The Wild Hunt. There's No Leaving Now. Dark Bird Is Home. It seems that searching and travelling (or not) for a certain something has been a significant factor for some time in the music of The Tallest Man On Earth. Sweden's Kristian Matsson has been writing and singing about such universal themes, couched in lyrics cloaked in the preternatural and magical, on the verge of being dream-like for a while time now and at the same time he's evolved the early threadbare sound of The Wild Hunt into the more defined lines of 2012's There's No Leaving Now.


The initial idea was for new album Dark Bird Is Home to further this clarity but events in Matsson's personal life transformed the record into something else. It's a collection of songs which find Matsson delving into a full band sound for the first time, delivering some of his noisiest songs to date, but ditches definition in favour of being swallowed up the search for a place in the world. And this makes the record something quite special, perhaps even vital. We're invited on a quest to dispel doubt and to find a place we can all call "home".

There's been around three years since the release of There's No Leaving Now, and if Matsson had stuck to his original plan we would have been waiting a little while longer, as he tells me: "Well, I'd toured for two years and I guess I wrote songs during touring," begins Matsson. "I was supposed to have a year off because I was kinda worn out from touring and I needed a break. I was gonna have a quiet year and record an album..." Things didn't quite work out that way, though. As his marriage disintegrated, Matsson returned to Sweden to find the majority of his world collapsing around him: "I had to go home and take care of my personal life," he says, "and my house, and that all just started to fall apart." Out of that darkness in early 2014 sprung a new approach and, as the Tallest Man explains, some new songs: "A lot of things happened at the same time so I just wrote some new songs as a reaction to that because I needed some kind of escape."

"I was writing these songs when I was both upset and felt confusion and guilt and some anger, and a lot of sadness."

Escape is a word that rings true on Dark Bird Is Home. Despite "home" appearing in the album title, it's not always immediately evident that this is what Matsson is searching for. As early as first track 'Fields of Our Home' we find Matsson singing of being on the road and away from home: "when all falling down is just the travelling need of a wave" croons the Swede on the opening track as he runs through lies, young sorrow, wailing loans in search of some home comfort. It seems that touring and being away from Sweden for an extended period had a great effect on the motifs running through the album: "Umm, a lot of them are about travelling," begins Matsson, "because I've been doing a lot of it!" It feels like a road record to some extent, and Kristian reveals that the process for some tracks was started away from home: "I did start a lot of songs on the road, and 'Sagres' was half-written in Portugal. It has been my life for a couple of years and it was also...."


Matsson tails off a little here, a tell-tale sign that recalling this time in his life still feels raw. "Writing all these songs in a time of turmoil means that it's also me figuring out how to survive this turmoil," he continues. And 'surviving' is a big word, because there's a lot of shit going on in the world, wars...real problems! But these were problems in relationships, and I lost a dear family member..." So universal and relatable problems, things we've all experienced and can understand? "Yeah, everyone knows!" agrees Matsson. "A lot of people have gone through that; but I was writing these songs when I was both upset and felt confusion and guilt and some anger, and a lot of sadness. And I was also figuring out that this is just a part of life, this is how life will be: you will just have to figure out stuff all the time... that got into the songs too I think."

This confusion, guilt and anger is expressed in myriad ways on Dark Bird Is Home; yes, the lyrics express this most obviously and perhaps most explicitly on 'Sagres' where the impassioned bridge threatens to collapse as Matsson struggles to express himself, eventually resorting to the line "it's just all this....fucking...doubt." But there's also other little signifiers like a cough, the delay before the glorious outro on the final, title-track and a wracked, emotional sigh on 'Singers' that makes you think Matsson is on the verge of putting down the guitar and walking out, getting back on the road, getting away from home... but I go back to the use of the word "fuck", which appears a few times to signify Matsson's clear anger and frustration: "Yeah well that is my lack of vocabulary!" he laughs. "That word is a bit OTT but when you give up the thought of trying to find an explanation for others or for yourself..." It's all that's left, maybe? "Yeah, I guess a lot of the anger - well, it's not anger it's frustration - on the album is towards myself, y'know?" replies Matsson. "I tried to live a normal life while doing this - it's hard but at the same time it's something that's really important to me... to have the comfort of a home, to stay in touch with your friends and take care of your loved ones... it has been hard doing this, sometimes."

"I've actually come to a really good place in my mind. "I'm calmer and I've lost a lot of anxiety just because of travelling."

The theme of travelling is part of a wider exploration for The Tallest Man On Earth on this album, hinted at in Matsson's previous comment. It's a record about finding a home - not just a physical place to call home, but an emotional and mental home which can provide some kind of balm. It's not been easy to find, though. On 'Darkness of the Dream' Matsson sings "I met this girl from my old town / but sadly she could see / I'm still a bunch of memories / and shit that I believe" while on 'Slow Dance' we find the Swede in both an unrecognisable geographical and emotional landscape: "But then I know that I'm a stranger is this land / and I wake you up by speaking what you cannot understand."

Although the travelling evidently caused some confusion, enhanced by a relationship falling apart, Matsson explains that there were some positives in constant movement: "I've actually come to a really good place in my mind," he explains. "I'm calmer and I've lost a lot of anxiety just because of travelling. There are a lot of mentions of home, but it's trying to figure out what a home is. I mean, I've had the live shows which I've loved but there's all this other stuff with the travelling: the confusion of where you are! It sounds cliché but home to me...it's where you feel at home, it's where the heart is." A track like 'Little Nowhere Towns' reveals that the home Matsson has known for some time, the marital one, held little comfort anymore. As he sings "But now honestly I'm broken down / by this emptiness I feel / First you moan, and then you yell it / and now we don't answer across the street" you're right there with him in a relationship that's gone cold, and a town that distinctly lacking in any charm anymore. "It's about trying to figure out where to get that comfort wherever you are," says Kristian, "and I think that's what goes into the songs. There are times where I feel real discomfort and confusion about where I am and where I want to be... I guess that more has to do with what kind of mental balance I've had or not had..."

'Little Nowhere Towns' also pitches up another theme peppering Dark Bird Is Home; I've not even mentioned the usual Tallest Man tropes of light, darkness and dreams and I'm still not going to do so...Dark Bird Is Home has a few mentions of singing and song writing, notably on 'Darkness of the Dream' where Matsson sings "and now you sleep and get some rest / from all the songs you made / they're all a bunch of mirrors / and fuck it, I'm afraid", on the former where we hear self-doubt in the lines "And I'm racing through my pockets now / because I'm starting to believe / That selling emptiness to strangers / is a little bit warmer than my dreams" and the killer line on 'Beginners' aimed at perhaps both himself and his former partner: "You're just a singer wanting silence."

Matsson agrees this is something that does crop up throughout the record but clarifies the subject matter of one song in particular: "The actual song 'Singers' is about a dear, important person in my life," he says, before going on to explain these lines: "It is a really self-centred album! I just needed to do this, and not think what a song was actually communicating. I just needed to follow the song and take energies and anxieties, family problems, just take it all and put it into something, to see if I could do something creative. I had to stop thinking about what it was I was actually doing and just dive into it..." Yet Dark Bird Is Home doesn't feel self-indulgent, insular or unapproachable despite this apparent self-centredness. That's because Matsson is inviting us to figure things out along with him, and I say there's some positivity in that: "Yeah because I'm not special - at all!" laughs the Swede. "They are universal subjects; I mean, I'm lying a bit when I say it's self-centred because it's a lot about how I care for other people, and it's about the people in really close proximity to me."

There's been little discussion of the actual music on Dark Bird Is Home thus far, and it's something I do want to mention to Matsson. The album is the first Tallest Man record to feature a full band on a number of tracks, and this adds a real sense of positivity to balance out the tougher themes Matsson is singing about. Calling this an upbeat record might be pushing it, but on the moments where the band kicks in, like the endings of 'Fields of Our Home' and 'Dark Bird Is Home', the swing of 'Darkness of the Dream' and the rousing brass and choir in 'Sagres', there are some euphoric moments to be had. It's been on Matsson's mind for some time to expand his sound, and he explains a little more behind the decision: "It was two things: I've loved playing the shows by myself and it's been a wonderful experience to have been able to do that on a stage in front of a lot of people," he starts, "but to work up that adrenaline and to share that [with the audience]... it was draining! Afterwards I was so tired, and going from this extreme amount of adrenaline and energy into a dead quiet dressing room, with no-one there because my whole crew was working to bring all the stuff back to the bus, that wasn't too fun."

"We just followed gut feeling and passion and I didn't think about whether I could do it live or not - but now I have a band with four super-good players!"

So Matsson searched once again for another kind of comfort: "I guess I've been longing for to have people to share in what happens offstage," he admits. "I'd been thinking about that for a long time. So for recording the album, I had BJ Burton [who engineered Dark Bird Is Home]: he's fantastic. He came over to Sweden and in my studio we did the bulk of the recording there in a few weeks and I was finally ready - and I needed - to let out a lot of noise! BJ works super-fast and creates a great sound straight away; I just ran around manic like I can be sometimes and put another guitar, another guitar, maybe a horn, some piano, then drums!" Although Matsson took care of much of the instrumentation, he did need a bit of a helping hand: "I had a couple of friends come over because I'm lousy at playing bass guitar, and then I needed a real drummer for 'Dark Bird Is Home'... and it all just happened! I don't know how many tracks there are on Dark Bird Is Home but that was just one night of recording; it was so hot, really hot for a Swedish summer and we did a lot of recording during the night because the studio got really warm... and that song was just a huge release for me! It was loud at times."

Thanks to the recording process, Matsson wasn't quite done with the travelling: there was one last, important trip to be made: "I went over to Wisconsin to do the vocals and the mixing," he explains, "with the idea that it would be done... but then I found a lot of talented friends over there who can actually play instruments, so we added saxophone, French horn, trumpet and strings, then myself and Mike Noyce [of Bon Iver] did all the backing vocals that sound like women." There wasn't much thought given to how this might be replicated live; Matsson was working on instinct: "We just followed gut feeling and passion and I didn't think about whether I could do it live or not - but now I have a band with four super-good players!"

I end by expressing my admiration for Matsson's sequencing of Dark Bird Is Home. From the dreaming and longing for a place to call home on the opening 'Fields of Our Home', to the centrepiece epic of 'Sagres' ("And this sadness, I suppose / is going to hold me to the ground / where I'm forced to find the still / in a place where you won't be around") and finishing off with the incredible, moving 'Dark Bird Is Home' where Matsson sings "In this travel with no journey / I lose until I'm light / letting go of mind to have / what I'm keeping now," it's the perfect progression from dreams of home, through the stark realisation of a breakup to the final commitment of leaving that former happy place for something else.

Matsson reveals this tracklisting had been in place for some time: "The sequencing came while writing the songs," he reveals, "and that was completed before recording!" I say the ending seems perfect given what's come before; it's not a tidy ending, nothing is wrapped up and presented to the listener with a bow, that final line of "but now I need to go" could be a positive thing, or an act of resignation... and even the man who wrote it isn't quite sure: "I don't know what feeling is in that," states Matsson. "It could be someone needs to go but there's no idea why or where... but just a knowing that you have to go."

To have the comfort of a home, it's something The Tallest Man On Earth will continue on a search to find.

The Tallest Man On Earth's new album, Dark Bird Is Home, is released on May 11/12 via Dead Oceans. You can stream it by heading here.