The album The Practice Of Love is Jenny Hval’s seventh in just eight years. While this would usually classify as an ill omen, the Norwegian art-pop maestro is going from strength to strength. A one-time winner of the prestigious Nordic Music Prize, Hval has put out a swirling meditation on her place in the world as it is today; a record that effortlessly skips between the autobiographical and the universal.
Voice and spoken word are the narrative thread running through your album. How has your ownership of that voice changed over your career?
Most of the spoken voices on The Practice of Love are actually not my voice. On this album, I didn’t want to speak; I wanted to sing and I wanted to use those voices in order to tell a calmer, more cohesive musical narrative. Something did feel more complete to me on this album but maybe that’s because it was less complicated. I used to think that I had to do everything in order to prove something, but I’m more relaxed about that now and just want to tell whatever is in the lyrics.
As an author, how is your process different when writing an album?
Honestly, I rarely work on music when I don’t have to. I don’t think it’s because I’m lazy, but because I need an extended period of not making music before I can actually start again. I need to do life research, and have the feeling of being able to sing freely for a while before I can make shapes with it. When we started recording what we thought was going to be the album, I had just written and published a book. I was really interested in trying to use some of that energy to write lyrics. I was trying desperately to put them onto melodies but I just couldn’t do it.
How does writing in English impact your songs?
I’m not a native English speaker, but I think that my lack of understanding sometimes means that I’m more free with my words. I have a more liberated writing voice in English because English is not the language I grew up with; it is not the biblical language, or the language of any of that stuff that I find creates a lot of conflict for me with Norwegian. I’ve grown up reading all the things I didn’t want to read in Norwegian. Whereas English was always a place where I was allowed to choose.
“Accident”, one of the album’s most raw tracks, is about having or not having children and how this question is seen to be so definitive.
I wanted to write about the human’s place and then, of course, women’s place as a subject in the world. I think that there’s too much weight put on the idea that women can only choose one or the other and that that is the main life choice. Honestly, it’s not even a life choice, so much as it is about what kind of role you are playing. I wanted to introduce other options and characters, these sort of philosophical, poetic, or historic options of non-human identity. Obviously, the album was written by me at a certain age. I take an interest in the language surrounding my age group and the pressures I’ve seen on myself and on others.
Performativity runs through your work, but how are the live shows different?
I don’t really think much about the themes of the album when I’m doing the shows, because other things come to the forefront. When we perform, it is a collaborative experience and I really wanted these shows to reflect that. It’s an exploration of a magical situation. On the album there’s a lot of reaching out into impossible existence and fiction, so we play with that. It’s quite a joyful show and I find it is a real joy to perform.
You’re playing three more intimate shows in Berlin. How does that compare to bigger ones?
Having small shows is a luxury and having three nights is amazing. I really love playing at very small venues. When it’s financially possible it’s great. We have a lot of people in our ensemble and I want to make sure everyone gets paid properly. I am quite obsessed with that because, you know, ‘artists never get paid’.
The Practice of Love | HAU2, Kreuzberg. Feb 15-17, 20:00.