“I spend a lot of my time in Brooklyn and I love going on adventures in a crazy city, but nature is such a big part of me….the birds, the rivers, I always find myself going back to that,” said Kristian Matsson, known better by his stage name the Tallest Man on Earth, said. Indeed, the videos accompanying his new EP, When the Bird Sees the Solid Ground, are flush with stunning imagery of the hills and forests, quaint countryside visuals and sounds of birds chittering away. This latest project is an unorthodox one; rather than release the recording on streaming platforms all at once, the Tallest Man on Earth chose to roll out each track individually with an additional video containing commentary and an acoustic performance of each song. The collection is of rare intimacy and humanity, proving to be some of the Tallest Man on Earth’s unrestrained work.
The Swedish-born the Tallest Man on Earth began his solo career in 2006 after singing lead in the indie band Montezumas. His magisterial style of guitar picking and charming stage presence have solidified him as a key figure in popular indie folk music over four albums and two EPs. I recently spoke to the Tallest Man on Earth over the phone about his latest EP, the process behind it, and the performances to come.
What makes this EP different from your previous albums? I did everything myself. The songs and the videos, it was very DIY. Even [more than] just writing the songs — the controlling of the cameras, the editing, the color grading, placing the microphones. I’ve done photography, but never video. But it was different, I really love feeling like a beginner at things, you can really learn a lot in a short amount of time that way.
How did you pick the songs and their order for the EP? I didn’t write these songs and think, “Oh let’s do this project,” put it together…It all happened very much in real time and came together. I just wrote these songs as it was all happening. Some of them were written in the same day I recorded the videos, and everything was finished just like that.
What drove you to release it track by track with video commentary? I had the thematic idea for the songs and got the right people to help me on the distribution and management side, but then a lot of things happened in my life. I had a separation. I was going to Sweden once in a while to help out with my family. It was all really stressful. I started to do some video work for the EP and saw myself on camera being vulnerable, looking like a mess. I looked at it and realized, this is exactly what I need to do. The world’s at the same messy point. I figured we need to start from the basics and really connect to what’s inside of us. We need to treat each other way better than we do and treat the planet better. We’re all pretty vulnerable right now, so it’s kind of useless to put on a front or sell a fake version of yourself in these times.
You get pretty personal in your videos. You said once that performing live can be “like looking a predator in the eye.” Do you still feel like this? When I’m on stage, there’s a scary element to it, but I’m trying to make it less about me, trying to look everyone in the eyes. It’s that energy that makes me jump around on stage like an idiot, play guitar better…I can do things and focus like I never can when I’m by myself….Besides, I want to get on stage and create a good feeling of intimacy and humanity. When it comes down to it, we’re all emotional people, and I feel a power on stage to direct that feeling. It’s rewarding to see people smile and feel good and I feel better, too. When I walk out after the show I am more loving to other people I meet and hopefully that spreads on and on. Look the cashier in the eye, that sort of thing. Life can get pretty cold without that.
What influences did you have on the album? I’m actually influenced by really good pop songs. I like the simplicity of it. If you take away all the guitar picking noise, or the lo-fi stuff from my music, it’s pretty poppy. I come from a country home to ABBA and Robyn, and that’s influenced me in structure, but in themes too. There’s a word in Swedish, that I can’t really translate…”Vemod”. It means…sort of, happiness and sadness at the same time. It’s not exactly bittersweet, but…for example, when I’m outside in Sweden, when I’m out in nature, sometimes it’s so beautiful but I get this sad feeling of “this will all go away sometime.” My music has a lot of that feeling.
The Tallest Man on Earth will play Wednesday, November 28, at UCSB Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.