Jenny Hval has published two novels. Jenny Hval has fronted a gothic metal band. Jenny Hval has named her fourth solo album Blood Bitch. Any one of these accomplishments would be noteworthy, but the last is an act of particularly feminine defiance that marks the majority of her work, regardless of discipline. The Norwegian-born artist works in a variety of mediums, but has most recently focused on releasing music under her own name; she put out two albums under the moniker Rockettothesky prior to her solo debut, 2011’s Viscera.
But it wasn’t until two years later, with the release of Innocence is Kinky in 2013, that Hval broke out in America, and last year Apocalypse, girl was released on the experimental/spiritual Brooklyn-based label Sacred Bones Records. Blood Bitch, which will also be out on Sacred Bones at the end of September, marks Hval’s second stateside release. While her perspective is something that is certainly needed in America, it’s not one that’s often voiced, or heard. Her songwriting is spectral and inquisitive, confronting body horror, desire and mysticism, often in the span of a single sentence.
“Menstrual blood is such a huge part of life,
and yet there’s so little art about it..”
As a musician, Hval’s work is marked not just by political and social messages, but lush, stuttering synths, unusual rhythms, and interstitial spoken-word bridges that chill and bind the listener to the subject. It’s tempting to describe her music as folk, because of its multidisciplinary nature and the intimacy of the songwriting, but her use of electronic production belies that label. When she writes and sings about vampire coffins and birth control, her harrowing voice lends a mysticism to even the simplest phrase. Prior to the release of her new record, we spoke over Skype about menstrual blood, internalized silence, and friendship as provocation.
Naming your album Blood Bitch is a move some people would call aggressive. The subject matter you touch on—like menstruation—is really more just stuff that not a lot of people want to talk about openly. What inspires you to address these topics in music?
Well, like menstrual blood, it just pours out. When I speak with people I try to explain that this is something that I’m not planning cynically, that would be so control-freakish. The music just happens, and then comes the thinking bit, where I realize that blood is a big theme, and maybe menstrual blood is a big theme and vampires are in there—all stuff happens afterwards. The kind of words that make sense of things come very slow. They come a long time after the music, and also a long time after I’ve written the words that I don’t really understand. Blood Bitch was a title that I didn’t find until after the album was finished, but I felt like… it felt really good to sing it. I know about the Cocteau Twins song, but I didn’t think of that until afterwards. I got worried, but then my co-producer, Lasse [Marhaug] said that ‘No, No. That’s just good.’ Some people will see a sort of link there, and other people will not. It doesn’t have to be a reference, but it’s still there. Words tend to remind people of whatever they’ve experienced or heard.
Menstrual blood is such a huge part of life, and yet there’s so little art about it. Especially in music. I can’t think of a single song that addresses it off the top of my head.
Especially in music, yeah. I think music is generally conservative and behind many other art forms. Maybe it’s because it’s more commercial? But I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from performance art, visual art, and films. I don’t seem to find a lot of inspiration for what I want to write—especially my words—in music. I can’t really think of hardly anything that has made me write words to music that’s come from other music. There’s a lot of subversive music, but the level of where it’s subversive is a lot of the time in the sonic world, and not in the lyrical content if it’s in pop music. But I really do like thinking about things like eternity and blood as something that can have other powers. The mainstream conception of menstrual blood is very purified.
You say writing about menstrual blood comes naturally to you, and I think that that would probably be the case for a lot of women. I got my period when I was 12 and it’s a huge part of my life. But I’ve learned to not talk about it in public, to not put it in my writing or my own art. I wonder about that because you don’t seem to have internalized that silence.
It really is not the kind of thing that most people would talk about. We’ve learned that is not a natural thing to talk about, and I’m not the kind of person that will necessarily be so open about all these things in conversation. My outlet is in my writing, and my performing and my conversation with my friends and collaborators; a free-flowing conversation that is half personal and private, and very much centered around art. Friendship is a big part of my outspokenness—the fact that I have a little clan around me that allows me to develop really, really interesting conversations that would be seen as provocative.
This kind of outspokenness, or frankness, or provocative tone also comes from the fact that we always see the person speaking as a recording artist or as someone who’s speaking to a stranger. But if you’re speaking to your friend just about how much you love them, about general ideas of life and existence, and philosophy and politics, then that conversation can be really lovely and open; it doesn’t always have to be provocative, because it’s a reaching out. When you talk about menstruation with your best friends, and it’s a really funny, really good conversation, the taboo isn’t really about the taboo anymore. Then, it’s about reaching out to the menstrual blood, flowing towards, you’re in sync, it’s all happening. You’re making art with it. ♦
Photos by Jenny Berger Myhre