Hyper-literate Norwegian musician Jenny Hval brings her mix of experimental pop, performance art and feminist body horror to Berghain Kantine on October 26.
Latest album Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones) takes on menstruation and vampirism to a soundtrack of Gothic organ lines, motorik beats and spoken-word collages. Like any Hval record, it requires careful lyrical unpacking, so much so that to prepare for our interview, we made a word map connecting Blood Bitch’s themes and references: “vagina”, “desire”, “Adam Curtis”, “Tilda Swinton”. We showed it to her.
Be honest: is any of this on point?
“Dogs”! “Cake”, nice. Well, this looks like what I do. I make these when I write an album, or when we record. I have walls filled with this stuff. Let me show you… [pulls up a smartphone photo] Ah, it’s mostly in Norwegian. But there’s “Europe”. “Jess Franco”. “Antonioni”. I wrote this for the press release, probably, but some of these were there early, as a sort of conceptual framework before we started recording. “Club” would’ve been there. “No social commentary”. “Getting lost”. “Eternal life” – I’m interested in eternal life as a club rhythm, something that feels like it comes out of forever and goes on forever.
So you interpret your lyrics after you’ve written them?
A lot of the more clear themes came after the album was finished. While I was writing and recording it, it was more about just wanting to explore things, seeing what the word “blood” would do in a lyric that otherwise would’ve seemed like social commentary. Put in drips of the supernatural. Take “Female Vampire”. The title, the fact that it’s about a mysterious vampire world, allowed me to write the lyric “I’m so tired of subjectivity”. It’s not just me in my regular clothes, saying, “I’m so tired of subjectivity, guys!”
Is [co-producer] Lasse Marhaug involved in your writing process?
Yeah, we decide things like: Should I say “blood” here? How do we remove the “cunt” from his lyric? We had one song, “Conceptual Romance”, where we had trouble removing a “cunt”. It was where “blood bitch” is now. We were trying to move out of the more explicit language and into a more mysterious investigation.
It’s like the opposite of your last album, Apocalypse Girl, which gets quite explicit – “soft dick rock” and all that.
It is. That time we wanted to work with something raw, and dry. There are several songs on that album with no reverb, which is quite unusual for a recorded piece. It doesn’t sound very natural.
If that one’s dry, this one’s… wet?
It’s very wet.
How will you capture that onstage? Fake blood?
That was actually an inspiration for the album, the fact that I’ve been covered in blood paint so much.
No, I’ve already done that a lot. I think that was actually an inspiration for the album, the fact that I’ve been covered in blood paint so much. Lasse and I kept discussing Carrie. It’s a wonderful and terrible way to embody what’s inside on the outside: what if you were menstruating all over yourself?
You didn’t want to be photographed during this interview. Why not?
Casual photo shoots – I understand why they’re necessary, but I find it very hard to give something that’s meant to be “natural” and “me”, when I don’t know what “natural” and “me” is. Photography, to me, is a medium that’s lying. I kind of agree with the Australian aborigines…
That we’re stealing your soul?
Exactly! Except you’re not, because you’re capturing what you think is the soul, but it’s just the surface. So I’m critical of the overuse of photos. I’m a media critic, and that’s very hard to combine with being an artist. I’m a media critic when I can have distance, sit at home and be like, “Grr!” [imitates pounding on computer keyboard]. We call it “thunder speech” in Norwegian. But then when I actually meet a journalist, I want to be that nice person… I think the best way for me to handle the situation is to see it as surrendering, as a ritual. You and I are having a ritual. I don’t want to try to control your piece – I’d rather go work on my songs and say something with music.
Jenny Hval, Oct 26, 20:00 | Berghain Kantine, Friedrichshain