When it came time to write the follow-up to her 2015 opus, The Miraculous, Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Von Hausswolff had to make a vital decision concerning the direction of her new album. She had several approaches in mind, eventually settling on the one that made the most sense to her at the time.
“My initial idea was to make one long song, but once I started writing, it was a very fragmented process with many emotions involved,” she says. “So then, I decided to make five songs instead. I wanted to create a mishmash between stillness and chaos, where there could be some kind of natural blend of introverted and extroverted expressions. I see The Miraculous as a more introverted album. I had more focus on nature and fantasy, and I was less focused on the body, flesh and bone. For Dead Magic, I wanted to reach an earthy, grounded, and more direct expression. I feel that this album is more connected to my body than previous albums. It feels more physical.”
Von Hausswolff’s new album, Dead Magic—which drops March 2 on City Slang—is five songs of dark alchemy that stretch beyond such genre tags as goth and prog. It’s evocative and moving, taking the listener to some very dark places, but also allowing some light to shine through. It is a reflection of her soul.
In order to get the right sounds, Von Hausswolff took a unique approach. Most of the recordings were done on the organ at Copenhagen’s Marmorkirken, The “Marble Church.”
“Randall Dunn, my producer, suggested that we record on that pipe organ,” she says “He had recorded the organ for a Sort Sol album, so he knew it sounded great. At first, I was a little bit skeptical, as the organ is quite small. But then, I started thinking about the room, how beautiful it is and what a great atmosphere it is in there. I’ve never recorded in a dome-shaped building before, and it really affected the sound. The sound was grand and intimate at the same time. The pipe organ had a very interesting and characteristic sound, especially the upper register. I love how it corresponded with Randall’s equipment. It sounded like the entire organ was crystalizing. Razor sharp notes shooting down at me from the dome like a wild and mesmerizing wave. Notes, which would gradually grow into one singular crystalizing monster, a cluster of sound.”
Dead Magic is a sonically dark album that reflects Von Hausswolff’s inner struggles, connecting them to the broader theme of magic existing in the modern world.
“I consider myself to be a rather spiritual person, and I believe things are magical—I believe life is magical,” she says. “I would like to say that life and love are magic. I believe in the good ulterior motives a magician can have, to create a free mind and to make us believe that there is no limit to what we can accomplish and to what we can perceive. But when I wrote this album, I felt that the hopelessness had struck me. That the gift of looking at things with an imaginative mind had disappeared. I felt disconnected from my surroundings, and I felt caught inside my own body. Things were falling apart. I deeply wanted to believe that there was something magical out there, but it was hard, and I could not see it.”
“So, I wrote music to channel these dark emotions and ideas that I carried, to create hope,” she continues. “Music became the magic and, ultimately, my way out of the dark spiral. It helped me to find my way back to my imaginative mind. I was constantly surrounded by music, I was constantly creating something, I just couldn’t see or feel the magic of it. This is the death of magic, when you disconnect from your imaginative mind and when you stop appreciating yourself and your surroundings. I see this album as a celebration of music. Music is my ultimate savior. The songs on this album are about the emotions I went through during this hard time.”
No surprise, Von Hausswolff is a firm believer in the power of unseen creative forces.
“Just because you can’t perceive creative forces around you doesn’t mean they’re not there—same goes with magic,” she says. “How can I possibly exclude the possibility that there’s magic around me, all the time, circulating and vibrating, only because I cannot see it? I feel that it would be selfish of me. But the imagination is so strong that it can deceive us into believing that all is dead, including the mind. This is Dead Magic: the contradiction of using your own creative—but sometimes dark—imagination as a tool to deconstruct it and degrade it. Maybe it’s necessary for the moment. It might be an instinctual self-mechanism for renewal and rebirth.”
Von Hausswolff’s art provides a catharsis, but it also is her way of channeling these creative forces.
“Making music is probably the closest I can come to making and feeling magic,” she says. “It’s timeless, and it’s ancient. It can be a divine experience to hear or make music. It’s healing, and it can open up portals in your mind and help you understand things from a different point of view. Music brings people together.”
While she is drawn to the darker side of musical expression, Von Hausswolff is not a one-note musician. Music is her way to find a balance between dark and light.
“In my ordinary life, I’m quite a smiling and kind person. I need this element in my life to balance my fear of expressing my darker emotions,” she says. “Darker forms of music make me believe that anything is possible, that there are no rules on how to behave and express myself—no limits. But as much as I like darker forms of music, I don’t like to feel stuck in an atmosphere. It’s important that I allow myself to visit lighter places if I need to. No rules.”
Photo by Anders Nydam