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Ten things we learned about Björk from her conversation with Lauren Laverne

Björk is regarded as a bit of a legend. As a singer, composer, producer, DJ and actress, the prolific polymath has pushed the boundaries of artistic expression for over thirty years. As she prepares for the release of her ninth studio album, she sat down for a chat with 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne to talk about everything from her love of Rihanna to her optimism for the future. Here’s what we learned...

Björk has been in the music business for most of her life. Her first official release, a self-titled album consisting of a mixture of covers translated into Icelandic and some original songs, came in 1977 when she was just 12 years old. That being the case, Lauren wondered if Björk had considered any other careers. Apparently, she would have liked to have been a radio presenter, like Lauren.

“I wanted to have a radio show where I would tell people about music they hadn’t heard”, she said. Failing that, she would have liked to have been a music teacher or pretty much anything, as long as it involved music.

She puts a lot of thought into album titles

Björk’s new album is called Utopia, but she hadn’t completely made up her mind about that when she spoke to Lauren. She usually has working titles for her albums whilst she’s recording them and just before their release she’ll go from having "about a thousand" ideas to a moment when her "brain will implode and smoke comes out and the real title will come."

As for her thoughts on Utopia as a title, she feels that "it’s good that it’s a cliché." Because her music "is awkward or weird enough as it is", calling the album Utopia allows people to think "I’m supposed to be hearing something I haven’t heard, so that’s OK." She also believes that the optimism of the title is reflected in the music on the album, but she’s not naive. She knows that if we want to experience joy in our lives, then we have to create it ourselves. "We have to bring the initiative. We can’t expect it to come from elsewhere."

She loves collaborating with other musicians

From RZA, 808 State and Madonna, to PJ Harvey, Thom Yorke and Death Grips, the list of other musicians Björk has worked with down the years is very impressive. For Utopia and her previous album, Vulnicura, she worked closely with the electronic musician and producer, Arca. "Personally I’d discovered an incredible musician of the highest degree," she explains. "I felt really blessed and spoiled that he was up for doing stuff with me."

She believes that collaborating with the right people can give you a confidence you wouldn’t necessarily have when you’re working on your own. She says that the music on Utopia "came from a playfulness of musicianship" that she shared with Arca and that they "encouraged each other to make braver decisions."

She’s not sentimental about the ways we consume music

Björk has never been afraid of experimenting with new technology in her art and when Lauren asked her what role she thought it played in our relationship to music, she made the point that we shouldn’t be precious about the form in which we hear it.

"We have to remember that things like pubs where gigs are, or CDs, or these ways of how we consume music, that’s not the norm. That was just a suggestion," she says. She believes that it’s more important to consider it the other way around and for us to ask ourselves how we would like to hear our favourite artists. She had a couple of suggestions. "Well I would love to stand next to them in the tube and they would sing to me in my ear. Or I would love to be swimming, and to come out of the water, and for their to be a choir there."

She likes her collaborators to have proper job titles

Björk works with more than just musicians and producers. From app designers and video directors to costume designers and visual artists, she’s constantly collaborating with an impressive array of creative people. She says "I’ve been blessed that I’m usually in a relationship with one or two visual people," with whom she can create strong creative bonds. "We almost don’t have to speak sometimes and you feel that... there’s some seed that you’ve planted that some fertile stuff will come out of."

She finds it useful (and a little amusing) to give these incredibly talented people proper job titles, even though they may change on a regular basis. One of her collaborators is James Merry who worked with her on the music video for her recent single The Gate. "We’ve worked together for eight years, and he lives in Iceland, and his job title keeps changing," she explained. So, what is it at the moment ? "We decided that he would be Co-Visual Creative Director with me, and it’s just the two of us, but we’ve obviously got badges." Very impressive.

She’s a big advocate of nature and technology working in harmony

Björk has always had a fascination with the natural world, as demonstrated by her 2011 album Biophilia and it’s accompanying series of educational workshops. Lauren wanted to know whether that fascination had a part to play in the writing of Utopia. "Yeah, very much so," she confirmed. "I think that if we ever needed a utopia where nature and technology can collaborate, it’s now."

She thinks that the kind of utopia we would all like to live in is one "in nature, but with a lot of gadgets that clean up the oceans and clean the toxicity out of the air." She reminded us that is something she’s been talking about for twenty years. "Now, there’s an emergency. I think we really have to do this," she affirmed.

She loves Rihanna

Björk’s unique sounding music clearly draws on an eclectic range of influences. Her sound is constantly evolving and she has experimented with genres as diverse as electronica and pop to experimental and classical. So what music does someone like that listen to ? Unsurprisingly, the five recommendations she gave us came from a broad range of the musical spectrum.

"I’m in love with Kelela," she says. "I think she’s incredible." She also had very positive things to say about the experimental pop artist Serpentwithfeet, English singer/songwriter Anohni and the Swiss composer Jürg Frey. And what about a certain R&B superstar ? "I love Rihanna. She’s the best !"

There isn’t enough time to do everything she wants to do

From an outsider’s perspective, Björk seems to have always been at the forefront of new ways of doing things and at 51 years of age, her creative energies are showing no signs of dwindling. So, how does she feel about that seemingly relentless drive to keep pushing things forward ?

"I think it has it’s downside," she says. "I wish there was five of me to do the things I want to do. My weakness is that I run out of energy to do all the things I want to do." She continues with the point that she gets too impatient to execute an idea because her head is already on to the next thing.

If that weakness means that we can enjoy new work from her for many years to come, we don’t think she should be too worried about it.

She tries not to listen to her own music

This year saw the 20th anniversary of the release of Björk’s hugely acclaimed third album Homogenic. For someone who’s constantly moving forward to the next thing, Lauren wondered if Björk ever looked back at those kind of landmark moments in her career. She says that because she tours with different bands playing different instruments each time, then she will check out her old work to see which songs would suit the band she’s currently working with, but that’s it.

"I’ve heard it so many times," she explains. "I try to hear it as few times as possible, because obviously the process of mixing it and arranging it makes you almost go numb for it."

She’s optimistic about the future

So, with such an optimistic album title as Utopia, what hope does Björk hold for the future ? "I think hope has never been as important," she says. "Just to close your eyes and imagine that we’re going to make it alive is tough." But for her, that’s even more reason to to try to make the future a better place.

She sees things happening around her all the time that give her hope, like the teenage boy who invented an ingenious way of cleaning up the ocean. "It won’t be a world of the 19th or 20th century," she believes. "It will be a new world with fewer animals, but there definitely is a way forward."

publié dans BBC - 21.11.2017

 

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