(By Fredrik Kalstveit / Translated from Norwegian)
– I don’t know if I believe in death, says Helene Alexandra Jæger (33), also known by the artist name Holy Boy. She maneuvers a convertible up Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. The wooded valley, which among
locals is simply called The Canyon, is one of the most mythologised areas of rock history.
Frank Zappa bought a bungalow here in the 60’s. Soon after, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young settled in their own hippie shacks. Also in the neighborhood were the members of The Mamas and The Papas and The Byrds.
It may not be a coincidence that the latter band wrote the song So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star right here. It is late afternoon and flamingo clouds are departing over the crowns. A triple spout lights up from the car in front of us. The traffic in the usual Los Angeles way has corked.
We wind past the Laurel Canyon Country Store, where firewood is advertised with the phrase “Come on baby, light my fire”. Beyond the country store is the ochre-yellow house where Jim Morrison lived when he recorded into Waiting for the Sun.
– I read a scientific article in Time Magazine a few years ago, where it was said that death was theoretically impossible. For life to end, it has to cease, but nothing stops, it just changes shape, says Jæger.
– Maybe Jim Morrison is still hanging around here, it can often feel that way. The relationship between death and life is also a recurring theme in Holy Boy’s lyrics. At the age of 33 she also feels that she has managed to live several lives.
In a previous life, she lived in Bergen and worked as a journalist. Later she studied history at the university and spent her free time meditating. Then she decided to focus on music and a new life opened up. Along the way, she also fell into the world of K-pop.
A few years ago, just after she had uploaded some songs on the internet, she was contacted by Claire Alliot, manager of The Libertines and Charli XCX. Alliot said she liked Jæger’s music and that she wanted to develop her as a songwriter. Jæger was signed on as a test and sent to a songwriter meeting in England.
– It was a strange experience. We were 30 songwriters who were housed in tiny rooms in groups of 6. We sat there for 16 hours a day composing songs. One day we were asked to write a Christmas song for a K-pop band. The work process was assembly line, but I was willing to give it a try. Many good Motown songs were made in similar ways.
Still, she quickly found that this mode of creating didn’t suit her, and she soon went back to developing her own alternative soundscape under the artist name Holy Boy – a type of music she says is not easy to put into booths, but which might be classified as “tropical- Gothic Organ Rock”.
Or, possibly: “trippy, at times hypnotic, but also dark, inspired by neon nights and beat poets”. In other words, it sounds a bit like Los Angeles in the 60’s. Love and The Doors are also important sources of inspiration. However, moving to Los Angeles was not a long-standing dream. Los Angeles was just something that happened. She was taken there. Little by little.
One year she was invited to play at a festival in New York. Then to a festival in Toronto and South by Southwest festival in Austin. The festival performances helped her get more acting jobs in Los Angeles and then it was fitting that British producer Dylan Long, with whom she had worked previously, decided to move to the movie capital in 2017.
Suddenly she was a full-time Los Angeles musician and in the team with Long she has now made an album that is coming out later this year. In November, Jæger, or Holy Boy, was also nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award for the song Elegy, which she released in 2018.
We roll onto Mulholland Drive, known from the David Lynch noir classic of the same name. The road turns and winds past walled villas with tall fences. It’s dark and the headlights light up occasional bits of extravagance. In a flash you can see a marble statue that imitates a reptile. A moment later, a pool boy standing on the shore of a swimming pool and fishing for palm leaves with a net.
In the Mulholland Drive movie, the main character enters a kind of dream state when she arrives in Los Angeles. She is able to separate the real from the unreal. In her dream life she finds love and makes a career as an actress. In reality, most things go wrong.
– I think many people find that the distinction between reality and dream is fluid in Los Angeles, just like the distinction between life and death. That’s probably because of the film industry, but not just that. There is also something unreal about the city itself, says Jæger as we whiz through a new turn while the recently deceased Scott Walker croons over the car stereo.
She leans to the side, turns down the sound with her index finger and thumb, both with black painted nails.
– Do you know Vampire Weekend, the New York band? They said they felt they had come to the afterlife when they moved to Los Angeles. I completely resonate with that description. Things don’t have a natural start or end here. It is summer all year round and you drive around this misty landscape of palm trees.
Jæger points out the house where she thinks David Lynch lives. A little later the house where she heard that he works. Through the foliage you can glimpse a glass facade facing west Hollywood.
She says Lynch has been influential for her work. Recently she saw his lecture series on the internet and she has also read his book Catching The Big Fish. – He talks a lot about not having to think too logically when working creatively. That you must listen to your intuition. When I write songs, I am very aware of both what is happening around me and inside me.
Often, writing happens at night. She says that it gives her a special feeling to sit up when it is otherwise just the animals that are awake. An owl usually comes flying and sits on the balcony outside her room. Along with the avian that looks like “a disinterested cat with wings”, she
has written songs about solar eclipses and lunar eclipses, planets and humans.
Sometimes she also takes the writing pad with her and drives around the Los Angeles hills, like now. It gives her the feeling that she runs in and out of fictions, in and out of reality. – In a sense, reality is a dream. We all live in our own version of reality, but I also accept some kind of objective reality, that is. It’s not that I think that what’s happening here and now isn’t happening in real life. That it’s just a fiction that I drive this car, for example.
She keeps a firm grip on the steering wheel, as if to confirm that she does not intend to make any sudden turns off the road. – But I work actively to make my reality as rich as possible. I think we are missing out on a lot of interesting information if we close ourselves to anything that is not tangible. Our senses do not capture everything. There are colors that the animals see that we do not see, such as ultraviolet, for example.
The letters in the Sunset Boulevard window are neon red. One of the first things Jæger noticed when moving to Los Angeles was all the psychic stores and she has suggested that the drive should end here, as she would like to speak with a so-called clairvoyant about the ghosts of Los Angeles. “When you’re in a new place, it’s fun to test out new things,” she says, killing the engine and a Frank Ocean falsetto.
Behind the illuminated glass window stands a white leather lounge. Just beyond, on the glass table with the mermaid’s shelf, is a tarot card waiting to be shuffled. While Jæger is paying for parking,
yours truly calls the number on the door.
The voice at the other end says that she only does palm readings at this time of day and that it costs $100 per palm. I say that’s a bit much. She says she feels strong energies from me. I say the reading is not for me. She says I feel even stronger energies from a person within my mental radius.
Jæger and I agree to go to a fortune teller in Studio City the next day. Later that evening, Jæger sends a text message in which she writes that she doesn’t want to appear gullible and emphasizes that she doesn’t goes to psychics all the time. In fact, she has only been to a fortune-teller once before. I say that it will be made clear in the article that this is not something she does often – and night turns to day again.
Palm trees sway on Ventura Boulevard and it quickly turns out not to be so easy to fly on the wall with a camera in tow. The fortune teller Jæger has an appointment with, says it’s bad luck if pictures are taken during the reading. In the second psychic salon slash bookstore, which is
conveniently located just down the street, the operator says “come outside” as soon as he sees my camera.
He looks like one of the Church of Scientology gatekeepers, taking a broad-legged stance on the sidewalk. His hands resting on his hips are wrinkled while the facial skin is tight as on a freshly rolled pizza dough. It is not easy to tell whether it is the situation or the plastic surgery that makes him look angry and scared at the same time. He asks why I brought a camera. Then he spits out another question before answering the first one.
A few minutes later, I go back to the bookstore to tell Jæger that it might difficult to get a reading, but then two things happen that seem taken out of a David Lynch production. First, the music changes from a Mongolian throat singing to the familiar melody to the cult series Twin Peaks, Jæger’s favorite series. Then a fortune-teller emerges from the shadows. She says that she doesn’t care about the camera and that she would be happy to do a tarot card reading at Jæger.
The High Priestess
There is incense in the back room and Persian rugs hang on the walls. The braids of the fortune-teller dangle around as she shuffles the cards. In the first card that lands on the table, sits a woman in a gold chair. She is wearing a sky blue robe and a saintly crown.
“The high priestess,” says the fortune teller, tapping her index finger on the card. – You are the moon in people’s lives. She says Jæger must learn how to handle her energy. That Jæger has a voice that gives people a language to heal their woes. She says that Jæger must protect her voice. Then the fortune teller stops. She points to a card, where two beggars sit outside a church window.
– Some people will plead with you and try to take your value from you. They will promise you money and fame, but you must rely on your own power. You are not the sun, you are the moon. You are 100% high priestess. Do not forget it!
Jæger leans forward and says “interesting” more frequently as the minutes go by. The fortune-teller talks about how the moon orbits the sun. She says that the moon only appears to humans partially and on occasion. Then the fortune-teller forms an imaginary binoculars with her hands, as if looking into a distant future.
– You’re going to be a global artist, but the road is more important to you than the goal. – Exactly, says Jæger. – I want to make music that means something to me. I’m not looking for fifteen minutes of fame.
The alarm bell rings. The session is over. Rock ghosts and death will have to wait. Outside it is winter at 82 degrees. The sun is still shining.