The Georgia Straight
WALLGRIN BLURS GENRES AND GENDERS >>>
In among all the praise Wallgrin 2 is getting for their debut release, Bird/alien, the artist otherwise known as Tegan Wahlgren is hearing one small note of complaint: people want to hear the lyrics more clearly.
“Sometimes it seems to frustrate people,” the singer, violinist, and electronic producer confirms, checking in with the Straight from East Vancouver. “People really want to hear the words, and they want to know what I’m saying, and sometimes I’m like, ‘But I don’t want you to know!’
“For me, the lyrics are the last thing I think of,” Wahlgren adds. “They do become important, but they’re always the last part of writing, for me. They’re often something that frustrates me and that takes me a long time to come up with. I think much more in melody than in words.”
This isn’t really a problem. Whatever Bird/alien lacks in clarity, it makes up for in mystery: the record’s gorgeous blend of acoustic violin, subtle electronic textures, and quasiliturgical singing skirts the boundary between the secular and the sacred in much the same elegant way that Wahlgren, who self-identifies as “nonbinary”, blurs gender roles.
“In one description of the album, I called it ‘pseudoreligious’,” Wahlgren says. “I’m kind of trying to imitate these tropes of sacred music that I’ve picked up over the years without actually having a personal experience of growing up with that music in the context that it’s supposed to be in.…but I’m also recognizing that I am in the modern world. Like, I’m not trying to re-create something that’s already been done. I’m melding being inspired by this kind of ceremonial past with being very much in the modern world.”
Being modern, however, also involves embracing the enduring power of myth. Part of Wahlgren’s creative strategy is to cloak personal experience in the language of archetype: the harpy and the banshee figure prominently in two of Bird/alien’s songs, and another fearsome creature emerges in a third, “Two-mouthed Woman”.
“That’s based on this creature called the futakuchi-onna in Japanese mythology,” Wahlgren explains. “The legend goes that there’s this woman who lives with a husband who is either poor or greedy, who doesn’t provide her with enough sustenance and money and stuff, so she gets a second mouth that appears on the back of her head, and this mouth will eat all the rice in their house. In secret, when the husband isn’t there, it just eats everything. There are many versions of this story. Some of the versions say that the mouth appears after her husband accidentally hits her on the back of the head with an axe, which is kind of weird. But this mouth consumes so much food, like twice the amount that a normal person would eat, so it really gets in the way of their relationship. It’s just this weird thing that the woman can’t control.”
The banshee, the harpy, and the futakuchi-onna all embody aspects of female rage or desire, but Wahlgren is less interested in advocating for female empowerment than in questioning gender itself. “I go through the world with people seeing me as female, which colours my experience of the world, obviously,” the 24-year-old musician says. “But I’m really interested in exploring why all these mythological beings and creatures that I chose to write about are female figures who have been kind of demonized—literally, in some ways. I’m just questioning why, so many times, evil or sinister beings are portrayed as female or feminine, and what that has to do with the way that people view gender in our modern world.”
Wallgrin and band will host a Cdrelease party for Bird/alien at the Fox Cabaret on Thursday (July 5). The artist will also perform solo as part of the Khatsahlano Street Party on Saturday (July 7).