Over Sunday morning coffee at the newly opened Scandic Grand Central in Stockholm, Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, and Amanda Bergman, aka Idiot Wind, explained to me how they first connected over MySpace. It was an unexpected romantic beginning for the two celebrated Swedish songwriters, who met in 2009 and have been performing together intermittently ever since, and who live a private, quiet life together in the countryside.
At the beginning of our conversation, Amanda, who’s got a forthcoming personality and a provocative smile, left the table for a moment, and not until the two became closer in physical proximity did Kristian really relax. Once we started chatting — and they started finishing each other’s sentences — I discovered more about their ballad-worthy romance, their relationship with Bon Iver, and their horse, Golden Sky.
What are you doing now? KM: Just recording all the time. I’m not actually in a rush, and that’s what’s crazy about this record, because I’ve always been in a rush. I used to have a couple of weeks to finish records, but now I can set my own deadlines. So just to get it done, I put a deadline on myself. I can’t say when it’s going to be released, but it’s probably going to be done early next year.
Where are you recording? KM: Where we live, in the countryside. It’s just us and our horse named Golden Sky.
What about touring? KM: I’m taking a break from recording because I’m going to go to Australia in a couple of weeks to do a few shows, and then there’s nothing planned. I’m going to South Africa in February to do two shows, but as far as regular touring, it depends on when the record is out. There are probably gonna be a lot of shows next year.
You’ve said before that when you perform in Stockholm, you feel like you have to try a little harder to win over your audience. Is it still like that? KM: It’s harder to play back home. Or, it used to be harder. It all depends on the venue, I guess. Last time I played in Stockholm, I played two nights in this really classy, seated venue. I guess as a performer, you get home and you get more nervous. It’s probably not so much about the audience and more about myself, and it’s just very different here in a lot of ways. And I speak Swedish between songs.
How did you two meet? AB: On the Internet. On MySpace. KM: We grew up kind of close but we never met. AB: Because you’re older and I didn’t hang out with older people. We’re from about half an hour away. You grew up in a town and I grew up in a small village. KM: I guess we liked each other’s music and we started to email.
How does the dynamic work out with two singer songwriters living and recording together? AB: We manage to work really well together. It’s easy in a sense that you know what it feels like to be in certain situations—whether it’s doing a show or writing songs or recording. You can remind each other when to have respect for what you’re doing or when to realize that something isn’t important. Sometimes you get so fixed… KM: You get stuck on the details and struggle with the stuff that you shouldn’t be struggling with. Writer’s craziness, when you think that you have to get that line and you do it over and over again. And then, the other person can tell you to snap out of it. When we’re recording, it’s fun. One of us is producer and one is the artist, so when I’m doing vocals… AB: I’m sitting by the computer just pressing buttons. KM: Sometimes when you’re recording, it can just get so frustrating. I threw my headphones against the wall. And it was like “Rarrrrrr, do it again, rarrrr”, and Amanda’s the calm producer—and then we switch. AB: I’m more into slamming the door.
Your house must be battered. KM: It’s an old sturdy house, I think it’ll be fine. AB: When you record with someone you know so well, sometimes it’s hard because he’ll say something to me, or ask me to do something again, and it really gets to me because I don’t’ want to screw up in front of someone I really like and care about, but at the same time, I know that he’s right because you he knows me so well and knows that I could do better. KM: You get pissed off first because you know the other one is right. Sometimes it could be good to record with someone you don’t know. We should try that sometime. AB: Yeah, you can’t behave in the same way or be so childish in front of someone you don’t know.
Both of you have really unique titles, what’s the story there? KM: I was just making up a name and needed a name that day. I never really thought about it. I read something about some dude from Sweden who was the tallest man on earth. I think most band names come out that way. I’ve made up so many explanations for that name. It looks good in writing. AB: Same for me. You can name yourself anything. The reason I changed my name was because I started out with Hajen, which means shark in Swedish and it was kind of a joke. I didn’t really focus on music before that, I just put some songs on MySpace under that name and then people started to pay attention and I wasn’t prepared at all. That was a really stressful year. I didn’t even know if I wanted to work with music. I just needed to start over and had to do it so quickly. A new name is a good way of starting over. KM: You were on the cover of a big news magazine when you only had a few songs recorded. AB: It’s such a strange feeling before you think you’re a musician, and you’re like, no, I’m just playing around. I didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t asking for attention, so it’s a really strange thing when you actually get attention for something that you’re not sure of.
Kristian, how did you feel about collaborating with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver? KM: The thing about Justin is that it just feels so natural. I don’t know how to explain it, but where he’s from in the states is pretty similar to the place where we’re from in Sweden. When we go to see him in Wisconsin, it feels like home. New York is great, but we once spent ten days there and then flew straight to Wisconsin. I guess he’s kind of the same dude as me in many ways. We’re around the same age, we like to talk about feelings and grew up in similar places. I’m stealing a lot of stuff from his new record for my record. I’ll have to thank him.
Your shows most often consist of just you on stage. Are you planning to change this with the new album? KM: I’m not going to keep it exactly as it is, but I guess you never know. During the last European tour, I did three songs in the middle of the set with two other guys and it was fun. Then the last couple of shows I’ve been doing by myself again. I’m not sure. This is actually the first time I’ve had time off from touring and I can make decisions about the new album. I hope to be writing really solid songs that can work in a lot of different arrangements. They can, of course, work with just me playing. We’ll see in December how the record turns out.
Do you prefer having support with you on stage? KM: I enjoy playing with people because it’s pretty hard being up there by myself. I don’t know if it looks easy, but if I fall down, it’s going to be dead quiet. But, when you get all that attention, being alone on stage and that scariness is also kind of exciting. You’re always on a thin line. This summer I was playing some big festivals in front of thousands of people and thinking…shit, this actually works. A massive stage and just a little dude. AB: The challenging thing about being alone on stage is that it affects how you view yourself. The fact that if you screw up, you screw up. If every night you feel like so many things went wrong, you start to blame yourself too much. KM: I don’t think any one of us has super high self-confidence, and sometimes you have to do those shows that force you to shape up.
Artists often have mixed feelings about playing big festivals. With your experience so far with that kind of show, how do you feel about it? KM: It’s always different, but it’s crazy, because those are the biggest shows and you don’t get a lot of time to prepare. I liked Coachella this year. I saw a lot of good shows there. We had one day off. That was actually the last time we saw Justin. It was kind of crazy, we were sitting down talking to him and he was like, “Oh shit I have to go now” and he runs onstage. We walked out and we’re like, “Oh wait there’s Justin, and there’s Kanye in his big crane.” AB: As a listener, I just get sad because you just get to see snippets of bands. It’s that whole compromise thing and it’s just like a showcase. It has happened many times that I had a really good experience. Sometimes if it’s a smaller one, otherwise it’s just more like a shopping mall. KM: The great thing about it is that you meet other friends that you never get to see. Last summer, we met Local Natives on every festival. We we’re like, “Hey again, see you next week.” They’re sweethearts.
What are you inspired by for the new album and your current recording? KM: We’ve been listening to the new Feist album, The War on Drugs, the Nurses. Then we have this collection of really weird old ethnic music from 1925 to 1945. It’s the craziest stuff. Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel has this radio show and on the webpage, he had this one really weird song and I saw where it came from and found the collection. It’s just mind-blowing. AB: It’s amazing when you’re listening to this strange music in the car. You pass by people driving and think, “If you only knew what I was listening to right now.” I just want to turn up the volume when I drive through our village. KM: Some of it is this weird, isolated musician somewhere making this music up that sounds like nothing else. There are these two bagpipe guys playing glitch electronica. AB: A few weeks ago, you just kept listening to “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous brothers. KM: They sounded so good on the big speakers. I just kept blasting it. And “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. It’s stuff that you heard so many times as a kid, and some music sounds so good when you play it really loud. I’ve been listening to the first track on one of Mark Knoppfler’s solo albums “What It Is”. If you play that really loud, it’s so good. But we listen to cool, indie music too. AB: We don’t really care. We live so far out from anyone who cares about music.