The music of The Tallest Man on Earth is like a Swedish midsummer party. Everything is beautiful, in bloom, but eventually gets colder and darker. The Swedish singer-songwriter wants to give hope to everyone who needs it, through his music and the humor he packs in his live shows. Because he also needed that hope himself, when he was completely slammed for a while and didn't feel at home anywhere in the world. Now that he lives more in the here and now he has found the balance in his hectic life. He is ready to travel the world again..
Written by: Loulou Kuster
Photos: Sophie Gipmans
Kristian Matsson has just arrived in the Netherlands for a few days after spending the whole summer in his native country. Two days later he flies back to his home in New York. With his suitcase next to him, he sits at the window of a small hotel in Hilversum.
“I've made a lot of music in the past few months. When I'm in Sweden, things go more smoothly. My house there is in the middle of nature. It's a farm with horses and other animals that I take care of there, that can keep me busy for a whole day. For example, the stables must be cleaned and the horses brushed. Or I sit in the shed and hammer on an old piece of furniture. When I'm so busy with my hands, the best ideas come up in me. I can suddenly drop everything and run to my guitar to play what I just thought of in my head. These are usually the better ideas. There are also days when I wake up and say to myself: 'Now I'm going to write songs all day.' But that hardly ever works, in which case I often don't write at all. I have to occupy myself with other things. In Sweden it is physical work on the farm and in New York it is photography. Then I spend a day wandering the streets of New York taking pictures and when I get home, I can lose myself in developing and editing the pictures. I really have to do things like that on the side in order to keep making good music.”
The Tallest Man On Earth's music sounds perfect on a drizzly autumn day, but, after taking a sip of his red wine, Matsson explains that he himself thinks it fits better with the Swedish midsummer party. “I love the midsummer party, when I'm there in Sweden in the middle of summer, the sun goes down really late and there's family and friends all around me... Wherever you look, everything is in bloom. And yet there is something very melancholic about it, because you know that from now on it will slowly get colder and darker again and that winter is coming. That's how I see my music. I want to convey something hopeful, but my songs also have that certain melancholy or sadness in them. That melancholy is something typically Swedish. Many of the children's songs that my mother used to sing are all written in a minor key, which immediately gives it a kind of melancholic tone, so that feeling has been instilled in my childhood. We also have a special word for that in Sweden: 'vemod'. You use it when something is very beautiful, but sad.”
“All I wanted was to be in Sweden, but not much later when I was in Sweden, on my farm and isolated from the rest of the world, the silence drove me crazy.”
“I also try to connect with the listener with my music. I want to convey the idea that if you feel lost or crazy, that we all just are or can be. People sometimes feel sad or have heartbreak and are completely depressed for a while, but you don't have to be alone in that. I want people to find comfort in my songs when they need it.”
Matsson has been making music as The Tallest Man On Earth for thirteen years now and a lot has changed in his life in that time. Not only did he move from a small village in Sweden to the large and busy metropolis of New York, he also travels a large part of his time. “I never traveled as a child. I sometimes went on holiday to Denmark or Germany with my family, but I didn't get any further than that. Now I spend almost half of my time traveling around the world. I found that difficult for a long time: I was tired and always wanted to be in the place where I was not. At one point I was sitting in a crowded parking garage in St. Louis, Missouri with all my bags and gear spread out around me. I was all over it and all I wanted was to be in Sweden, but not much later when I was in Sweden, on my farm and secluded from the rest of the world, I needed people around me and the silence drove me crazy. It's kind of hard not to be in your place."
“Nowadays I try to live more in the now. I meditate every day and I see how I can consciously deal with my thoughts. That helps me ground a little more, wherever I am. Although I have good and bad days, I don't get through them as often as I did a few years ago. And I have found a good mix between the two worlds, usually I go to Sweden for two or three weeks. Then I pick mushrooms in nature or I go fishing in the river, and then I make a big meal for all my friends, which we eat in my big barn. And I make a lot of loud music, something that I can do less easily in New York, because I live in a small apartment. I can wake up at 2am in Sweden and play loud drone music. In New York it gets a bit more difficult with all the neighbors around me. The rest of the time I'm in New York or on tour. It's nice that I have now found a good balance. I can see the beastliness of New York because it's a tough city to live in. New York is special: everyone lives there, from the poorest to the very rich. We are all different, but we have to do it together, we have to take care of the city together. In Sweden you end up in a bubble more quickly, because you see little else than your own environment in your small village, where generally everyone has lived since childhood. You are a bit more cut off from the rest of the world there. But in Sweden I see the importance of nature again and that we should all take better care of it."
During his shows, Matsson likes to frame his often sad-sounding songs with 'bad dad jokes', because sad songs without humor don't work according to the singer-songwriter. “The audience and I have a lot of fun together during a live show. I don't believe in singer-songwriters where you hear that they are just feeling sorry for themselves. I want to be able to feel or hear a bit of humor in the music. If I don't feel or hear that, I don't believe that the person actually experienced it. If you have landed in a deep hole, you often work your way up through humor. That kind of humor packed into shows or into the music itself is one of the most powerful things around. And I believe that we make each other better by doing something good for someone else, through humor or just by being nice.”
Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.