Björk, you recently reunited with the Sugarcubes and played a show in Iceland. How did that come about ? Were you happy how it turned out, and most importantly - would you do it again in the U.S.? (New York preferably !)
Sorry , won´t be doing it again , i guess it was strictly for rescuing bad taste which was on the verge of bankruptcy . Don´t know if you know about that label but it has been putting out grassroot poetry and music now for 20 years . A non profit company where most of the people that work for it do so voluntarily .we put out sigurrós and múm´s first albums for example.
I love musical collaborations, and you always pick such great people to work with. This time you’ve especially lined up an exciting cast of characters. Truth be told, I get excited any time Antony Hegarty is involved with anything (including the new Matmos album that you both appear on). Do you remember the first time you heard Antony’s voice, and/or saw him perform ? How soon after did you know you wanted to work with him ? Any good stories from your time together in Jamaica, and what eventually led you to include him on not just one, but two tracks on the new album ?
I was in my kitchen and a friend gave me a cd for christmas of this album that hadn´t come out yet . It wasn´t until later when i had gotten to know him a little we thought of working together . I guess me and antony have mutual friends in new york so we sort of got to know each other slowly ... He came to iceland and i showed him a bit of the country side . Then we sang together on couple of occations and ended up working on couple of sketches , 2 of them ended on the album ... It´s been a gorgeous pleasure to get to know antony , he is very very special . Incredibly generous person . I feel blessed .
Will Antony be around to join you at your three upcoming NYC shows at Radio City, Apollo Theater, and United Palace ? In fact, who (and what) can we expect to see at those performances ?. I know that Konono No1 (another Volta collaborator) are playing a show in NYC during the first week of May. Can I assume that was coordinated with you ?
It was a coincidence !! Not coordinated . Not sure exactly what will happen but i have asked both groups to join though . We´ll see ... ? I have been rehearsing with my band in iceland . It is 10 brass girls ( icelandic ) jónas sen on keyboards , mark bell and damian taylor on electronics and chris corsano on drums .
Future tour plans ?
I´m going to try a new thing i have never tried before , 1 month gigs one month off and so on for 18 months . Then perhaps i can do other stuff in between .
You’ve worked with the young composer before - both on ’Medulla’, and on the score of ’Drawing Restraint 9’. Nico’s resume also includes the names Philip Glass, Rufus Wainwright, and...Antony. Antony appears on Nico’s new album, and like Antony, Nico also contributed (arrangements ?) to Volta. What is it about Nico ?
He is amazing !! He is extemely versatile and quick . Very professional . He played piano on a version of oceania that actually wasn´t on medúlla but a b-side , and funnily enough the stuff we recorded for dr9 didn´t end up on the cd , i re-recorded it with brass in iceland . On volta he helped me conduct a song called pneumonia . I did the arrangement but while he was conducting he did some snappy alterations that worked better .
Who is it your own dream to work with (dead or alive) ? And, can you name any other young musician or group that you have your eye on ?
It is so spontaneous most of the time ! I never plan it far ahead . I´m also so respectful of collaborations , there has to be chemistry there and an organic feeling . I hear too often on cd-s and in films collaborations feel like “shopping”. Music is so see through you can always tell if it wasn´t genuine from the start .
but right now all my heart is with the tour anyway . But by the time i do my next album , who knows ...
Let’s talk about ’dance’...
You have often embraced electronic and dance music producers. Can you describe your early work with 808 State and how it cultivated your interest in electronic music ?
I guess as a teenager i wasn´t so much interested in what my friends were into . The punk thing : i liked the spirit but the chord structure was pretty boring and the indie thing for me was totally lame . I did like occasional band like associates , eyeless in gaza , DAF , brian eno and kate bush . I guess what these have in common even though they are different is that they were mixing electronics and acoustics , were very rhythm orientated and the musicology wasn´t so square , ( c-f-g ) more chromatic and unpredictable . And then years passed and suddenly there was 808state !! I was so excited and so were a lot of people my age that had tolerated the indiestuff and finally here was something pagan , high energy , electronic and with polyrhythms !! So i started hanging out in clubs in england around 90 and for me it had all the excitement the indie scene had lacked .
I’ve always been attracted to the collective, universal nature of electronic music. What characteristics of early dance music attracted you to experiment with the genre ? How has your relationship with dance/electronic music evolved throughout the years ? Are there any producers currently making electronic music that you find intriguing or would like to work with, either for the first time or again ?
I agree ! I also adore the whole trans / shaman element about it . It is so hopeful ! I do and will always adore a good techno track . Obviously as with every genre there is a lot of trash out there but diamonds in between ! Of fresh folks : i like the knife a lot , also m.i.a. And spank rock. Clipse ? There is tons of stuff out there i can´t remember right now ...
In your role producing, what tools, methods, or processes did you learn from your work with electronic producers such as Mark Bell and Graham Massey ? How does that contrast from working with producers who have more experience in non-electronic music.
What a great question ! I thought i would never be asked that ! It is very different . The word production in electronic music seems to span way too big range . Where in normal bands you have a bass player , a drummer , a guitarist , a keyboardist and perhaps a producer . In electronic music all this would just be called production . There is this mystery still around computers ...
I have learned a lot from these people and perhaps , which a not a lot of people know about , i have been writing beats all the way since debut . More and more . The majority of the vespertine beats where by me . Sounds like i´m bragging but i guess with a question like that i´m also just keen on educating people how electronic music is made . It isn´t that simple that one producer walks in a room and presses one buttton and the whole song comes out and then the vocalist sings on top .
You worked with Mark Bell again on Volta, how has your work together evolved over the years ? How is he helping bring Volta to life in a live setting for your upcoming tour ?
Me and mark have a gorgeous music relationship which comes from a lot of trust . I am very grateful to him on albums like homogenic , selma songs , medúlla he has had little ego enough to come into songs of mine that are almost complete , i have even programmed some of the rhythms , he has then come into it and added just the rhythm that was needed to complete the track . That is a very generous thing to do and not a lot of electronic artists are that flexible . They wanna storm into your song and change it all and make it into their own environment . Sometimes also he will let me listen to tons of beats of his and i will pick one take it home and edit to a track of mine ( like for example “wanderlust“ ) But there are also songs me and mark have done where he brought the music and i then sang on top , i think they are 3 : “i go humble” , “nature is ancient” and now “declare independence” . It is way much rarer that we work that way .
It seems that you’ve often embraced new technologies, both visually and sonically, even inviting average fans to remix your songs. Are there any new technologies that you find particularly enticing or that especially aid in your creative process ? Did you use any production tools for the first time while you were working on Volta ?
I guess the thing on volta i was most a virgin to , were the brass arrangements . That´s the place i felt like an innocent beginner . It was fun . With programming the beats into this filigree , ornament thing , i O.D.-d so much in it with vespertine which is perhaps why medúlla had only vocals . So on this one the technology was more seamless . The most natural sounding stuff on volta is actually programmed and then you get brass trying to be techno ...
Much of your work finds its way to the dancefloor. I know many who originally discovered your work through remixes. Do you have anything special planned for Volta remixes ?
I have asked a couple . And funnily enough , quite a lot of people have been asking me if they can remix . We´ll see what comes out of it .
Throughout your career, have you noticed any changes to the importance of choosing production partners ? Both from a technical standpoint and a marketing angle ? Teaming up with a producer to reach a specific audience rather than a specific sound seems to have become more commonplace.
I have sort of just done what turned me most on at any given moment . I am so emotionally driven that i have learned long time ago that if my stuff doesn´t come from my heart it simply collapses .
Because of the hairy meaning of that “production” word , it has really varied . I think every person i have worked with there has been a different working pattern / method . But for the tracks that i don´t come up with the beats , most of the time the guys supply beats and i sit for months editing back and forth and making it work ...
hip hop, or not....
How did you end up picking Timbaland ? What did he bring to the table ?
I have said this before but he was a big fan of venus as a boy , the bollywood strings and i remember him coming up to me at a party and saying he loved the bassline in that song and i felt pretty chuffed because i wrote that ! He also sampled “jóga” for a missy elliott track so we have had an eye on each other for a while . We were always going to work together one of those days . So i wasn´t really after a hip hop thing , i am just into him as a musician . It was kinda weird after we did that stuff together some hot hip hop producers contacted me thinking i was going to do a hip hop album . I was really flattered but that was not what i had in mind . I first sent timbaland some of the brass stuff i was working on but he felt it was too weird ( one of it was in 9/8 ) I walked into the studio with timbaland and he immediately played a rhythm and i sang on top even though i had a throat problem that day and 5 minutes later “earth intruders” was ready . Two hours later we had 3 tracks . I then walked away with the mutlitrack and edited it for a year and added other musicians on top . “Earth intruders” and “innocence” kinda happened in the studio with him and nate but “hope” i added on bassline later and then took it to mali , africa and toumani diabate played on top .
Are you a big fan of any specific previous work by Timbaland ? What about Hip Hop in general ?
I think he is a genius . His beats have so much of his character and have so much humour in it , not gangsta kinda prangsta ! My favorite timbaland stuff is probably “slide” and “ain´t that funny “ with missy .
My favorite hip hop stuff of all time has to be public enemy : it takes a nation of millions to hold us back , nowadays i like clipse a lot . But overall i´m not too into the gangsta stuff like dr.dre , it is not musical enough for me ... The rappers too nasal ...
RZA of the Wu Tang Clan remixed one of your songs in the past, and there were rumors of a possible single, or even an EP together. Is that still something that might happen ? Either way, can we look forward to any other hip hop-influenced Bjork in the future ?
Oops , i don´t know , i guess i don´t think in these terms . I remember missy saying she thought homogenic was hip hop so it is a little abstract to me what is hip hop and what not . I go more for emotion , i was up for action and prangsta and that´s why i was up for timbaland . I wasn´t thinking hip hop.
Almost done, but before we go...
Can you tell us at least one album or song you’re listening to - possibly right now, during and/or right before this interview, and maybe an album you’re looking forward to in the future ?
Povo que lavas no rio : amália rodrigues
Ain´t cha : clipse
Leaf house : animal collective
Throw a shadow : eyeless in gaza
Rodeo mechanique : plastique de reve
Any parting words ?
I always feel i say too much ...
Thanks again Björk. We’re really looking forward to hearing the rest of of Volta.
Thanks , warmth , björk.