Jenny Hval: 'I'm a Gentle Person With a Filthy Mouth'

Photo by Kristine Jakobsen

Photo by Kristine Jakobsen

Norway’s Jenny Hval has been steadily building a career, first as Rockettothesky and more recently under her own name. But while she’s found success in Europe as a musician, novelist and sound artist, Hval remains a relative unknown in the United States — something the singer has set about changing with her first U.S. tour, which stops Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton.

“I’ve never been able to tour here before because I’ve never had a manager, or a booking agent, or any kind of team here,” Hval tells Listen, Dammit, by e-mail, shortly after the release of her latest album, “Innocence Is Kinky.” “It makes it hard to tour because it’s so incredibly difficult to get a U.S. visa. Now that’s changed and I work with some amazing people. So that makes it a good time to go here. I love having that kind of support. And I love playing here, too.”

Hval recorded “Innocence Is Kinky,” her fourth album, with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, resulting in a collection of arresting, off-kilter songs that pair Hval’s airy, almost delicate voice with sometimes jarring musical arrangements. It’s a good indication of why she’s been called a provocateur, though Hval says it’s not up to her to decide whether that’s true. “I’d describe myself as a gentle person with a filthy mouth,” she says.

Here are three more facts we learned about Hval and her new album:

1. She’s not specifically a songwriter. In fact, Hval studied creative writing in college. “Songwriting has always been what I write on the side, in secret, while I pretend [to be] doing other things, in breaks, in the margins,” she says. “That’s what it was like when I studied, and in a way it still is that way. That’s why it’s such an open format for me.”

2. John Parish is a one-man learning experience. Hval says he contributed plenty to sessions for “Innocence Is Kinky”: “His ears, his playing, his openness, his way of listening which is very free from genre or other references. And he taught me a lot about mixing, about being brave when you mix. After all, there’s no need to be careful with my music, it loves abrupt changes, it loves to be torn apart and moved around. That’s a part of how I work. John was allowing that, as well as all the inspiration from sound installation work, into the process of making an album. I’m still quite stunned by that.”

3. Hval embraces blurred lines — but not the song. The singer can’t quite pinpoint when she began working on “Innocence Is Kinky,” because she doesn’t think of her work in such a linear sense. “I did three or four different projects that all became quite indistinguishable for me — a silent film concert to La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, two sound installations, a book, a performance piece about trash culture. All that combined influenced the album, there are even snippets of things in there,” she says. Later, she continues, “The only way I’m able to get anything done is to turn all the projects into something that’s interesting to me, that I feel has musical and philosophical and emotional urgency.”

Jenny Hval performs Thursday, Nov. 7, with Kirin J. Callahan at the Iron Horse Music Hall, 19 Center St., Northampton. Tickets are $10 in advance, $13 at the door, for the 10 p.m. show. 

Jenny Hval “Innocence Is Kinky” (official video) from Jenny Hval on Vimeo.

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