TAS In Session: The Tallest Man On Earth
Soft-spoken Swedish singer Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth, dropped by The Alternate Side not long ago to chat about his recent EP, Sometimes The Blues is Just a Passing Bird, the fairly quick followup to his second album, The Wild Hunt, which was released in the spring. Kristian wanted to play his red electric guitar for us, so we were treated to plugged-in versions of "The Dreamer" and "Tangle in This Trampled Wheat."
While there are no new Stateside tour dates announced yet, Kristian has announced European dates for this May.
Alisa Ali: You have a lot of music out right now. Is that because you have so much music in your head?
Kristian Matsson: Yeah, I guess. I write a bunch of songs all of the time.
Alisa: Do you write daily?
Kristian: I used to try to write all of the time and usually there’s a song in there, you know? I try to stay busy. But I throw most of it away. I had a lot of help, especially on this EP from Amanda Bergman [aka Hajen or Jaw Lesson] who produced it, who took some songs I was about to throw away and told me how to play them. I tried and that was the way it should [have been], from the beginning, but I didn’t know it myself. So yeah, everyone needs help.
Alisa: So you floated the songs by Amanda?
Alisa: Are you more partial to doing the songs on the EP rather than the album since the EP’s songs came out more recently?
Kristian: Of course. You always like the new songs better, I guess.
Alisa: Are there still some songs from the older catalog that you still listen to?
Kristian: Well, I don’t listen to them, I can’t stand that. But sometimes you noodle around with a guitar and you start a song and you can’t remember what song it is, then you figure out, “Oh, it’s mine.” (laughs). If you forget it, you can find it again and makes something fun out of it.
Alisa: I noticed that in your songs there’s a lot of references to the natural world: wheat, birds, clouds. Why do you think that is? Are you an outdoorsman?
Kristian: Yeah, that’s where I’m from. I grew up in the countryside and I still live in the countryside. I live in a really pretty part of Sweden. I like the city, but that’s because I know I can go home after a while.
Alisa: What is it about the city that makes you a little bit crazy?
Kristian: There’s a lot of things that can make you crazy in the city. I like it, but I’m spoilt by the surroundings of where I live. Two minutes down to the river where I swim in a really clean river. The forest is just there, the rolling hills and the horses.
Alisa: So touring must be a really extreme change for you.
Kristian: Yes, this year has been really crazy and I’ve toured a lot. I haven’t been home a lot. But I like to do the shows and I like to meet the people. I just don’t like the traveling part of it and the hotel part of it could drive you crazy. But you try to enjoy the little things, you know?
Alisa: Do you talk to people to come to your shows, all of the little venues?
Kristian: Yeah, I used to go out after every show and talk to people but now at a place like Webster Hall you really can’t do that. It just took so much time and I try to be nice to everyone. It’s not easy when you’re so drained after a show and you do that every night for a long time.
Alisa: What’s the longest stretch you told your manager you’d be okay to tour?
Kristian: I usually say three and a half weeks which usually turns out to be four weeks. But that’s my maximum right now because I did seven weeks here in the States and Canada this spring. I made it but it was a bit too much. It’s a lot different [touring the States as opposed to Europe], but I don’t know what’s best. In Europe, every country is different and the travel is more of a hassle because you have to fly more and do ferries. But it’s easy to find good food and good coffee.
Alisa: We have good coffee in New York!
Kristian: I know you have good coffee in New York but you haven’t done one of those ten hour drives with truck stops.
Alisa: The truck stops are terrible! Why are they all McDonalds? So do you bring nuts and berries on the bus with you?
Kristian: We try to stay healthy. I try to eat more fish. I don’t eat a lot of meat on a tour because you have to save up on the energy and to eat a big steak steals a lot of energy from you.
Alisa: Your song "The Dreamer" - it's autobiographical? You are the dreamer?
Kristian: We don’t know that. I don’t know. This EP is kind of personal, but I don’t know. It’s kind of different from the other songs that I usually write. But not to me. I don’t know how to explain that. To me, it’s just a song. It goes well with the others.
Alisa: You have a very slight accent. I only heard it, just now, in one word. Why is that?
Kristian: We’d come home from school and watch “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Sit-coms and stuff like that. And we don’t overdub in Sweden, we have subtitles. So I could do the whole intro to “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” if you want that instead of a song. No, I’m not gonna do that. After a while when you start touring, and you’re here [in the States] and talk the language a lot … I also try to imitate my tour managers a lot.
Alisa: So you’re trying to pick up their accents?
Kristian: Yeah, depending on the different tour managers I have, I talk differently. New York accent is not so hard. Southern too. But the one that’s kind of funny is the one that’s up in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Alisa: You obviously have a strong command of the English language and it’s always interesting to me when someone like you can write so poetically in a language that isn’t their native language. Do you ever write in Swedish?
Kristian: I used to when I was 17 or 18. It didn’t really work. It’s hard to say. It’s a totally different language in the way it flows. When I grew up I listened to a lot of American music. But sometimes I write stuff, mostly poetry, in Swedish, but I hide it away.
Alisa: Is it easier? Do you hide behind a curtain, in a way, by singing in a different language?
Kristian: No, but it gives you a kind of freedom when it’s not your language, so you can mess up the grammar. But listening to and reading a lot of American songwriters and poets, they did that a lot too. I have some major grammatical mistakes, but it gives you freedom.
Alisa: A lot of songs on this EP could have fit easily on your album, The Wild Hunt, but I noticed that your record label, Dead Oceans, said that the songs on the EP are an ‘open and shut chapter’ on The Tallest Man’s songbook. What did that mean?
Kristian: I didn’t say that! I think it says something about how I just recorded between tours? This is not leftovers from the album. They want to sell the record. I do too. It’s just me and a guitar and some overdubs. That’s what it is on The Wild Hunt, so it’s not that different. Coming here on tour and touring Europe again, I just wanted something new for people to have.
Alisa: So the songs were written in a different place mentally, on tour.
Kristian: Yeah, one is about being homesick and the other one is a love letter to my producer, more simple songs. Except the first one, “Little River.”
Alisa: What do you think about “Little River?”
Kristian: It struck me as having a different feeling. I kind of liked that song, I’ve been working on it for a while and I didn’t get it on tape, didn’t now how to play it and Amanda told me how to play it. When I tried to strum, it was really rough. And she said, ‘this is a picking song.’ You have your pride, and I sneaked around the corner and tried to pick and said, ‘No, no, this isn’t right.’ But then I sneaked away again and realized, yeah, this is what it was supposed to be. Exactly.
Alisa: So was the recording a quick session?
Kristian: Yeah, in between it was really stressful because when you’re touring, you’re not home a lot. But I think I recorded it in three days and didn’t have time to do much or mix a lot. It was exciting to do that.
Alisa: There’s been so many comparisons between you and Bob Dylan throughout your career; some have even called you the Swedish Dylan. How do you feel about that?
Kristian: (long pause) I’ve had that question before on how I felt about it. There was a girl last night at the show screaming that I should play a Bob Dylan song. That never happens. It’s from journalists that I get the Dylan thing because I did a cover, “I Want You.” I’m a big Dylan fan and I can hear it in my vocals, but I steal more stuff from female singers, but you never get questions about that. I’ve stolen more from Emmylou Harris and Feist.
Alisa: I’m sorry if it bothered you, for me to ask. It’s probably annoying, but there are worse comparisons to get.
Kristian: True, true Though it just kind of makes me want to say no to more interviews.
Alisa: Oh no!
Kristian: No, it’s great! You’ll have the last one (laughs). Just kidding.