Björk’s latest album, Volta (Atlantic), includes two songs produced by Timbaland, as well as a percussion-driven tune called "Earth Intruders," and a song that uses a swirl of Asian-influenced strings to celebrate sex. In other words, she goes her own way gloriously- as does her interviewer, singer-songwriter Antony.
ANTONY : Reading through the lyrics for your new album felt like reading a manifesto of ideas about personal power, breaking through fear, and living passionately.
BJÖRK : I haven’t read all the lyrics over yet. I’m still too close to the album and can’t see the whole picture. Especially with words. I’m better with music- I intuitively know the path of the piece and its sounds. More than anything I’m a real music enthusiast, I guess. I’m surprised that I ended up in the pop-star role because as a teenager I was the drummer in the band. I’m more of a nerd than a star. I didn’t do my first solo album until I was 27 ; I was quite happy being in bands until then.
A : The new CD feels very powerful and grounded.
B : Yeah. When I did the Debut [Universal], Post [Elektra], Homogenic [Elektra] thing, I kind ofjust threw myself in there. I knew at the time that it crossed the line. It was almost vulgar.
A : There’s a kind of pagan mantra that emerges in some of the new CD’s lyrics.
B : I’d been reading the news a bit too much, and I felt an exhaustion about the sense of self-importance in religious people. I wanted to remind people that there are and always have een other ways. I mean, Christianity may have existed for 2,000 years, but nature never left the building. There’s always been this insane arrogance that we’re not part of nature.
A : You’ve developed an utterly original approach to melody. What goes through your mind when you sing ?
B : When I’m performing I feel at home - which doesn’t mean that it always goes well. It takes a lot of effort to find that comfortable place. It’s partly about determining if there’s anything visual that I can "see" in the music. I have a love-hate relationship with the visual world. you’ve probably hard me moan about it. I’m surrounded by visual artists, and cinema and fashion are two of my favorite things. But then my senses get overloaded, so the minute a song starts I want to close my eyes.
A : You mentioned a second ago that performing can feel like being home. How so ?
B : It’s the feeling you get when everything’s right. It’s a childhood connection too. This may sound unrelated, but my favorite stuff in school was math. I was obsessed with it. I did all these extra classes. I remember one time when I was taking a math exam. I was the only girl in this group of boy nerds. I was writing a formula, and it felt as if I were looking under a curtain that was blowing the wind. Math and movement are where I feel at home. With people, I’m clumsy.
A : Not long ago, you made an album called Army Of Me : Remixes and Covers, which was a charity project you put together. There was some travel associated with that.
B : Yes. I went to Indonesia, to Banda Aceh, which is one of the villages that got hit the hardest by the 2004 tsunami. I was there a little over a year after it happened. People were still digging in the earth with shovels and spoons and finding bones. They were just getting to the level deep enough in the earth to find things. A woman showed me around the area for a few days. I was with her when she found her favorite dress. It was probably one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’ve ever had. And it was hilarious, because I glew from there straight back to Manhattan, to work on the latest album.
A : Did the tracks you did with Timbaland draw on that experience ?
B : Yeah. I was jet-lagged and preoccupied with the tsunami, kind of dreaming about the people.
A : A lot of artists spend their whole lives honing or refining the thing that is most familiar to them. You seem to do the opposite.
B : I have periods when I’m hungry for something new. I’m quite hungry right now. And then I have periods when I’m more domestic. I kind of make fun of my hunger on the new album in a track called "Wanderlust." It’s about the state of looking for something and almost knowing you’re never going to find it.
A : But in the search you find your joy.
B : Totally. I still get the wandering impulse, you know ? It’s like being in the airport and walking to the gate with just your passport and credit card in your pocket. That’s one of my favorite feelings.
A : Speaking of travel, what is this thing you have about boats ?
B : It’s related to the fact that my boyfriend [artist Matthew Barney] is such a city person. We were trying to solve this riddle : How are we going to handle living in Manhattan ? Because I get really claustrophobic inside skyscrapers.
A : Some of the songs on the new album are about your children. How has having kids affected your perception of life ?
B : It wasn’t that big a leap for me. I’ve got three younger sisters and threee younger brothers, so I’be always been surrounded by kids. I thought motherhood would be easy for me because I felt way more mature about it than my mother was. As for my kids, I’m very protective of them. I write certain songs about them but would never put those on a record for everybody to hear.
A : Were you happy with how the latest album turned out ?
B : I could have spent five more years on it. Easily. I’m always in such a rush.