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The Big Meltdown

It didn’t take all that much to warm up to Iceland’s Björk

Björk Guðmundsdóttir didn’t see her first tree until she was 9-years-old. It was a trip with her grandfather to Bergen, Norway, from the barren, volcano-ridden land of her native Iceland which accounted for the opportunity. Björk saw the beauty of nature beyond her acquainted elements for the first time in her life, and translated that experience, two years later, at the tender age of 11, into the release of her first record—“Björk”—which sold 5,000 copies in a land with roughly 265,000 inhabitants.

From there, Björk has burned the musical candle on both ends. She helped start the first indie record label in Iceland, Bad Taste Records, ran a radio show, published poetry books, and composed music for dance companies and soundtracks. She founded one of the most innovative and perfectly pop outfits in the Sugarcubes and has enjoyed a highly successful solo career.

Nowadays, the somewhat coy, yet so succinctly sweet Björk is becoming one of the most innovative female artists of her time, not to mention a Nordic warrior goddess as well. (In February last year, Björk went ballistic on a reporter at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport). And now, she has reinvented and recycled herself yet again, with the release of “Telegram”—a remix version of 1995’s “Post,” which expands on the eccentric bells and whistles first touched on with 1993’s “Debut” and later “Post,” and tweaks and toys with them in such a manner that the record feels like a completely new effort. Björk will follow, in the Fall, with a completely new effort, tentatively titled “Homogenic.” Rollingstone.com caught up with the Icelandic pop diva after a recent in-store appearance at a New York City Tower Records. We were happy to be there. ----

How did the in-store go ?

I think it went really well. I come from a punk background where we’re so hard, people would ask us for autographs and we would grab their jumpers and go, “Get a life !” We believed in the whole thing about anarchy and everybody is equal, the rule of the majority and how on earth are you supposed to change one person’s life when somebody else scribbles their name on a paper card ? But I have never been particularly fond of being in that position and I try not to encourage it. Because playing music is different, when you’re on stage with a 1,000 people there—you are just as much into what you are doing as they are—you just happened to have that job, and you sort of transfer it or whatever. But what really made it for me was Rizla from Wu-Tang Clan. He turned out for support and that made my day.

Let’s talk about your music. What made you decide to do a remix rather than a completely new recording ?

Well, basically remixes are usually done to make a record more radio-friendly or more sellable. When I think of that word remix, it’s recycled, like trash. But for me, the word remix means “alternative version.” It is just another word, in the age we’re living in now, for a variation. It’s like Bach—his symphonies were not completely written out so every time he played them, they would be different.

So you knew you wanted to do this while you were in the studio recording “Post” ?

Yeah, when I started doing “Post,” I already had certain people in mind to remix the songs. I had an idea for a song and I would write it and be recording it and I would think “O.K., this guy could do a brilliant remix ... like go that way with the song which means I could go completely the other way with it. Sometimes I would go up to a person and say “Here’s the song and let’s do this version and maybe it will be a remix or maybe it will be the main version, I don’t know.” Basically, it’s the old “there are many sides to every story” story.

I was hoping for a remix of “It’s Oh So Quiet” ...

Well, that wouldn’t make sense because it was a song I covered on “Post” so for me to cover myself covering someone else is a bit like eating your own tail. It’s getting a bit too recycled there.

Makes sense. Let’s talk about the stalking incident.[Editor’s Note : In September, officials from London’s Scotland Yard intercepted a lethal package sent to Björk by 21-year-old Ricardo Lopez of Hollywood, Fla. Lopez had videotaped his own suicide while listening to Björk’s “I Miss You.”] Has your life changed in the aftermath ?

Not really. It happened. Apart from the drama of that week, and me not sleeping and crying my eyes out because of him and trying to send his parents flowers, which they got but what’s that gonna do ? And that sort of thing. It changed my life because paparazzi guys started hanging outside my house, and I had to move from England. Which is kind of a strange consequence of an event like that. So, I had to rent a house in Spain.

Are you at all fearful today over things like that ?

I can’t be. It’s the same thing as I was describing with the in-store. It is not the best energy. I appreciate the intensity of the emotions that he was feeling. I’m not saying it’s right but I can understand it and I understand the intensity of the other people who were in the in-store. But I can’t take it personally, if it wasn’t me, then it would be someone else. And it is more about music than about me, more about people who don’t feel great and somebody’s record makes them feel better.

Is it strange listening to “I Miss You ?” Has the meaning changed for you at all ?

No, not in that way. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t brush it off my shoulder. It was the most difficult week in my life and I don’t think I will ever have a more difficult week, ever. And I am still recovering from that week. That was the bottom and I am not ever going to go that far down, ever again. I am not going to ever let that happen. There is no way. But “I Miss You” is a song me and Howie B wrote together. We call each other and say, “I miss you !” That’s me and Howie’s song.

There’s an article in “Men’s Journal” that basically states the most beautiful women in the world come from Iceland. True ?

People used to talk about it when I lived there and we used to laugh it up. I don’t think it is particularly beauty in that sort of classical sense, but if the people appreciate a radiance, then yes. In Iceland, even in the city, it seems like you’re always outside because nature is there and there are mountains and blizzards and we have to live in balance with nature. I think it is that kind of radiation because people are so alive in Iceland.

Another thing, people are very individual in Iceland. Some of the Vikings that were living in Norway couldn’t stand the cruelty—vikings were the rebels—and that was even too strict for some of them. So they went to Iceland and formed the first democracy in the world in 930 A.D. I was just talking with my mate about when we were going to a couple of restaurants in Iceland and you look at the women there ... nobody tells them what to do.

Do you ever regret the break-up of the Sugarcubes ?

No. It was the way it was just meant to be. Six years after we started Bad Taste Records, we formed the Sugarcubes as a joke.

A joke ?

Well, not exactly a joke, but there were three poets who were actually in the writers union in Iceland in the Sugarcubes, and we were trying to change things—big time—which I think we actually did a little bit. We were trying to stop narrow-mindedness. I am very proud of that period in my life. But it is very important to stop things when they are finished. And it just wasn’t right for us to get into a situation where you’re having one of the most promising writers in Iceland playing bass and he hadn’t written one thing in four years because he was doing a sound check in Texas. We just got drunk on weekends and decided to start a pop band with one poet on bass and another poet on guitar. And ironically, it became the best one thing we’ve ever done.

Kevin Raub

publié dans rollingstone.com - 23.01.1997

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