happenings, when you’re forced into being your own business and somethings goes wrong and blah blah blah blah.

So grant applications must be both a positive of that but also a different kind of time suck.

For sure. Also, in a country with a lot of grants, there will be some artists who do amazing work but they can’t write applications. Or they didn’t have the right education, so they struggle with being recognized. That’s a whole separate economy and world of recognition. It’s not like all Norwegian artists get those grants. Au contraire.

Back to what you were saying about writing fiction, do you think your novels influence the thematic nature of your albums? Or does your music influence your fiction?

I don’t know. I didn’t write Blood Bitch or Apocalypse, Girl in relation to any work of other writing. I didn’t write between 2012 and 2016 at all aside from music, and I also didn’t write those two albums thinking of themes at all. The themes were something I made long after I’d finished the album. But concepts and themes are not always something that’s planned. Sometimes the creative process is pretty independent. It’s unconscious. It seems so well planned afterwards because everyone reads the press release and the press release makes everything seem like it was planned. But don’t be fooled by a press release! It’s a treacherous little document.

All photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2018 Day 3, 06.07.2018

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David Byrne live at Roskilde Festival 2018

With the sun back in full force, Day 3 of Roskilde Festival 2018 was one for indoor sets. Klub Rå and Gloria provided us with much needed respite as well as moving electronic beats. We were ready for rock music outdoors by the time the sun started going down. Here’s how we paced our day:

The Lost Girls
Jenny Hval’s side project with long time collaborator Håvard Volden is an amalgam of the experimental for the sake of being experimental and pop songs that sound like they’ve been skimmed out of her catalogue. There are weird vocal loops and Norwegian spoken word, but then there’s Volden’s guitar helping him produce the kind of tracks that indie rock bands wish they could dream up for their adventurous electronica crossover albums. It’s also clear that this is a way for Hval to play with vocals and not necessarily follow strict song structures, which it’s only become apparent she does follow in comparison.

Having seen Hval, and by extension, Volden, perform together on several occasions under her name, seeing them positioned across a table from each other without props or costumes or backup dancers is a totally different experience. It feels like getting insight into something not fully fledged, something we a privileged few have been allowed to hear. — AF

Laurel Halo live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Laurel Halo
Laurel Halo’s impressionistic electronic music is not for everyone. She challenges the listener with oddly structured songs and unsettling vocals devoid of traditional pop hooks. Her effected spoken-word breakdowns are long enough to make you wonder when the payoff will come, and then… it doesn’t. But if you’re adventurous enough to succumb and allow yourself to be drawn into her world, it’s full of distorted beauty, musical precision and good old club music bliss. Halo’s set started with her unique avant-pop musings but quickly developed into a dance-floor friendly techno set combining Latin percussion grooves, FM pads, vocal samples as well as her live keyboard playing. Ultimately, Halo’s originality seemed lost on the crowd inside Gloria, but those who were eager to dance were certainly not disappointed. — MT

Bisse live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Bisse
Danish art rocker, Bisse (née Thorbjørn Radisch Bredkjær), whose catapulting stardom has as much to do with his eccentricity as his prolific recorded output (8 albums since 2015), brought an electric energy to his performance on the Avalon stage. Flanked by two incredibly tight drummers up front while his guitarist and keyboard player shredded behind him, Bisse sauntered around the stage with the same confidence as Mick Jagger or Freddie Mercury. Through multiple costume changes and an elaborate scenography with a mirrored telephone booth style box in the centre, his playful attitude and outward sexuality blended with the raw power of his vocals to provide an engrossing experience. Bisse honours his Danish heritage by singing in his native language instead of crossing over to the more commercial English. Yet, he is poised to be one of the defining artists of our generation based entirely on the strength of artistic contributions. — MT

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
There is no ceremony when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds arrive on the Orange Stage, there is just the deafening wail of “Jesus Alone.” It’s an instant command of the situation, demand for attention, an establishment of dominance.

So the contrast of Cave climbing the rail to the crowd, allowing them to grasp his hands and paw at him, is immediate. He’ll end up in this place, on and off, for what amounts to half the set. It’s physically giving himself (and on some occasions, his microphone) over to people, whether making himself vulnerable as on the heartbreaking piano arrangement for “Magneto,” or simply trusting them as when he conducts their handclaps for “The Weeping Song.”

There is also sheer ferocity in the band on the whole: Warren Ellis is shockingly cruel to his violin on “From Her to Eternity,” making an unholy noise in the process; someone is forever having to deal with Cave looming over him at the piano; and “Jubilee Street” built to an explosive end that many performers would have found difficult to continue after.

Ultimately, the Nick Cave song everyone knows is “Into My Arms,” and Cave takes this opportunity to orchestrate a sing along. It brings levity to it everything, and is admittedly the least weird song for there to be a sing along to. It was a beautiful moment amongst the murder ballads. — AF

David Byrne live at Roskilde Festival 2018

David Byrne
David Byrne appears on stage sitting behind a long table, holding a plastic model of a human brain. This is the most boring thing to happen all set, because singing to a plastic model of a human brain pales in comparison to an 11-piece backing band, bare footed in matching gray suits, jumping around like an outsider artist marching band.

Byrne’s set is built around songs that focus on the barely-there silver linings of his back catalogue and desperate search for positivity in his new album, American Utopia, best evidenced by the perfect pairing of “Everybody’s Coming to My House” segueing into “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” He and his band are perfectly choreographed from the subtle hand flicks of his backing singers to arranged warrior poses full formation drum lines.

And if the collectivist rising evades you, if the lyrics to “Slippery People” don’t resonate as they should, he closes out the set with a  cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.” I don’t know how a song about police brutality in the United States translates for a European audience, but it felt very important to a transplanted American. It’s tying everything up with the heaviest moment, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this performance is an absolute joy.

Words by Mikael Tobias and Amanda Farah. Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

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