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Posted August 31, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

The Tallest Man On Earth: Letting the energy free

The Tallest Man on Earth photo by Cameron Wittig
The Tallest Man on Earth photo by Cameron Wittig

Born in Dalarna, Sweden, singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, who performs under the stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, has just issued a set of introspective songs characterized by his quivering vocals. Dark Bird Is Home’s fragile songs suggest early Dylan or the late, great Elliott Smith. We talked to Matsson via phone from New York where he was meeting friends.

How did growing up in Sweden influence your music? Were you exposed to the same kind of music we are?
I guess it’s different. We enjoy American culture a lot in Sweden. In the countryside where I grew up there’s a history of Swedish folk music, traditional music and fiddle music. It’s always around. Living on the countryside, I was in a bunch of bands. You just find some dudes to play with and it’s inspiring when you have to figure things out for yourself.

What made you first want to pick up a guitar?
Oh, I’m not sure. We had a guitar at home. My mother played guitar. I shouldn’t complain. We go to school and in Sweden we take instrument classes. We have to start with a recorder and I played clarinet for some reason. Guitar was always around. Of course, guitar is cooler. I fooled around with that. It wasn’t until my teens that I got my hands on an electric guitar and then I went through a big David Bowie phase. I loved Lou Reed and glam rock.

At what point did you discover the music of Bob Dylan?
My parents listened to it. When I was around 10 or 11, I listened to lots of Guns N’ Roses and heard them do “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Then, I realized Dylan wrote it. It was a friend of mine who had [Dylan’s] greatest hits.  I immediately enjoyed it.

Talk about the connection that exists between your voice and your guitar. I read that you don’t track them differently.
I used to do that. Now, on the last record, I didn’t do that. In the beginning, I played small tiny venues sometimes without a microphone at all. I played pretty loud guitar. My voice had to be louder than that. It became kind of harsh and loud. When I recorded, they were glued together.

It has changed, playing bigger venues and being able to calm down a little. 

What was the recording session for Dark Bird Is Home like?
I didn’t have a plan or a concept. I had a bunch of songs. I was writing songs like crazy. Things were happening in my life. I had an engineer and co-producer who came to my place in Sweden. I live in the countryside. I have a barn I turned into a studio. He came there and we just tracked all these songs for two weeks. I had some friends come over to play some drums and bass. Other than that, I was running around from instrument to instrument. It needed to be different this time. I needed to let all energy free. I wanted to save the vocals. I was constantly rewriting lyrics. I wanted to go somewhere else to record vocals and mix it. We went to a studio in Wisconsin and did the vocals there. There were musicians around in the studio so we ended up with saxophones and horns and strings.

It might not sound like it from the song title but “Darkness of the Dream” is a very upbeat, happy sounding song. What inspired it?
I am very happy with that song. It’s one of my most cynical songs for sure. Life and breakups inspired it. I’ve been through a few of them. But it’s also about the feelings surrounding a breakup. They aren’t quiet. It definitely tells the story of wondering if it is ever going to be easy. It’s a little bitter. Making this album and the time that passed doing it was figuring out that you could see past it in your life. For the first time in my life I felt calm about it.  Maybe that’s just growing up. These things are going to happen to you for the rest of your life. You just have to learn to deal with it.

I like the instrumentation on “Singers.” What were you going for with that song?
I play a baritone electric guitar. There’s saxophone and viola and I think some synthesizers.

Do you have a band to play them live?
It’s four people and they’re multi-instrumentalists. They’re really talented people. Parts of the show I do solo. It’s a very dynamic show, if I do say so myself. All the songs I wrote on a guitar or piano but with “Darkness of the Dream” you want to play with a band.

This album just came out this year. Have you already started thinking about the next one?
I’m really focused on touring. It’s really intense going back forth from the states to Europe. Since I had a year off before this, I was preparing for it. I’m in good shape physically and mentally so it’s pretty easy. I haven’t thought about what the next step will be. I am writing songs because I just can’t stop.

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Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.