Jenny Hval talks us through her formative influences, taking in 90s dance, death metal, John Carpenter and flying synth sounds along the way
“I left Norway when I was a teenager to study. I didn’t really choose Australia, I would have probably gone to London, but Australia was very cheap at the time. I didn’t want to surf or anything, I’ve never been a fan of the hot outdoors. I was studying for a media degree and ended up in Melbourne for three years and that’s where I started seriously playing in bands. I think that had a pretty big influence, but just as much of an influence was studying performance art, theatre and film. I learned about them quite separately, but now I don’t see it as a problem that everything can come from different places, these things don’t really have to be outside or separate.”
“My mind was blown when I began studying Australia’s native population and the very bloody history of that. I had a lecturer who got us to read a lot of aboriginal literature and poetry and essays. Australia is a country that has this amazing alternative culture. It’s very separated from the mainstream, with an awareness of history and place. Some of the most incredible people I’ve met reside in the alternative consciousness I guess. I felt I learned a lot by taking the opportunity to become more aware of other types of cultural expression than the western art world.”
1970s Horror flicks
“I didn’t really watch that much horror growing up. I do remember seeing John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’. It’s a sci-fi-ish film, but it also looks like a Van Halen music video! It’s very cheesy, the dialogue is so wrong and there are so many holes in it, things go unexplained… which I think was very influential on the ‘Blood Bitch’ universe.
“Even when I was studying film I didn’t see very much horror. ‘The Wicker Man’ was one of the first horror films I saw and I was in my late 20s! I think that had quite a big influence, because it has a relationship with this amazing music. And then there’s the crazy Christopher Lee character, what an amazing actor. I just watched another film in which he appeared, ‘Gremlins 2’… which is also an amazing movie. I got very obsessed with ‘Heart Of Glass’ by Werner Herzog too. The actors were hypnotised, they have this way of performing where everything seems very eerie. It’s set in this very traditionally Bavarian landscape with beautiful mountains.”
“I haven’t seen the ‘Lords Of Chaos’ film, but I know the book. It’s about the Norwegian black metal scene in the 1990s and the murder of Mayhem co-founder Euronymous by a former bandmate. I know where it happened because my friend lives in the apartment in Oslo. The people making the film wanted to shoot there, I don’t know if they let them in the end. I’m pretty sure I would hate the film, just knowing that it’s gone so smoothly into this obsession with the morbid and the murders and the mythology.
“I have a book coming out in a year and a half that mentions a lot of these things. I’d call it a novel that deals with what the black metal world could have become, its potential. My book also covers the Norwegian art history my generation grew up with, Christianity, Ikea, puritanism and how it lingers on… it’s very hard to describe. I guess some people would think it’s a memoir, but it’s not me, it’s quite fictional. I hope other people will describe it better than me when it comes out!”
Let’s Dance, 90s style
“Another influence is the 90s sound from mainstream European dance and trance, which came to me more from MTV than raves. Some of those songs are really bad. I remember loving ‘Set You Free’ by N-Trance, but it sounds so trashy now. One of the first albums I bought with my own money was Urban Cookie Collective, I think it was mainly for the pad sounds. I remember this one album, what are they called, Utah Saints? The famous one where they sample ‘Cloudbusting’. That was the reason I started listening to more Kate Bush. On my new album, ‘The Practice Of Love’, I was working with synths that evoked the pads and arpeggios of that 90s sound.”
My First Synth
“I had a synth very early on and I got very nerdy with it. It was a Yamaha, not one of the cool ones, just a very simple Portasound synth. It was more about listening to it than actually playing it. I remember sitting with it and just going through the various sounds, the patches, and asking ‘What am I feeling right now?’. It’s these childhood images… ‘Am I running over a field? Am I flying? Is this a flying sound? Is 86 or 88 the most flying sound?’. I’d move between the different patches and ask myself, ‘Am I flying more now, or now, or now?’! I spent a lot of time doing that.”
“On my latest album, I had three other artists record my lyrics as spoken word. One very close friend of mine, one I’d admired for a very long time and one who I didn’t know at all. It created a very nice way of working with lyrics that I hadn’t been able to do before. I’ve got parallel lyrics, so two different beats going on top of each other, but with words, which made it possible for me to have some lyrics in there that I didn’t like so much on their own, or I thought were too simple. The way the other words were there was kind of interesting because they would be speaking to each other and saying things to each other without even trying to.”
‘The Practice Of Love’ is out on Sacred Bones