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The Music Room

A musical journey with Björk

(CNN) – Ask anyone what first comes to mind when they think of Iceland, and you’ll most likely get an answer like this : Extreme cold. Woolen scarves and mittens. Exploding geysers. Oh, and ... Björk.

Singer/songwriter Björk has to be Iceland’s most popular and influential export.

A founding member of break-through act the Sugarcubes in 1986, her uncompromising musical style found its way off the island and onto charts around the world.

With unforgettable hits like “Human Behavior,” “Big Time Sensuality” and “Oh So Quiet,” the Reykjavík native’s flare for fusing poetic—and often quirky—lyrics with dance beats and infectious rhythms has earned her a reputation as an Icelandic wonder.

To honor the musical career that began in her teens, Björk is expected to release “Family Tree,” a box set that will include previously unreleased material. That, as well as a greatest hits album, will hit stores November 5.

The Music Room team recently headed to Iceland to sit down with Björk for a look at her unique musical journey. Here’s what she had to say : ----

Give us the Björk music history.

Well, because I was always singing as a child, my parents sent me to a classical music school in Iceland, which I was in from age 5 to 15. When I was 11, I did an album of pop songs, which was an extraordinary experience because I was introduced to the studio. But I was not so excited about it because I just wrote one song and I wanted to write all the songs. So after that experience I wanted to be in a band with kids the same age as me, where people would all write together, like on an equal basis.

I started being in bands when I was 12, and probably was in two or three bands at the same time, changing all the time, through all my teen-age years, which was very exciting. Iceland is a very happening place like that. Probably the band that actually ended up making records was a band I was in when I was 15 called Tappi Tikkarrass. It was sort of a happy punk band.

When I was 18, I was in another band called KUKL, which was sort of a more experimental, cathartic experience. And then when I was 20 the leftovers of the band and some poets from a surrealist movement in Iceland got together and formed a band, The Sugarcubes.

When I was 27 I got quite restless and felt that after 16 years of working with bands I’d done my bit and I wanted to get selfish again. When you’re a teen-ager you crave to change your hometown, but this time around my mission was above and beyond that. It was purely about music, musical aesthetics, and nothing to do with nationality. I was lucky because I went abroad and ended up meeting people that are today probably all my best friends and will probably be my friends for life.

I did a record called “Debut,” which was my first album and I wrote all the songs—with other people of course—but still it was the first time where I presented my own universe. Since then I did another album called “Post” and then when I did “Homogenic” in 1996, I felt I’d learned enough about the studio and beats and stuff, to maybe try to do Icelandic pop music or modern music that was still international.

“Homogenic” was maybe an album where I would base songs on Icelandic folk songs and create electronic volcanic beats and try to be truthful in my origin and try to use everything that I had learned in the best way I could. Later I did “Vespertine,” which was sort of my winter album, which maybe wasn’t so Icelandic but (reflected more of an) introverted, frozen winter world.

Then I guess I felt I was at that point where I had covered both the extrovert and the introvert in me, which was more the quiet poetic universe. I decided to look back and put out an album that would tell that story and is some sort of a retrospect of that.

How have you incorporated your Icelandic roots into your music ?

Because I didn’t move away until I was 27, I’m just completely made out of this place. But as a teenager my friends and me were confronted with several riddles to solve, and one of them was that all the bands in Reykjavík were imitating foreign bands. There was some sort of minority complex about being Icelandic. Also, because we were an isolated colony for 600 years, another thing we were [led to believe] was that foreigners are evil and we shouldn’t communicate with them. We have this very stubborn type of protection shield that we won’t let foreign things in. When we were starting bands as teenagers, it was about trying to loosen up a little bit : to be proud of being Icelandic, saying Icelandic words and still communicating with foreigners and still being Icelandic. You wouldn’t lose it. That became a very important thing for me and always will be, because this is the attitude from the soil that I come from.

So now do you feel that there is still a unique Icelandic sound coming out of bands from Iceland ?

I think the energy here in the nature is incredible and I think it’s very raw and very positive and very open. I think you can hear it in a lot of the bands that are here.

Who are some of the Icelandic bands that you like, which have this Icelandic sound ?

There’s a band that a lot of people know about called Sigur Rós. They’ve got so much integrity and are so true to themselves. They are very Icelandic, whatever that means, but still are not painting themselves into a corner. They are still communicating above and beyond a level that people all over can relate to. That makes me very, very happy. I also like a band called Múm, which I think of as [part of] the laptop generation.

What’s your all-time favorite video ?

It’s very hard for me to pick because they’ve all got memories. It’s like a photo album. Off the top of my head, “All is Full of Love” that Chris Cunningham did. Another one might be “Jóga” that I did with Michel Gondry, which is definitely one that we did together. It’s based on nature and how I experience Icelandic nature.

What do you have planned for the future ?

Musically, I feel that I’m just beginning, now that I’ve learned a lot of things, both about studios and about myself and after all the collaborations. I’ve learned a lot from all the musicians I’ve worked with. In a way doing this greatest hits album, you kind of empty your attic or something, you’ve got a clean slate. I think it’s time to get a lot more slates and start a lot more serious work. I still feel I haven’t done it as well as I’d like to, so I have far to go. But I’ve been brave so far. I’ve learned a lot of stuff. But I think when I’m 80 and I look back, the best stuff I’m most proud of, I’ll probably do when I’m about 50 or something. So I’ve got to keep up the hard work.

publié dans CNN - 18.10.2002

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