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Jenny Hval Thinks the Music Industry is as Violating as a Vampire

The Norwegian singer and composer reveals why she is so fascinated (and horrified) by vampires.

by Britt Julious
Sep 12 2016, 2:05pm

Screenshot via Vimeo.

"I think this is a very lonely album," Jenny Hval said about Blood Bitch, her 6th solo album set for release September 30. Hval regularly collaborates with other musicians, dancers and performance artists during live sets and in the recording process. But on Blood Bitch, she has crafted a singular work of art that unmasks Hval's state-of-mind during the last year on the road navigating the music industry. "I had so much to explore from all the live shows we've been doing and so many things that I wanted to think about," Hval said. "I wanted to see what would happen when I sat down to write something on my own."

Hval took an improvisational approach to her lyricism, using what came organically to her to create as honest of songs as possible. "I've probably never improvised as much lyrically," she confessed. "[The lyrics are] not written with a lot of fine-tuning, which I really enjoyed. They're more like I'm listening to the music and then trying to say something," she said. On Blood Bitch, this approach seems to have given her free reign to connect the dots by using metaphors of winter, lunar cycles and vampires.

"Female Vampire," the first single from Blood Bitch, is an example of the prolific musician's unusual production style. Poetic and peculiar, the track is mixed with minimalist synths, echoing vocals and a collection of non-abrasive saxophones that appear as synthetic and eerie as every other instrument on the record. Hval describes the song and the album as her most personal yet, evident in lyrics such as, "I'm so tired of subjectivity, I must justify my presence by losing it."

It's harrowing music, just like the blood-sucking creatures that gave the album its title. Here, Hval explains her fascination with vampires and how that fascination influenced her new album and shaped her perceptions of what it means to be a working musician today.


I was in a goth band when I was 17, 18, 19, and I came across a lot of goth literature and images and poetry and stuff like that. And comics. These dark, subcultural figures–sometimes vampires–came very close together with me discovering music and what makes a pop artist.

Vampires fascinate because when I started touring a lot, or traveling a lot, I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I came home. Like every time. I'm just very fond of it. And I like [the character] Spike. Really. He's funny. He's a vampire, you know? I had to choose a vampire, and there's the Spike and Angel thing, and Angel's boring. Also he's a pop artist. He's [like] Billy Idol. He's a rock star. But a failed eternal rock star.

I think the vampire is an interesting figure to relate to being an artist. As I tour now, I find I'm older than a lot of people. I'm not that old, but the music industry is a really harsh, really brutal, really capitalist industry, and it requires youth. So it's very vampiric, and at the same time, I'm more and more a vampire as I just go through these eternal narratives of Groundhog Day on tour.

I watched the movie Female Vampire, which is a very boring and sort of low-budget vampire film. The central theme of that film [is] getting lost in the eternal boredom of eternal life. I'm drawn to that. Vampires really didn't mean so much until I was finishing the album and I realized I was going to keep the title "Female Vampire" for the song. It was a working title, sort of a placeholder, then I thought it's so stupid to name a track that, so I'll keep it then.

But I think that vampires in the more traditional mainstream meaning–which is the sexy, male, powerful blah, blah, blah, blah figure–are many times legitimizing rape culture, I think. That is what the American film industry is all about, isn't it? Legitimizing a lot of homophobia and rape culture, and making it seem like it's crazily existing within some kind of moral framework. That moral framework is just another part of the horrible nature of it all.

I think there's a sort of parallel between the vampire, how it exists in mainstream culture and the mainstream music industry. I have to say that I am not inside [the mainstream music industry], and I have no experience being there. I work with a tiny label of lovely people that are not exploiting anyone's youth. But my impression of the industry and capitalism as a merger–as a framework for society and apparently, a good idea for society in the neoliberalist sense–is that it's all vampire games.

It's violating, sucking the life force out of you. I could talk and talk for hours, but it's too theory based and I might not make any sense in the end. I'd be sucking my own blood while trying to make sense of something that's quite hard to explain. I'm a very critical person on many levels, but I still make music, release it on albums, work with a team who believes in the good of exploring music onstage. So I'm sort of trapped like everyone. We're all on the same boat.