In the world of electronica there are plenty of artists that you could say are intriguing, engaging, or just artfully interesting. However with Norway's Jenny Hval, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't believe that she doesn't embody all of those traits and more. On the heels of her critically acclaimed album Blood Bitch, Hval will bring her artful and intelligent pop to Houston for the first time when she performs at this year's Day For Night Festival. The Houston Press was more than happy to talk to Hval about growing up in Norway, her past releases, and what she has planned for her set here in December.
Hval has been adored by most American music critics for her use of texture in her work alongside her honest approach to her music. Born in Oslo before moving to what is known as the Norwegian bible belt, Hval says that the move helped shape her as an artist in more ways than one. "I am not from there, I moved there. It's different from Oslo, but they are like light versions of the ones you have in the U.S. or even there where you are,(Texas). There are lots of American missionaries living there, and it wasn't as homogeneous as the rest of Norway. I attended a music high school, and it was difficult being around people who want to argue with history, or who had to leave the room because the teacher was a lesbian. Most of the belts aren't very diverse, and they're almost all white. Growing up there, I could relate to the divisions many people in America seem to have."
When Hval began, she released albums under the name Rockettothesky, something she changed by her third release. When asked about this, she delightfully replied "I think I didn't realize I could use my own name as my band name as well. I always wanted to change it, and I was on a small Norwegian label at the time of the first two records. I changed it after I left the label because I liked the idea of the dual names. But coming from such a small music market as Norway, I had the chance to develop and build an audience. I do so many things as an artist, sometimes I regret not having a different project name for each."
When you listen to Hval's music, you should notice that there's an almost intellectual nature to how she writes lyrics, most notably about the female body. Though, Hval says that this might be what someone assumes about her work more than anything. "I think it's that I push bodies onto everything, that it's probably hard for a journalist not to see it just one way and to only reduce it to such. You can combine them with machines, with instruments, and just make them work with everything. It's not just the female form by itself, it's how it works with other things. I think that when I'm talking about my work, the reader sees it as just the female body."
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For Hval's latest album "Blood Bitch," she co-produced the conceptual album with noise music musician Lasse Marhaug. While Marhaug might not be a name that many people outside of the noise music world know about, he's never been known to work or collaborate with a pop artist prior to working with Hval. According to Hval, "he has a pop music background as a listener. I really loved his way of not coming from pop structures, and I wanted to explore my music through texture and a different perspective. He has a great ear for pop, and I think that producing music isn't about who you will hear on the radio, but more about clear thinking and having a conversation."
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Looking at video of Hval performing is something else entirely. Her performances appear to be more like an art project come to life, with others on stage with her as the canvasses. In fact, while researching for this piece, it was hard to find two sets that were alike in any way. Her complex live sets are that of an artist who appears to be pushing the boundaries of what a musician can do on stage.
"I've done a lot of things that might not have been documented, there's a lot I'd like to do but with budget, time, and travelling, it's difficult to make them all happen. I'm not a great guitarist or keyboardist, so stopping playing on stage gave me the freedom to explore a room. I want to have a dialogue with the audience, to sort of hang out onstage. I've been studying algorithms and looking into adding weird ensembles lately. Having friends help me facilitate what I want to do has helped as well."
While she's played in Austin, Dallas, and Marfa before, Hval has only flown into Houston without performing here. When asked what she has planned, she says: "I'm not sure yet. Time is important, and we only have 30 minutes for my set. Zia Anger who's worked with me on videos and performance in the past will be there with me. I think that sometimes with festivals, I'm fully aware of any restrictions. But not knowing means that we can give in to that excitement, and usually things fall into place right before."
You can stream Jenny Hval's music in all of the usual places, or purchase her latest works directly from Sacred Bones Records. You can catch Hval perform at the Friday night summit as part of the opening reception at Day For Night. The all ages festival that includes performances from Nine Inch Nails, Tyler The Creator, Solange, St Vincent, Thom Yorke and many more, has tickets between $95 and $760.