Kristian Matsson, aka the Tallest Man on Earth, can’t put his heels down. Literally, on stage, Matsson is always moving, leaping over amps, shuffling his boots, making facial expressions like an actor. Metaphorically, Matsson is curious. His mind remains interested in what else could be out there, whether it’s a new song lyric or some discovery concerning the human race’s relationship to planet earth.
There’s hope in movement, for Matsson. In a way, movement is what defines living. Which is why the songwriter can feel so forlorn when considering the considerable absence of touring in his life (and understandably so) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, as the world begins to open up, the artist and nuanced songwriter will have more chances to connect with fans, to move on stage, beginning in the U.S. this October.
“I can’t stand still,” Matsson tells American Songwriter, who’s just arrived back in Sweden after a short, limited string of European shows. “I just came home from tour since the pandemic started here in Sweden. It was emotional and powerful. We had a really small crew traveling around, but it felt like we were the best we’d ever been.”
Matsson says he’s still “buzzing” from the shows and as he looks ahead to the upcoming American gigs, for which he and his crew still have some red tape to navigate, he’s giddy for the opportunities. Indeed, to watch Matsson on stage is to be captivated by his complex playing style that often relies on fingerpicking, his vivid dream-like lyrics and his charming histrionics. But the artist wasn’t always performing solo. He’d played in punk rock bands growing up, wanting to be Iggy Pop. But he had a parallel songwriting life, the intricate acoustic player. Eventually, when Matsson ventured out as a solo act, it was tough to adjust to.
“I don’t have a lot of experience busking,” he says. “But when I started with Tallest Man on Earth, I just played a lot of shows early on, small shows. I toured around Europe by train. I loved it from the start.” He adds, “Then I was playing bigger and bigger venues. But it felt like I didn’t have anyone to celebrate that with, it was strangely lonely for a while.”
For a spell, Matsson toured with a full band, but in the end he realized he likes to maintain the total control that a solo artist can. He likes to read the room, realizing when a song should be played louder, softer, faster and slower. All of that stopping and starting on his dime.
“There is a fragility to it,” Matsson says. “But I can also be in the moment, as dynamic as I want. Audiences are different, venues are different. I love the challenge of running out on stage and making it work.”
Matsson describes prior feelings of unease before a gig or tour; sometimes in the past thinking his songs weren’t good enough. It’s that typical artistic self-doubt where because you know a thing well, it seems trivial. But to an audience, it’s magic. And Matsson is something of a magician. A mix of Bob Dylan, Bob Ross and David Blaine. But while his songs have touched many and garnered millions of streams online, Matsson remains humble about their conception, and the window through which they arrive.
“If I knew the portal,” he says, “if I knew where the portal was, if I could manifest it or see it, I would build a house there. That is still so puzzling to me how that happens.” When performing one of his fever dream compositions, Matsson says he often sees an image and he just sort of describes that image, singing it as lyrics. “If I just get that slide show, then I will remember the lyrics.”
Music, for Matsson, was always around growing up in Sweden for the 38-year-old. Early on, he was fascinated by the noise the house piano made. He studied clarinet because it was the instrument his father played and, he says, he wanted to be just like his dad. Later, he found guitar. He played in garage rock bands. For Matsson, finding the guitar was like “finding a vessel for my weird little brain.” He says he has a “wild imagination” and songs were the space in which he could be himself.
“People think you go into character,” he says. “But I feel like I’m going more out of character on stage. I feel like I can be me. I have to go into character when I go into the super market.”
Like every other professional musician in the world, as Matsson continues to navigate the ever-changing landscape, he keeps in mind that the human race is in these struggles together. It can be easy for him, he says, to feel cynical. But that’s not how he wants to remain. He wants to feel buoyant, lively and enlivening. We all have to do this together, he says. Matsson, who tours the globe, understands the ties that bind people all over. Music is one of those universal bonds.
“These days,” he says, “it’s pretty apocalyptic out there. All the things happening in the world—[but] music can still pick me up, give me energy. It’s like, no, there actually are positive things we can do. I love that about music. I listen to so much of it. If I could only choose one, to play or listen, I’d probably choose listen. It’s helped me so much.”
Upcoming Tallest Man on Earth Tour Dates:
Oct 3 Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre *
Oct 6 Austin, TX – Scoot Inn +
Oct 8 Nashville, TN – Third Man Records
Oct 9 Nashville, TN – Third Man Records
Oct 11 Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre +
Oct 13 Asheville, NC – Asheville Masonic Temple +
Oct 14 Saxapahaw, NC – Haw River Ballroom +
Oct 16 Westerly, RI – The Knickerbocker +
Oct 17 Woodstock, NY – Levon Helm Studios +
Oct 18 Charlton, MA – Tree House Brewery +
Oct 19 Burlington, VT – Higher Ground +
Oct 21 Woodstock, NY – Levon Helm Studios +
Mar 1 Providence, RI – Fete Music Hall #
Mar 3 Boston, MA – Royale #
Mar 4 Portsmouth, NH – The Music Hall #
Mar 5 New Haven, CT – College Street Music Hall #
Mar 6 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club #
Mar 8 Richmond, VA – The Broadberry #
Mar 10 New York, NY – Webster Hall #
Mar 11 New York, NY – Webster Hall #
Mar 12 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer #
Mar 14 Chicago, IL – Old Town School of Folk #
Mar 15 Chicago, IL – Old Town School of Folk #
Mar 16 Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall ^
Mar 18 Milwaukee, WI – The Pabst Theater ^
Mar 19 Saint Paul, MN – Palace Theatre ^
Mar 21 Fort Collins, CO – Washington’s ^
Mar 24 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall ^
Mar 25 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall ^
Mar 26 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall ^
Mar 30 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour ^
Mar 31 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour ^
Apr 1 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour ^
Apr 2 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour ^
* w/ Watchouse and Bonny Light Horseman
+ w/ Madi Diaz
# w/ Daughter of Swords
^ w/ Uwade