His mind is wandering, and it's difficult to pin down. All day long he's been buzzing through the brisk and beautiful New York City winter, from the hotel to the venue, and the busy streets between. It's his first real US tour, and it's a rush. Currently the Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Matsson) is backstage at Town Hall, awaiting sound check and attempting to answer my questions. Most responses end with "I don't know" or simply trail off. The deflective responses remind me again of Bob Dylan, whose sound and lyrical mastery the Tallest Man replicates with profound aplomb.
Like Dylan, the Tallest Man has apparently no explanation for how his stinging songs came to be, or if he does, he's not sharing. But certainly it's hard to imagine Dylan himself taking time to plot a course. If he had, he'd probably be in a different position today—without all the heartache, money troubles, and agoraphobia. He was simply a divine vessel through which an inordinate amount of brilliance flowed.
One could waste a lifetime trying to dissect an artist so brilliantly obtuse as Dylan, or in this case, the Tallest Man. You may get a little closer, but only to the periphery. Indeed, one need not intellectualize to benefit from the best intellectual work. It affects the same place it often arises from: the gut. Still though, the Tallest Man is an interesting creature, begging questions even if they don't have answers.
Such as, how does a kid from Sweden pen better lyrics in his second language than most Americans do in their first? Well, he says, he studied from an early age, and the American TV shows in Sweden aren't overdubbed. "It's a lovely language," he says of English, adding, confoundingly, that he doesn't speak it well. Tell that to lines like, "Deep into the orchard we will stumble on the skin of snakes," or "I will boil the curtains to extract the drugs of springtime."
Or, why does he sound so much like Dylan? The resemblance, in the nasally vowels, pulled phrasing, and fabulous picking, is uncanny, and one I do not take lightly. Few dare imitate Dylan, and even fewer should. But with the Tallest Man, somehow it works. "It's just how it happened to be," he says. "If I had listened to a lot of Townes Van Zandt when I was 15 I'd probably sound a lot more like Townes Van Zandt."
Okay, but isn't it equally likely that, on some far-gone tour, a young Dylan, the confounding, shape-shifting magician, breathed some wispy vesper into the body of some unsuspecting but ripe Swedish girl who would later bear the Tallest Man?
Of course, there are differences. Hailing from Sweden, far, far away from the cultural strife that fueled Dylan, the Tallest Man avoids the traps of addressing social Americana that plague other Dylan imitators. His words instead dance over love, loss, and existentialism.
"I don't want to think about it," he says earnestly. "I just want to write songs." And if these beautiful creations that, like Dylan's, miraculously encompass both everything and nothing, are strictly Dionysian, fine. Let them rain down.
Backstage at Town Hall, a voice calls out. Very politely, the Tallest Man says he must go, but he's happy to continue our conversation later. It's a generous offer, but unnecessary—there's really nothing left to say. The rest is in the songs.