The prolific creative curiosity that Jenny Hval embodies is innately tangible in her wealth of multidisciplinary works and equally so in her verbal expression. Since her last record, Blood Bitch, the Norwegian artist has released her debut novel, Paradise Rot, and her second one is already out in Norway. On The Practice of Love there’s a multi-layered voice that offers a distinct approach in Hval’s songwriting.
“I think that working with three languages and also having music there influences the way I write when I write in book form” she muses, as we discuss how these different forms of writing inform each other. “I’ve been very much trying to access the energy of performance, and even themes that come up when you are performing something live. So it’s not just songwriting it’s also the aspect of doing a performance” she continues. “I feel like I’m always somewhere in between art forms because I think so much in images. What I’m drawn to is to have a constant shifting image and that’s maybe because I work with durational performance, or durational in that aspect of music that it’s never there in front of you in any stable way, it’s always shifting”.
“I think for someone who feels different, or is treated differently, being able to feel ordinary is a place of calm.”
This sense of transience is something that frequently manifests itself within Hval’s music. On The Practice of Love there’s an existential exploration of human ephemerality through meditations on love, intimacy, connection and being a childless woman. Speaking of the latter, the title track reflects on realising your place as such. “I grew up thinking that wanting to have children was a girly sort of traditional negative feeling that kind of held you back,” Hval laughs. “I’m talking about myself as a child” she emphasises. “I think there’s something really wonderful about not being the central character of a story,” Hval further expresses, in line with Laura Jean’s speech on the aforementioned track. “I still wanted on this record to be more central in terms of being more common with my references and really trying to battle with Alice in Wonderland and the ocean and love and stuff, themes that I’ve avoided because I’ve seen myself as a voice of difference”.
A common theme throughout Hval’s work is this exploration of otherness. “I’m glad I’ve got a song called ‘Ordinary’ in there,” Hval says, (the closing track of the record). “On the one hand to feel like you’re apart, or you embody difference in opposition to the norm, maybe does not mean that you’re not ordinary as well.” There’s something reassuring about this state of being other yet ordinary. As someone who’s always contended with being an outsider I’ve always found a certain solace in the way Hval vocalises this, and we discuss how it’s something we’ve grown to find peace with and a sense of belonging over time. There is, however, a fetishisation of being different that feels insincere and exploitatively capitalised on; “the ordinary is often seen as trivial or not so interesting, sometimes we’re a bit too obsessed with being different,” Hval conveys. “I think for someone who feels different, or is treated differently, being able to feel ordinary is a place of calm”.
Although certain references might be more “common” as Hval puts it – “I probably wouldn’t have thought I’d end up with an album with love in the title,” she laughs – there’s still her characteristic subversion. The title track poses a questioning of the universality of love from a linguistic perspective, “the Norwegian version to me is strongly tied to a Protestant Christianity type of mind-set,” Hval details. “Which is why honesty is 80% of the Norwegian word for love because it sits inside it.” Listening to ‘Ashes to Ashes’ I can’t help but think of the religious context and how Hval transforms this. “I wanted it to be more like you’re a voice and this image turns into this image and I can turn into you, it’s more of a transforming image so the cigarette can turn into the ashes of a person. It’s kind of a way of showing the intimacy of art.”
Musing further on intimacy, Hval alights on this sense of “spiritual intimacy in a way, reaching out to others who are maybe not present in the way we usually think of as in the flesh but more close because you feel close to them or there is something you recognise of yourself in them or you’re longing for them”. And there is something truly liberating and comforting in approaching intimacy and connection with these different notions.
Photo by Lasse Marhaug.