Björk‘s endlessly roving career has lasted some 30 years now, ranging from cover versions of UK disco diva Tina Charles to performances of the work of Arnold Schoenberg. Although she enjoyed spectacular success with the Sugarcubes, she was conspicuously trapped in their indie cage and set out on a solo career in the early ’90s which saw her collaborate with the likes of Nellee Hooper and Tricky, on a series of extravagant albums which veered wildly from house to jazz to avant pop, with only the shrieking tricks and tropes of Björk’s inimitable vocals as the constant factor.
Though regarded, in part perhaps because of her Icelandic origins, as an eccentric, Björk has certainly opted for more visually extreme tactics in recent years, as if she herself has evolved into a living, breathing piece of art, a human vortex where great things happen. However, her last three albums, Vespertine, Medulla and now Volta, have also seen her develop into an artist of great composure, range and maturity. As is Björk’s wont, Volta features a whole roster of collaborators, including Timbaland, Antony Hegarty and LFO’s Mark Bell. Lyrically, the album reads like a manifesto of independence (with Konono No. 1 literally banging the drum) and the necessity to retain a sense of musical curiosity, something which Volta certainly lives up to. The persistent use of brass is particularly ingenious, conveying grey, moving seas of memory and yearning. It’s as good an album as she’s yet made.
eMusic: Congratulations on the new album — do you consider this record a separate body of work from those you made prior to them? They seem to be functioning on another level.
Björk: Thanks! I definitely feel I am getting better and better at what I do, and if I listen to Debut now I really don’t understand what people were on about. Vocally it is confident, but musically it is not so good. I am still a long way from what I think is good music, but for someone who is only 41, this is not bad. Give me another 30 years!
eMusic: I really enjoy the “brass concept” on the album. I was wondering if you were at all influenced by Alvin Curran‘s Maritime Rites? Or did the inspiration come from elsewhere?
Björk: I have not heard that album — I will try to find it. I guess I was more thinking of the ship horns of my childhood mixed with my cravings for hi-energy stuff. Also, I just love the rudeness of it.
eMusic: On songs like “Wanderlust,” you seem to be making a particularly strong artistic statement of intent about the need for difference, for independence. Were you very conscious of that?
Björk: Emotionally, yes. I dreamt my girlfriend lifted up Iceland like it was a carpet and showed me what’s underneath, convincing me how marvelous it is. That was the inspiration for the verse. Then she flew above it in circles for the chorus. For a whole year that melody was swirling in my head, and then finally I made a decision that the lyric would not be her point of view, but mine — declaring the boat my home and my relentless restlessness my anchor.
eMusic: Had you been familiar with the work of Konono No. 1 for a long time? What is their special appeal to you?
Björk: I heard them first about a year and a half year ago. I adored immediately how organic they were — electronic rhythms that are not tied to a computer grid are extremely rare. So I fell for them.
eMusic: One of the things I really enjoy about Volta are the duets with Anthony Hegarty. The lyrics are very moving and yet quite formal, almost like a Shakespearian sonnet or literary exercise. Was that the idea?
Björk: Not consciously, but perhaps the reason it worked was that there is something of that time in Antony. I hadn’t thought about that before — it’s interesting!
eMusic: Is there a reason why you like to use such a wide range of collaborators — from Timbaland to Min Xiao-Fen?
Björk: I decided to not be logical and just have fun, to contact anyone that would turn me on and trust that even though it would appear schizophrenic, there was a core in it that would hold it together. Later you can look back and see the logic in it. (Surprisingly, this record comes out exactly 12 years after Post. Which had a similar quality: a lot of diverse collaborators. On that record all of my collaborators were English, but this time around they are from around the globe. I guess the combination of the Year of the Dog and the Year of the Pig does that to me. I get a bit restless about going out a bit more and connecting with people.
eMusic: On your previous work, on singles and albums, your voice has very often been the most striking element. Here, I feel that is less the case — that it is one of many key components, with things such as the arrangements taking equal importance. Would you agree with that?
Björk: Thanks, I like you heard it that way. Perhaps it has just taken me a long time to finally make music I thought could be pushed that far? I’m not sure.
eMusic: For me, perhaps the album’s most troubling song is “Hope.” Could you talk a little about that?
Björk: You probably mean the lyric. I guess I felt that female suicide bombers needed a ballad. They are people too, you know. I am not siding with them or against, I’m trying to understand what drives them. I came to the conclusion: “Nature has set no limits to our hopes.” But it´s actually more about how the media perceives them, how the media are setting out to be neutral, but in reality they’re not. I read this news item on that suicide bomber and first the press was kinda angry at her because it was believed that she had faked a pregnancy to get into a hospital to blow up people.
What rubbed them the wrong way [was] that she was playing with something as sacred as pregnancy in the name of terrorism. Then [a] couple of days later they found out she was actually pregnant for real, and then if you read in between the lines she was kinda forgiven. At least she felt so strongly for her cause that she was ready to sacrifice her fetus for it. I thought that was very strange and sort of demanded another question: since no-one died, did her fetus then die in vain? So the song is more about the fact that morality suggested by the press seems a little hairy. In the end, finally, my point of view comes: “Well, I don’t care/ Love is all/ I dare to drown/ to be proven wrong.”
eMusic: There is a popular image of Björk as “kooky” or “eccentric,” which very often reflects on the people making those sorts of descriptions. Is this something you find irritating or something that you can actually use, like a “mask,” or as a means of smuggling interesting ideas into the mainstream?
Björk: I sometimes (very rarely) wish I could be that utilitarian about it, but it is too close to home for me to get any distance on it. I am just the way I am. That’s about as complicated as it is. I really don’t think I am kooky or eccentric. I am a pretty healthy, hardworking, down-to-earth, nature-loving individual.
eMusic: What are your future plans, musically, as you travel from “island to island”?
Björk: Right now I am about to start a 18-month-long tour, so that is where my heart is. I hope we can grow through the tour as I get to know all the musicians better and give as much to the listeners as I can. But I have a life, and I hang out with friends and family too.