Introducing Jenny Hval

Interview by Zofia Ciechowska

Pretend the H in Jenny’s surname isn’t there, and roll the vowel to say ‘vaal.’ It means ‘whale’ in Norwegian, but that’s not what it means really in this case. It’s common in Norway to have a surname that harkens back to an ancient place, a farm that your ancestors once owned. Jenny’s never been to Hval. Instead she’s been donning uber-feminine peroxide blonde wigs and singing sensuous melodies from her upcoming album Apocalypse Girl to curious crowds across the world. If you find her library card on the dance floor, please get in touch so we can send it back to her.

What got you out of bed today?

It depends on whether I’m home or on tour. When I’m home, I get up to read. Reading books, people creating poetry and theories of resistance constitutes the meaning of life for me. Books make me happy. I have a book waiting for me at the library and I can’t pick it up because I lost my card. It’s a novel on machine work by a Norwegian writer.

So let’s speak about touring. You’ve been on tour in the US where you’ve been performing with collaborators dressed in peroxide blonde wigs and tight clothes who hold fake flowers and dance with bananas. What’s your live show about?

When I wear a wig, it’s like being in drag, but not quite, but perhaps it is

I had the idea of inviting filmmaker Zia Anger to perform with me as my stage companion. She’s shot videos for me, one of which features a group of women falling to the ground in ecstasy, not knowing whether the ecstasy is pleasurable or destructive. We are both focused on creating a space that is very feminine in nature. I think that’s needed on stage because there aren’t enough women in the alternative music scene that I belong to.

There are certain characters that come out when I perform. Like when I wear a wig, it’s like being in drag, but not quite, but perhaps it is. I am interested in these blurry lines. I have always been an un-girly person growing up. Also as an artist, I’ve had issues with things that were very girly. Feminine things, female bodies have always been presented as objects that are owned by someone else. Sexuality for me is not just that flat dimension. I can get into a very feminine universe on stage that I’ve not been able to before.

How do you translate the feminine into your new album Apocalypse Girl?

I made Apocalypse Girl purely just to make something that made me feel happy, something that was very beautiful. I didn’t know whether any of the songs would materialize as an album. Then I realized that some of these things I would skip in a normal album making process, and they coincidentally inhabited that feminine space I’m exploring. A friend told me that many of the melodies on the album sound like melodies you’d sing at home but never put on an album. I wanted to understand which parts of myself I usually edit out of my music-making and I wanted to bring them back into that process. Having been an artist for such a long time, I’m sick of the idea of having to present something that represents your identity.

I’m sick of the idea of having to present something that represents your identity.

You have adventurous fans who sport your t-shirts that say ‘soft dick rock’ on the front.

I’m surprised when someone wants to buy one, they’re brave. The dick is always presented as a sexual, powerful and hard symbol. I wanted to put this sexual term in everyday, relaxed contexts, like doing the dishes — a flaccid penis doing the dishes. The soft dick rock is the friendly relationship you can have with this charged symbol, you can hold hands with it and it won’t get hard. It’s not a parody, it’s just taken a notch down. No middle fingers, just soft dicks.

Apocalypse Girl is out on 9 June on Sacred Bones Records.