Björk Guðmundsdóttir curls her feline body around a curtain and asks in that hypnotic voice, “May I have
some coffee, please ?” Her question moves through the photo studio like a command from a child queen,
sending a bevy of shaven-headed attendants springing suddenly into motion, bringing forth carrot shakes,
mineral water, and coffee. As bland techno pumps loudly through the chilly studio, lights are adjusted,
cameras loaded, and Björk prances gingerly into the public eye.
Taller and leaner than one would imagine, given her image as the Icelandic elfin princess of pop, Björk
gives off an air of pure professionalism. Like a cross between Greta Garbo and Betty Boop, she seduces the
camera, staring intently into its probing black eye, casting her curiously potent energies and innocence
with a faraway, though sexually-charged, gaze. Moving her hands descriptively as if speaking some private
sign language, she looks one minute like an Egyptian queen, the next like a barefoot gypsy matriarch
ready to explode into a dance passed down from the middle ages.
Björk the pop diva. Björk the natural mother. Björk the shrieking singer. Björk the fashion plate. Björk
the electronic maven. Björk the future of right now.
She communicates a character and a knowledge that is centuries old and
seemingly wise at the same time that the telegenic presence bursting
through her music heralds the new and the not-yet-defined. The middle
ages reached through the virtuality of the information age. Part Nordic
goddess, part giggly ingenue, part visionary and part opportunist. Since
unfolding her post-Sugarcubes career with the albums Debut and Post,
Björk’s exotic beauty, her distinctive vocal style—augmented by an
unpredictable tributary flow of growls, rasps, chirps, and jazzy run-off
scats—and her dead-on musical instincts have skipped her music across
boundaries worldwide, delighting her admirers and confusing everybody
else. As likely to croon a ‘40s swing tune as she is to create a symphony of
sound with weird percussion and evocative electronics, Björk has proven
to be an adventurous media darling whose music lives up to the hype.
Recently seen smooching and holding hands with producer-mixer Howie
B (most recently working with U2), Björk has shown an eagerness for
mixing work with pleasure. Collaborators often become lovers, Tricky
and Goldie having also fallen under Björk’s magical mystery spell. She is
a passionate, emotional woman who invests her music with the same
commitment and energy she brings to her relationships. But as with most
who plunge headfirst into life, Björk’s inquisitive, all-embracing
enthusiasm can sometimes backfire on her.
Homogenic documents a cathartic transfiguration in Björk’s life. A
minimalist album of Bollywood-styled strings and bruising alien beats, Homogenic signals, for Björk, the obligatory difficult or dark period that descends on many artists when
change or growth is in order. But this represents no welcome change for Björk — rather, circumstance
piling up or her doorstep like a plaque. Dealing with the loss of a lover shortly after the release of the
remix album Telegram, Björk was further confused when a deranged fan first delivered a pack bomb to her
home, then committed suicide. Recoiling from the media attention and still frightened, Björk and her
son, Sindri, left for Spain, where the sessions for Homogenic began.
Back at the studio shoot, Björk lets out an exasperated, “Whew !” showing some skin as she peels off her
costume. “Wow, I’m starving,” she says. “Can we eat ? What time is it ?” Walking clumsily down a cobblestone
street in Manhattan’s West Village, Björk’s orange pants, rhinestone-studded top and platform shoes
attract little attention from dining New Yorkers more interested in their grub. Plopping herself down in
a booth at a Mexican restaurant, Björk looks comical surrounded by pictures of Ernest Borgnine. Scanning
the menu, she orders mushroom fajitas and coffee, then leans intently over the table as if to reveal a
“I hope it’s not stupid to eat now,” she says. “I went drinking yesterday, so my stomach is not in top state.
I have to get off the alcohol.”
Confessing ignorance regarding Ernest Borgnine (“And who are the Marx Brothers ?” she asks), Björk
instead launches into one of her favorite topics the proper care and feeding of electronic music.
You know, electricity and electronics should be electronic, they shouldn’t try to
be like Japanese flute or violin. They should be proud of what they are. Almost like sincere and
honest techno noises, ‘cause often people use them as cold and nasty. I think technology is very
warm and sentimental, as well. It can be very mushy and emotional. I wanted Homogenic to reflect
where I’m from, what I’m about. I wanted the beats to be almost distorted ; imagine if there was
Icelandic techno. Iceland is one of the youngest countries geographically, it’s still in the making. So
the sounds would be still in the making
This is a darker, more minimal-sounding record than Debut
or Post. Would “reflective” and “melancholy” also be apt
The reason I called my first albums Debut and Post was because
it was like, “Björk moves outside Iceland, travels the world,
and works with all these different people, blah, blah, blah.” I
knew it would take two albums ; Debut and Post are basically
before and after. I produced myself this time. I wanted to be
me, not me visiting other places. Debut and Post were like duet
albums. Like me being turned on by Nellee Hooper and vice
versa, or like writing songs with Tricky or Howie B or Graham
Massey. This is more me.
It sounds like you’ve taken the Bollywood strings from Talvin
Singh and Tricky’s beats and made them your own.
I’m very open to learning and I love influences. But if you’ve
got a strong sense of identity you can mingle with aliens and
you’ll still be yourself. With everyone I’ve worked with, was a
big give and take. I’ve had working relationships for 20 years,
it’s a very sensitive thing, like friendships. If you have friends
for a long time its not about publishing or credits, it’s about
an emotional connection. You gave and took, there is a certain
I’ve played keyboards since I was a kid and with the Sugarcubes. Those sort of chord structures and
strings in “Joga” (from Homogenic) are my chord sounds. But I learned from everyone. I definitely
learned from Tricky, but not about beats. With Tricky, it’s the relationship he has with his songs.
It’s that abstract, you can’t point it out. It was fascinating to watch him work. Especially with how
he focused on a song and the emotions, so it really isn’t just a song anymore. He has this outrageous
faith in the focus point of the song, its like meditation. It doesn’t matter if there’s no logic in the
lyrics, or in the music. It’s still that faith. I respect him very much for that.
And my beats ? It’s just my character, really. I wanted raw hardcore beats. And for the strings, I
didn’t want any basslines. No insides, no guitars, chords, nothing When you’ve got a bassline,
everything else falls asleep, like creativity. When a bassline can get a song going, for the rest of it
you don’t push yourself. If you have to work a song like that, it’s harder Bllllllbbbhhhh (makes
blabbering sound, exasperation).
As if baring her soul to find her psyche, Björk couples unusual textures with dark emotions on Homogenic.
‘ Hunter’ evokes an eerie terrain with rolling techno beats and strings penetrating the air like a toxic fog.
‘Immature’ sports a luminous glow not unlike the work of her former boyfriend Goldie, the tune bouncing
over a hypnotic piano melody and Björk’s plaintive wail. In ‘Joga,’ she sings of being in ‘a state of emergency’
over squishy, moonwalking rhythms and romantically swaying strings. Most of Homogenic (outside of one
epic, fully-orchestrated track originally titled ‘Bertolucci’) repeats this formula of sparse arrangements.
The mournful ‘So Broken’ shows Björk at low ebb, screaming Yoko-like over dueling Spanish guitars that
seem to mock her honest revelations. Similarly, ‘Unravel’ describes a collapsing relationship with the
grace of a pensive chamber group, as a church organ weaves a melancholy melody over crunchy Trickyish
beats. While Björk seeks an answer through this daring simplicity, she creates a personality miles
away from the darling pixie image we’ve known.
I know it sounds crap, but this album is the most me yet But my friends tell me not to fool myself.
The only thing that will surprise people from me is if there are no surprises. I don’t really care. I’m
on this mission to get all this shit out of me that I was born with and just learn to express it. I feel like I’m only ten percent there. Ninety
percent is the songs I hear in my head. I
don’t even know how to express them, let
alone record them and play them for other
people. I’m trying to learn so badly before I
die. I’ve got like 50 years.
Why so minimal ?
This is just one flavor. It’s easy to hold
people’s attention if you keep changing the
instruments. Like, if you’ve got 73
trombones, then a harp. It’s easy if you’ve
got all these tricks. But to do it with
nothing—it’s hard. If you listen to Tracey
Thorn’s first solo album, it’s just her and a
guitar, yet you still get all the emotions.
That’s very challenging. Its also just me
trying to be truthful. I could play these
songs on a ghetto blaster this summer when
I go camping in Iceland. I could put them
on a mountain and play them out without
being ashamed. It will go with the
Where in the past Björk sang lyrics that could’ve come from the mouths of whimsical fairies and protective
angels, Homogenic resembles the id-baring revelations of Primal Scream therapy. In fact, Homogenic
resembles John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band period, when he searched for meaning and depth in music by
paring back to piano, bass and drums. But don’t tell that to Björk. She likes Yoko, not John.
The lyrics on Homogenic are rather reflective.
In ‘5 Years,’ you say, ‘I’m so bored with cowards who say what they want, but can’t handle it. You
can’t handle love. I dare you.’ What is that about ?
When I was finishing Post, I started singing this. Well, I didn’t know how I was going to feel. But it’s
like Bjork leaves Iceland—it’s like a Tin Tin book—and goes to these other countries. Bjork in America,
Bjork in Congo. I knew I was going to go on a mission, which was very hard for me ‘cause I’m a very
family-oriented person and though people may think I’m raving mad—and I probably am—I’ve
always had basic, little village upbringing. It was scary to leave all that. I was on a four-year mission,
I became an action junkie. If something didn’t happen for two hours I’d make a call, cut a deal, it
was really sick. I wanted action, to have this feeling like I’m risking everything or I’m bored.
Then last September everything exploded. My unconscious had asked for that. A lot of things ended
in my life. I went to Spain in the same week and crashed. I’d been holding my breath in London for
Emotionally, this album is about hitting rock bottom and earning your way up. So it’s the darkest
album I’ve done emotionally, but it’s got a lot of hope. ‘Okay, I’m on the bottom but I’m fucking
going there.’ It’s the darkest, but the bravest.
The song ‘Pluto’ almost sounds ghoulish. That line ‘I just have to explode this body off of me.’ It
sounds like you’re giving birth.
It’s about getting plastered, that need to destroy
everything so you can start over again. Having a lot in
the planet Pluto, which I do, means you want to cut the
crap, throw all the rubbish away No extra baggage. It’s
death and birth.
In ‘Immature’, you sing, ‘How could I be so immature to
think that he could replace the missing elements in me.’
Then, ‘How extremely lazy of me.’ (giggles)
Isn’t the perfect relationship about filling in those holes
in each other, so that two people become one ?
Yeah, that’s what I thought (sadly). But I don’t know,
really. I used to have all these opinions about love
because I’m fierce, a helpless romantic. What happened
is my expectations about romance were there (motions
to one side of the table, then the other), but what was
really happening was here. The elastic stretched so
much, it cracked. And now I’m more realistic about
I love so many people. Your mate doesn’t have to replace
everything. I don’t know and I’m not going to pretend I
do. It’s back to basics, being self-sufficient. Now I’m back to how I was as a kid when I used to spend most of my time alone. So I’m spending time by myself
and enjoying it very much. It sounds sad, but when I was a kid I didn’t really have friends. The most
magical moments I had in my life I had alone. Like climbing mountains or swimming or singing or
listening to music.
Why ‘So Broken’, with just your voice and two flamenco guitarists ?
I would always write songs about happy things and keep my dirty laundry to myself. I was brought
up so self-sufficient and happy and to never complain. Icelandic people are so furiously optimistic
that it’s aggressive. So for me to write songs that are not happy is a bit abhorrent. You feel ashamed
about it. The first unhappy song I wrote was ‘Possibly Maybe.’ That was very hard for me. Usually I
write all the time, but that was like nothing happened for months. Then the song came out. I was
ashamed writing a song that was not giving hope.
In conversation, as in her music, Björk gives her all. Practically leaning into me, she constantly speaks
with her hands. Gesturing, tracing outlines in the air, tapping the table to make a point, she seems without
enough limbs to express her dizzying emotions. Frowning, rubbing her face, picking her nose, bending
her neck to work out a crick, you realize that far from being a space cadet, Björk is extremely down to
earth. Not surprisingly then, she brings up the story of the stalker who planned to end her life.
I recorded ‘So Broken’ that infamous week for me, the week of the bomb. The only way for me to
write a song about it was just to take the piss. I wrote it in my house hitting the table singing, ‘I’m
so broken (in corny, overwrought voice), ole !’ I was going to have the sound of washing dishes and
three kids screaming ; it would be a soap opera. Then I went to the studio in Spain and met the
flamenco guitarist who plays on the track and stayed there for six months recording.
The stalker was sending you letters before the bomb arrived. Did you read those letters ?
No. I never read my fan mail. I’m a lazy git and I don’t think it’s right. I think I should play music
and make songs and that’s it. It’s what’s correct and what’s not correct. It’s terrible to say it, but the
best thing I could do was to write more songs.
The whole episode must have been very frightening for you.
It was really, really scary. At that time I’d been traveling for four years and I was actually in Florida
when he shot himself. Just three blocks away from him and he didn’t know. It was a night where it
was thundering and lightning. So he sends the bomb to England and I fly over to London while the
bomb is on its way. I’m coming home and it really fucked up my whole life and the idea of what my
home is. Forty media people were hanging outside my house with a lens on my toilet seat. I didn’t
feel very welcome at my own home. Of course, I cried for the man and I was very upset over his
death. I couldn’t sleep...for him. But for me it destroyed my home. I had to rediscover everything.
Me and my son, Sindri, talked a lot about it. Now home is when we meet, wherever we are. Home is
where the heart is.
Though Homogenic’s twisted rhythm panoply doesn’t include drum ‘n’ bass, Björk is a regular visitor to
London’s Blue Note club, particularly the Anokha nights led by Indian percussionist-arranger-producer
Talvin Singh, who has worked often with Björk . She has been an outspoken proponent of drum ‘n’ bass,
bodysurfing the surge while many pop stars are still testing the waters.
You’ve been into drum ‘n’ bass for several years. Can electronic music break into the mainstream ?
Of course it can. Electricity is not just a phenomenon of the 20th Century. Its been around before
us, it’s like thunder and lightning. There is electricity inside us. With acupuncture you’re putting a
needle on the electrical current that travels in your nerves. Or you walk on a nylon carpet and it
pops when you touch the wall. It’s just in this century that they made that into audio. Now you can
hear it. It’s part of our lives.
People always think the future is alien and cold. Just before Noah’s flood they all said, ‘The future is
doomed, we’re all doomed.’ It’s basically fear of change. People saying ‘techno is cold’ is rubbish.
Since when do you expect the instruments you work with to deliver soul ? You do music with
computers and get a cold tune, that’s because nobody put soul into it. You don’t look at a guitar and
say, ‘Go on then, do a soulful tune’. You have to put soul into it yourself. People are just lazy. All
cultures, like the Romans and the Egyptians, the Pharaohs and all that shit, and the English and the
Americans, they all have climaxes, and they just want to stay there. A hundred years ago you had
Great Britain, which is hilarious if you think about the title. Can you imagine Great Iceland ?
The climax for America was the ‘50s. They had this outrageous faith in plastic and nylon and
shampoo and tablets and Barbie and Ken. And they discovered rock ‘n’ roll and they had really big
cars. They want to stay there, which is completely natural. That s when they were at their best. So
Americans want to stick to Levis and leather jackets and Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll. They want to stay
there and I don’t blame them.
Björk digs into her meal heartily, asking for more “nice” coffee. The conversation wanders from her son
(she doesn’t know if she’s a good mom), the color purple (it makes her ill), Goldie (they were never married),
and Howie B (a laugh, then no comment).
You’ve said before, “I’m a very spiritual person. You can use the occult in many ways because there
is more to things than what we can see.” What do you believe in ?
My son was all slippery about the spiritual world, so I asked him, “What do you reckon moves the
planets then ?” That says it all for me. A force of nature. That’s what I think, it’s so obvious. My son
says, “Gravity, so-and-so times three.” But I say “Uh-uh.” It’s so gorgeous.
What is a good day and what is a bad day ? A bad day is when you’re out of that flow, or God or
Buddha or nature or whatever you want to call it. If you’re a planet, you go on the right track, you
won’t crash into the next one.
You give emotions full reign in your music.
Emotions weren’t created to just lie around. You should experience things to the full. I’ve got a
sense of the clock ticking. We have to feel all those things to the maximum. Like, I don’t eat a lot but
I really love eating. And I like being precise and particular. There is a certain respect in that. If you
can do your day depending on how you feel, and enjoy things as well.
Do you need a romantic relationship to feel grounded ?
I think so. I fiercely believe in family and friends and commitment. Then you’ve got some comparison
You are the sign of Scorpio, the renowned sexual predator Are you sexually adventurous ?
I don’t know. I think I’m normal. Not normal, just healthy. People’s taste in sex is usually split into
two categories. I call it rural and urban. I’m definitely rural. Top of a mountain on a sunny day or
inside a forest is wonderful for me. But a lot of people like to be inside a city wearing plastic and
fishnet stockings. I love to fiddle with it, but more out of curiosity. And I want to be wide awake,
completely sober, completely alert, not sleepy.
Washing down her meal with a slurp of coffee, Björk absentmindedly cranks her neck from side to side,
contorting her face into a painful scowl. The crick won’t leave. Having played the Tibet Festival a few days
earlier with an illustrious cast (and an eight-piece string section), Björk muses on the pious monks and
her own, slightly more earthy, character.
I want to work on my character. I think it’s in there, a good person. I don’t believe in just doing
good things, I want to feed my demon as well. One should learn to live both the demon and the
angel, you know ? But I have a way to go. People excite me, they turn me on. A new person can
trigger things in you that you didn’t even know you had. If it’s musical that’s even better The
unknown turns me on.
Did you enjoy your performance at the Tibet Festival ?
I did, but I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals
and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I
say fuck the Buddhists.