With Dead Magic, Anna von Hausswolff freed herself from a dark place
Swedish organist Anna von Hausswolff has made the most aesthetically adventurous album of her career with Dead Magic (City Slang). The record, her fourth, opens with an eerie 12-minute suite called “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall,” rebounds into sinister, chain-clanking blues howler “The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra,” downshifts into 16-minute cathedral-echoed epic “Ugly And Vengeful,” then gets Carnival Of Souls creepy with the haunted-sounding “The Marble Eye.” But there’s just one problem: She has no recollection of exactly how she managed to compose this magnum opus.
“I know it sounds unbelievable, but when I was making it, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says. “I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t present.”
This Gothenburg-raised iconoclast—the daughter of avant-garde artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff—isn’t joking. After touring behind her last effort, 2015’s The Miraculous, she returned home and promptly fell into a funk. She did her best to keep up appearances, staying social and going out with friends. But inside, something had shifted.
“I was exhausted, and I felt like I had lost my imagination,” says von Hausswolff. “Or my own imagination was trying to project the idea that it was dead or gone or missing. It was very strange.”
She can’t pinpoint the nadir. The darkest days floated into each other, until they coalesced into an all-encompassing ennui. “It was this state of mind where you feel like nothing you do matters, like nothing you do is of any value—everything had lost that magical shimmer,” she says. Hence the oxymoronic album title.
The 31-year-old von Hausswolff soon discovered that the only way out of her dire situation was just to stay busy. She began to write new material, most of which would end up on Dead Magic. “I was very confused, not really sure of what I was thinking or doing,” she says. “I only knew that I had an urge to get out of that depression and to become more physical in my way of delivering my vocals, so I could get a connection that triggered my emotions again. So I really pushed myself to the perimeters.”
Gradually, her curiosity was rekindled. Listening to her feral snarling on “Electra,” however, she’s hard pressed to recall her motivation or even its lyrical theme. “That’s just what came out of the dark place I was in,” she says. The effort was written almost automatically, in 2016, then tracked a year later in Copenhagen by producer Randall Dunn, with von Hausswolff utilizing that city’s vintage Marmorkirken (or Marble Church) organ, the type of imposing instrument with which she’s most familiar. Now the songs are beginning to transform and blossom as she seeks to understand them, imbue them with deeper significance. What did she learn from her mojo-losing experience?
“That even if I start projecting destructive ideas onto myself or thinking my creativity is gone, it’s never gone,” she says. “It’s just your dark imagination working its way into your brain. It’s very strange how the mind works and how you can react to it.”