Band of the Week: The Tallest Man on Earth

Rustic Swedish troubadour wrestles with his demons on 'The Wild Hunt'

June 16, 2010 5:12 PM ET

Who: Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson has a savvy post-modern gift for stepping into large antique clothes and making them look cut to fit. He played jazz and classical guitar in high school and messed around in a few garage bands before falling in love with Bob Dylan. Soon after, he started to record rustic folk music under the name the Tallest Man on Earth. While touring with Bon Iver behind his 2008 debut Shallow Grave, the now 27-year-old Matsson penned the songs that would become his latest disc, The Wild Hunt.

Sounds Like: Raw, scruffy troubadour folk. On The Wild Hunt Matsson moves furtively through a wide spectrum of pre-war and 1960s blues influences from Robert Johnson to Skip James. For the first time, he adds a battered piano ballad ("Kids on the Run") to his rough-strummed acoustic tunes.

Talk This Way: Matsson began learning English at school, but when teachers emphasized "proper" language, he was ready for something a bit more colloquial. "They want you to speak like you're British. When you're a kid that's not what you want to do, so you come home from school and watch The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," he says. "We don't overdub the sitcoms or movies in Sweden. It was just Will Smith, gettin' jiggy with it."

Young and Restless: Despite writing often about death and loss, Matsson is far from dour. "It's not that I want to kill myself or something. It's about a point of tension where you can feel most alive and inspired because you always have the opportunity to walk away, to disappear." To Mattson, The Wild Hunt is about the courage and rewards of facing down these anxieties — many of which manifest when he takes the stage live. "I'm naturally kind of nervous and shy and restless," he says. "There are times I just want to run offstage. There's that same tension in it: This is great, but I'm so scared! But in some ways, I've found it's actually easier to look people in the eye playing music than it is in your everyday life."

Tall Tale: Matsson admits his drive to perform mixed with his fierce fears of taking the plunge partially explain his stage name. "I took it because it's sort of a stupid name to take," he says. "With a name like that, you have to force yourself to try to write good songs and do good shows, because if you don't, that name will make you look pretty silly."

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