Revelation Blues: The Tallest Man On Earth

"I’m good at throwing away songs..."

Sometimes these things just happen.

The Tallest Man On Earth – real name Kristian Matsson – released second album ‘The Wild Hunt’ back in 2010. A shrewdly judged palette of Americana and folk, the material represented a massive step forward for the Swedish songwriter.

Becoming a sleeper hit, The Tallest Man On Earth took off. Travelling across North America, Kristian Matsson shared a stage with Bon Iver and found a warm, receptive audience for his often quite personal songwriting.

Returning to his native Sweden, that audience continued to grow. Returning with new album ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ the songwriter began to piece together a follow up, facing pressure he had never experienced before. Coinciding with a rough patch in his personal life, the finished album is both beautiful and bracing, melodic and melancholic.

Catching up with Kristian Matsson on the phone from his studio, ClashMusic found an artist who is at once both confident and uncomfortable with some of the praise being tossed in his direction.

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The new album feels very fixated on the acoustic guitar, can we chat a little about your background?
It’s wonderful. The last couple of years, I’ve been getting into that agin. Basically, the thing where you go to school and it’s a part of school and you start off kind of early and pick those guitar lessons… it just feels like… when you’re a kid and it’s connected to school, it just becomes school work in a way. I kept on playing but it wasn’t… then I started to play the electric guitar as a teenager and playing in punk bands and it was just this big freedom to make sounds. Later in my late teens/early twenties when I started to tune the acoustic guitars to open tunings and finding… I was in music high school and I played a lot of classical guitar and jazz guitar also and you kind of know what everything sounds on the instrument, fretboard… it’s just really mathematical. I grew tired of playing guitar, but when I found the open tunings you could make sound. I was inspired to write songs and stuff like that. I just dove into that.

Do these tunings suggest moods, or even songs?
It’s different with every song. Like you say, when you strum it you here melodies in your head. But now, a lot of the open tunings, I’ve been using them so much. They’re not really mysterious to me anymore. Just lately, in the last two years, I got into standard tuning again because I’ve forgotten so much about ti and lost my ways in that. So I just found a lot of melodies in that and a lot of the songs on the album are standard tuning. I kind of do the same thing with that now, I just noodle around. Or I can write something on the piano and I just take the guitar and see what happens when I play with that, and the other way around.

You’ve always doffed your cap to Americana, is that prevalent on this album?
It was a bit special but the closest to American folk music that was the biggest inspiration for this album was Bon Iver. Whatever label that is i guess. I listen to a lot of other music too, of course all that inspires. It’s special this album, I just went into the recording with a bunch of songs that I thought was going to be on there. I had ideas of going all over the place to record it, but i just wrote one song, ‘To Just Grow Away’, the first song on the album, and stuff happened lyrically and I figured what this album was going to be about. Then I started to write tons of songs at the same time and recording at the same time, so it was a bit chaotic, but good in that way.

The songs on ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ sound remarkably organic, fully formed.
It’s a fine line between a sketch and a finished song, especially with the sound and the recording. I like the sound being not…I try to write solid songs and I want to become goo at that, but I like it when it’s a bit brittle and it’s not on a really sturdy foundation…a bit see through but heavy.

The Tallest Man On Earth – 1904

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The material seems at times to be quite personal, is that the case? Is this an autobiographical album?
I had to let that happen. I had to let it happen. I wrote a lot of songs about running away. I wish I could be a storyteller and sing about other people but this album had to be like this. I found myself… my personal life… I had the comfort and I had the platform to just not run away, stand still and deal with anxieties and fears. Then of course you get this energy from just deciding from that, then you start to write songs about personal stuff and it gets dark at points. It’s easy when you decide but then you start to really do it. It’s weird because I’ve never as happy as I am with this – my darkest album yet, because it deals with… for me, deeper stuff. They might just be superficial, or not important stuff…but maybe being self-obsessed… I took the liberty this time to just be about me. I don’t know if anyone would find that interesting, but the good things is I can’t really scream it out there literally what it’s about. Maybe it’s chickening out at points, but hiding it in metaphors and stuff like that. It could have different meanings to different people.

Can you work to a strict timeline in the studio when grappling with those issues?
Writing a lot of songs and recording them at the same time and just bits and pieces here and there is not the most time efficient way to do it, especially that I abandoned a lot of songs in the beginning that I spent a lot of time on recording. I started late summer, maybe September, and I put a deadline on myself when I went to South Africa to do some shows. I felt early on that I couldn’t do this forever, I needed a deadline. That was a long time to make a record compared to the other ones. They were done in a couple of weeks and the last EP I did in 3 days – recording and mixing it. It was a couple of months.

Are you a ruthless editor?
I don’t know if I’m good at it, but I’m good at throwing away songs. It’s good sometimes to have friends around you that maybe see something lying in the trash and they just slap you in the head and you pick it up and you kind of don’t understand it. But yeah I edit myself a lot, for sure.

You’re returning to face an audience you are perhaps unfamiliar with, is that daunting?
Yeah, I can’t lie. In the beginning of the process, for sure. You start to think about that and you freak out and you don;t know how to be able to do it, but then…it was a good thing , because I didn’t listen to my own records so I just toured round and played the songs. Early in the process I was like I need to see – in a weak moment – I’m going to listen to ‘Wild Hunt’ and see what that is. I listened to it and almost started to giggle. I was like, really, this is what I’m competing against? That was apart of…at that time I could hear myself being stressed out. That felt great, I could totally make something better than this. Of course it comes really early to you in the process, but I had really good friends that done the same thing, that encouraged me to make a record, to make my record. Then the whole process turn into this madness where you just work and then you kind of forget about those things.

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Photo Credit: Julia Mard

‘There’s No Leaving Now’ is out now.

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