Jenny Hval: I was watching low-budget 70s horror movies with nude vampires

The Norwegian musicians work is rooted in the avant garde and influenced by everything from psychoanalysis to Gaudi to schlocky films but dont say her new album Blood Bitch isnt pop

There is no easy way to interview Jenny Hval, the Norwegian performance artist one might find on stage straddling a large, red exercise ball emblematic of a huge capitalist clit. She describes herself as obscure, underground, but she creates prolifically to stave off boredom. Her songs are spectral lullabies inspired by gender theory, philosophy and psychoanalysis. In previous interviews, the 36-year-old has discussed the architecture of Antoni Gaud, moon cups, the philosopher Flix Guattari and Paris Hiltons sex tape. Hers is a fast, inquiring mind, one that allows a fraction of a second to provide titillation before she is distracted.

Mmm could you actually repeat that? she says down the phone from her home in Oslo after a rambling opening question. I drifted off as you were talking and I forgot the beginning of it. Im sorry. I moved on.

Perhaps her omnipresent fear of death is the way to break the ice.

Its part of why I make music, Hval says in a beat, to create this reconciliation with theatre and with dying. And I think thats what a lot of [artists] are doing. Its the ultimate feeling to feel like its OK to die now. Its OK. Like a Venn experience, of life and death getting closer, and its OK.

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Female Vampire by Jenny Hval.

Beyond the existential process of making music, there is a greater correlation between mortality and music for Hval. Her new album, Blood Bitch, is loosely based on themes that occupy a million Twilight messageboards: vampires and menstruation. Dead blood, essentially. The record was recorded in the months after her acclaimed breakthrough album Apocalypse, Girl was released last year. It was her third LP under this name and her fifth solo record in total; she previously recorded as Rockettothesky and used to front a goth band called Shellyz Raven.

I was watching a lot of low-budget horror movies from the 1970s the kind of movies nude vampires would appear in, Hval says of the conception of Blood Bitch. Many of them are considered terrible movies, but I watched them differently from a film critic and I did get a lot out of watching. Part of that was to take pieces of random dialogue and narratives and find ideas about blood. It just kept arriving in lyrics I was writing or improvising. Its my favourite experience of all experiences that I have that thing that arrives and you dont know whats happening, but you feel that its a good thing.

While Apocalypse, Girl had a more linear narrative at least, she made it sound that way in interviews, when she often discussed gender and sexuality Hval decided to make its follow-up a challenge to herself, the listener and anyone interested in decoding its meaning. It is not a direct rebellion against the social shame surrounding menstruation, although it is unusual to hear periods affiliated with pleasure, power and sensuality I have big dreams / And blood powers, she sings in Untamed Region rather than pain and uncleanliness. But she does not want to become part of a culture of think pieces and social media debate, she says.

Jenny
I certainly dont make art to start conversations on Facebook. Photograph: Jenny Berger Myhre

I certainly dont make art and I think that this goes for a lot of artists to start conversations on Facebook. That is not enough. I want to change poetic conversations. I want to change philosophical conversations and I also just want to give people images that connect. Something like menstruation to something like vampires. I want to make these odd, abstract associations that open up the wild creatures of the world that are not just women: we menstruate or men: we dont menstruate.

Fragmented and ambient, almost cinematic in its structure, Blood Bitch comes with spoken-word segments and odd noises. At one point, the sound of squeezing liquid drips, eerily. What liquid is it? Its water. Its a type of water. Its a mysterious type of water, she says gleefully. Some mysteries will remain for the listener to decide what he or she thinks.

Despite her roots in the avant garde, Hval is still wedded to the concept of making songs that bring people in, rather than push them away. Is she worried that the obscurity and abstract nature of her ideas will prevent her from making accessible pop?

No, replies Hval. I think, whether its pop music or not, its not up to me to decide whether its working or not on this or that level.

I dont find what I do ethereal. If other people do, then thats fine, because at least with Blood Bitch Im working with something I just want to be a strong expression. I want it to be beautiful and I want it to be full of feelings and reconciliation with death and all that kind of stuff. And I think it is immediate and that for me is a pop album. Immediacy can be so many different things, so I never worry. Ive never had to work with a record label that has expectations of something being very firmly pop music. But also, when I make music, I think this is a radio hit! Then I bring it to someone else and they say: I dont think so.

How does that feel?

Great!

Really?

Really, she says absolutely, already moving on.

Blood Bitch is released on 30 September on Sacred Bones

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/sep/08/jenny-hval-norwegian-musician-blood-bitch-pop

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