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Tallest Man on Earth bringing a bigger sound to the Midland

Kristian Matsson, who performs as the Tallest Man on Earth, will perform Thursday at the Midland, his first appearance in Kansas City.
Kristian Matsson, who performs as the Tallest Man on Earth, will perform Thursday at the Midland, his first appearance in Kansas City. Cameron Wittig

Kristian Matsson is a diminutive songwriter from Dalarna, Sweden, who performs as the Tallest Man on Earth.

He has been releasing albums since 2008, filling them with delicate folk songs and poetic lyrics, drawing comparisons to forefathers such as Bob Dylan and Nick Drake and contemporaries such as Justin Vernon, also known as Bon Iver.

Thursday night, the Tallest Man on Earth will perform at the Midland theater, his first appearance in Kansas City.

Matsson is touring on his latest album, “Dark Bird Is Home,” and instead of performing solo on open-tuned acoustic guitars, he is bringing a four-piece band.

From Wisconsin, where Tallest Man on Earth recently performed at Vernon’s Eaux Claires Music Festival, Matsson talked with The Star about social media, touring with a full band and baring his emotions on his latest album.

For the first time, you’ve been touring with a full band as the Tallest Man on Earth. How has that been going?

We’ve done about 30 shows now, and it’s been wonderful. They’re amazing musicians, people I’ve known for a long time from other bands — Bon Iver and S. Carey. I was pretty blessed they weren’t touring and had time to be part of my band.

Who is in the band?

Mike Lewis plays saxophone, clarinet and bass; Mike Noyce plays viola and electric guitar; Zach Hanson plays drums and synthesizer; and Ben Lester plays pedal steel, piano and synthesizer. And they all can sing.

How did you adjust to playing with four other musicians instead of by yourself?

There was some adjustment, but I’ve played in bands before. In the shows, we all play together, then the guys walk off and I do songs solo like I always have. Then they come back and we play together. We rearrange some of the old songs for the band.

What prompted you to tour with a band this time?

Some of the shows and festivals I was playing started to get really big. It was draining to do that every night solo; the psychology of it became difficult. There was no one to share the feelings with or talk with. This music sounds amazing with a band, and the camaraderie of being able to share these moments with beautiful people and amazing musicians feels so good. I feel really lucky.

You once said that fame is not a destination but can become a consequence of what you do. You are a performer who cherishes his privacy. How do you balance that these days with all the social media outlets and fans’ hunger for information about their favorite band and musicians?

There is so much you can do that I don’t. I do some interviews here and there, but I say ‘no’ to most, and I don’t do social media.

I have friends who are way more famous than me, and it can become a hassle for them. I want people to come to my shows and to listen to my records, and I also want to live as much of a regular life as I can and move freely in the parts of society I want to write about. If you become super-famous and have to hide out, what is there to write about?

When you look at social media, you can see so much information about new bands and new albums and you almost get tired of hearing about it before you even listen to the record. Fans are so much more ambitious and better at finding things, but we don’t have to put everything in their faces.

Your latest album, “Dark Bird Is Home,” is about something personal and painful: the dissolution of your marriage. What’s it like to share such personal experiences onstage every night?

It is very emotional, and it is difficult some nights. My ex and I are really good friends. We did a show back home, and she was in the audience. It was very intense and emotional. But … it would be way easier to sing about lying on the beach, but this is what I needed to do.

So this album was something of a necessary catharsis?

For me, a record can’t really resolve anything, but it’s a good way to release energies that have built up inside you. When I got to the studio, I used it as an outlet. Some things got too graphic, so I had to edit myself. It wouldn’t be fair to the people I was writing about, so I dialed it back a little.

Songs like these can really connect a songwriter to an audience because they express feelings most people can identify with.

It’s a pretty universal subject. People go through breakups and lose people they love. I lost a family member who was very close to me, a grandfather I spent a lot of time with growing up. So there was a lot of things going on. I was lucky to be able to channel those feelings into music instead of destructive things. I used to drink alcohol, but I don’t anymore. I put all my energy into creativity.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


The Tallest Man on Earth performs Thursday at the Midland theater, 1228 Main St. Basia Bulat opens. Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $28 day of show.