The Lipster

Björk week on The Lipster

Back in October last year, in the misty early days of The Lipster, I e-mailed Björk’s publicist, telling him about the plans for our website, and what a dream it would be to interview Björk for it. I thought I was being fanciful : after all, what globe-straddling pop star would give up her time for a new internet project, no matter how much it shared her ideals and supported her ?

In late February, and after a flurry of e-mails about the site’s philosophy, plans and intentions, came the answer to that question. Björk liked the sound of what we were trying to do. We could have 90 minutes with her, in New York, for a series of interviews that would be exclusive to us. (Yes, I screamed so loudly that I really hurt my larynx.) The message was clear : Björk, God bless her, believed in The Lipster. And in turn, her act of faith meant we believed in her more than ever.

This interview, conducted on March 10 in Manhattan, has already given us a world exclusive : Björk’s first public statement about her controversial comments about Tibet. And this week, in five daily portions, we give you even more : Björk’s thoughts on fashion and film, her love of world music, how sick she is of indie boys, and, of all things, why she reckons she should join Manchester United. But first, she tells us how motherhood turned her onto feminism, which for her is the big, beating heart of her last album, Volta.

PART 1

"With Volta, it suddenly became time to for me to take the idea of being a woman on"

"When I started to make Volta, I wanted to make a record that was about people finding the roots of everything in the world. For me, that meant going down into the roots as a female, and taking the stand in 2008. It’s funny, but it was the first time for me to take the idea of being a woman on. Not like it was when I started becoming a woman when I was 13, 14, but about me taking the pulse the second time around.

When I was a teenager, I tried not to be put in the girl/boy box. I just tried to step outside it, and I did that by being creative. But sometimes, you need to be less divine like that and more human. Like a flawed human, accepting you have to address all these bits that make you up. Volta was very much for me when I walked into that flawed human thing : where I dared to be wrong. Saying, yeah ! Yeah ! This is how I feel !

"Things had gone a bit backwards for women, and I wanted to address that for my little girl"

"Vespertine and Medulla were made in this perfect bubble of domestic bliss. I was in love with a new person, then I had a baby daughter, then I was at home working then feeding, working then feeding. I was happy. But you can’t do that on and on and on, so after those records, I really wanted to make a record I found exciting for me alone, for myself. You know, it’s the same way that you don’t go to same restaurant every night for 20 years. It’s fun to go to new ones, to keep you on your toes.

But this record also had a lot to do with having a little girl. I was seeing the world through her eyes, hearing her asking me questions, trying to find answers. Because it’s different bringing up a girl rather than a boy. And the time between having Sindri [her 21-year-old son] and my daughter... in that time, things have gone a bit backwards for women, and I wanted to address that."

"Being a woman in the Bush years reminds me of the Reagan years"

"In the ’90s, you know, I’d go to dinner with friends, and we’d sometimes talk about how things were getting better for women. But in the last ten years, it was like something got stuck. I think it’s all about the Bush years. There’s this feeling of men running everything and having to be macho – the need to fill yourself up with power. It reminds me of women in the Reagan years and how it used to be. Back then, it was all about American females, how they became the most popular ones, culturally. You know, it’s not a coincidence that Material Girl was written then, was it ? I mean, Madonna had her tongue in her cheek in a way, and she’s become something else, but you can feel those eight years of Bush now like ’Woah’. But, thank God, I really think things are changing right now. People are caring a lot, lot more, and criticising the bad things with a voice that’s a lot bigger."

"You have to think ahead"

"Overall my philosophy is not to confront stuff as you’ll get stuck in a quarrel. You know, I like to be a bit more Taoist about it ! But that can also be lazy, and if you do that long time, you’re taking a back seat. Volta was an exception to that. I had to say to myself : you don’t ignore it, you take it on. But then again, if I could pick the proportion of taking it on, I’d like to take it on 10% or 5%. Not because I’m a coward, but because I don’t think that’s how you solve things. I think you have to bring up positive stuff or new stuff, and think ahead. We all know how wrong things used to be, don’t we, so why should we get stuck ? For me, it’s all about switching on ; it’s about taking time to take things forward."

PART 2

It’s Björk Tuesday, as our week of world exclusive interviews with the first lady of pop, rock, art and swan-frocks continues. Yesterday, Björk talked about feminism and motherhood, and later this week she’ll be raving about touring, pop videos and how much she loves trumpets. Today she talks about what it’s like to be a woman in pop, how bored she is of indie boys, and tells us about the ladies who inspire her.

"We have to fight against the boys !"

"I’m glad to make music these days, you know. But it’s quite weird in the mainstream, because 95% of that music now is jangly boy guitar stuff. It’s like when I was back in the Sugarcubes with those three big indie magazines. The only room in music to be a girl was to be someone that journalists fancied. It’s been surprising to me how quickly the anarchy of the internet formed into these constellations of the same things on repeat. I mean there’s lots of really good stuff, but those lads-beer-guitar bands – it’s like 95% of what’s covered. We have to fight against the boys !"

"A lot of women just fronted men-universes - they were just the berry on top"

"I don’t think there’s been any one person who’s inspired me in. Maybe Olivier Messaien, the composer, because I’ve loved him all my life – at music school, doing music theory, I first heard him when I was 10 or 11. And obviously, people like Joni Mitchell were very inspirational when I was younger because they created music that wasn’t men’s music. You know, when I was young, a lot of women just fronted men-universes – they were just the berry on top. And Joni Mitchell, seeing people like her play on TV - they weren’t anti-men, but the music they made was a woman’s world. An universe. And it was just the fact that it was possible was inspirational for me. It wasn’t like musically wanted to be like them or a singer, definitely not. I just thought that what they could create, this different place, was amazing."

"More people should take their babies on tour !"

"With the Sugarcubes, we had all kinds of offers to tour the world, when Sindri was very young. And of course I was bringing him with me. There wasn’t a clause that said I could bring him, I just did. I was doing three or four shows a week in the evening when he was asleep anyway. If you put child to kindergarten, you’ve got to be away from them 40 hours a week, in any case, you know ? I didn’t have to do that, and people loved him, so I was lucky. More people should take their babies on tour ! Maybe it’s an Icelandic thing : we’re from a country with lots of kids, so they come along with you. But maybe...saying that, I wish my mum I wish she had done more what she wanted to do when I was a little girl, because she was always running after us. I was the eldest of six – we were everywhere. But, you know, you can do the both, and I have always done the both, and my kids are really good."

"Thirty years ago, M.I.A. would’ve been an eccentric somewhere"

"I’ve noticed some women making music because of my own battles. I mean, I think M.I.A’s amazing. She’s really taking it on. She’s very important. The fact that she got heard, actually – I think that’s amazing. Thirty years ago, I’m not sure, maybe she’d be an eccentric somewhere. I mean, I remember when I was teenager that no one confessed they liked Kate Bush because she was so weird. She was always written about like ’ʎzɐɹɔ Kate’. Insane ! I don’t think she’s ʎzɐɹɔ at all, I think she seems like one of the most healthy people they are. Just because she knew what she wanted and she wasn’t a rock thing, she was weird. But I really have hope that all that is changing today, you know, everyone’s getting onto the right-brain hemisphere. Oh yeah, and more of them should listen to M.I.A.!"

PART 3

It’s day three at the Björk Gudmundsdóttir interview, and Björk is now delicately scurrying through a lunch of fish and lentils, offering me her soy chai tea latte, and wrapping her feet under her pink dress like a toddler. On Monday we talked about her new connection with feminism, while yesterday we talked about being a woman in music. Today we talk about the internet, pop videos and Björk’s wish for art to connect the brain and the heart.

"The internet is great : I like it when new galaxies are formed"

"In one way, I think the internet is great. You know, I like it when new galaxies are formed. Sorry to be poetic ! But the way people can express themselves, find people like them, talk about all sorts of geeky stuff, I love it. But having a secret name on boards and things – I know the risks too. Sometimes it’s obscene...there’s no control, so you have be healthy towards it. I wouldn’t talk to my fans like blogging, for instance. Not because I think I’m better, it’s the opposite : I find it uncomfortable that people think I’m God. I’d rather speak to music fanatics, nerds, on an equal level, really. I hope that’s not too offensive, but I’m into healthy relationships !"

"There’s got to be a mutual heart in sound and vision"

"I always want to push things with videos, the visuals are just as important to the feel of what I’m trying to do. Like with my song Innocence – getting fans to listen to the song, make their own videos, send something to us. I liked the way we opened that out. And we got 400 videos ! It was a long process going through them, because it’s tricky to get right, you know – it’s not just about finding an original idea, it’s what works with the music, the beat, the feel. There’s got to be a mutual heart in sound and vision."

"With Wanderlust too...that song’s the heart of the album. It’s a very restless heart that doesn’t want an origin, so the video had to fit that too. The song’s taking the piss a bit, it’s so intense – that’s my sense of humour, which people don’t get a lot. You know, that need for mad restlessness in the doubling up of words, like the song goes : "restless, restlessly". And even songs like Declare Independence... I mean, it is a tongue-in-cheek song for me, people don’t get that. I’ve said this before but when I was writing it thought it was hilarious – it’s like if you’re friend is heartbroken by a girl and she’s upsetting him, you can shout at him, declare independence ! Don’t let her do that to you ! Like those country and western songs with really strong lyrics, but kind of punk, when the words don’t fit to the song. People don’t realise the humour in those clashes I do !"

"I’m interested in videos, internet and books that connect the brain and heart"

"All these things, videos, the internet... I’m really interested in how they connect the brain and the heart. Right now, I’m reading a book called Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs, about the brain and its connections with music : people who see colours, the links between nature and the mind. It’s like David Attenborough, who I love, love, love – that curiosity, the big heart behind finding how things work. The best bit of it is when Oliver Sachs says about free jazz linking with Tourettes – that appealed to my sense of humour ! And another book I read called The Alphabet and the Goddess...it was about myth and language, all sorts, it mixed together science and human stuff. I like books and art that have that kind of optimism about connecting things. I think that’s very important."

"In our lonely world, the trick is to break that wall through"

"This is really poetic too, but we’re made like nature. We’re made like mountains, made of the same elements, cells go in circles, whatever. And in this world, it’s easy to be on your own. That’s what Volta was about, and when I think of the world today, art, the internet, you know, EVERYTHING, it’s the same. The trick is to break that wall through and make a connection. And it’s hard. But I think that’s our challenge. For everyone !"

PART 4

It’s four days into our world exclusive week of Björk interviews, and only a day before the Gudmundsdóttir tour bus toot-toots its way into Manchester. On Monday we talked about feminism, on Tuesday we discussed women in music and yesterday we chewed the fat about the internet and pop videos. Today we talk about touring, world music and the power of electronics – and tomorrow Björk tells us how this jaunt around the globe might be her last...

"Touring this time had to be larger that life"

"Volta is about me trying to be larger than life, so I wanted it to be like that on tour as well as on record. You know, I hadn’t played outside UK for 12 years. And playing for the first time since the Homogenic tour with Mark Bell of LFO – we go way back. He produced 50% of Volta, and arranged the vocal-songs from Medulla for instruments too, so it was like a celebration of us really, which made the whole mood really, rah ! And that’s without these big, noisy songs that really call for a huge, huge band."

"It’s important to remember the differences between cultures on tour"

"I like seeing the different reactions from the audience in different places. In South America, in Peru, they sing along really loudly and sometimes do counter-melodies I’ve never heard and they don’t even speak English that well. And they were louder than us ! Intricate things, really beautiful. In Brazil, they’re more into rhythms, picking up on polyrhythms. This song, Desired Constellations, there’s this 4/4 beat against this triplet thing, and they’re there in total sync. You wouldn’t get that in England ! In Italy they’re always singing along – [does Pavarotti impression] ’Weergh !’ They really do ! And in Germany they clap their hands perfect to the beat. I’m not a nationalist, not at all, but seeing those differences between cultures... it’s important to remember they’re there, I think, so you can play more for them."

"The Far East seems so ahead"

"I know we’ve talked about China...but Shanghai is an amazing place. I mean, they are interesting times to be there. Because Shanghai is three times New York, like New York in the 1970s, or even the 1930s. They’re like in 2020s there, building skyscrapers with 90 floors. It’s very exciting in a way, you can feel it in the air – I mean, you don’t need to have a cappuccino to wake you up because the energy there’s just crazy. But obviously that kind of future of sorts comes with other things, and the human rights issues out there I have said enough about, I think. How they’re going to react to the Western World’s interest in them... I don’t know what will happen. But I think having the opportunity to see the East, like Korea too, is very important for political understanding. In some ways, they were trying to be so ahead of anything else."

"African music changed my music"

"Volta brought out my love of world music – although I know ’world music’ is a ridiculous title. By world music, I mean not from Europe, not the USA, but the rest of the world. I’m not so into more commercial world music either because I’m such a nerd – I actually like looking for the rare thing, I’m a total snob for it. Something recorded on Japanese Biba in ’71 with amazing vocals, yeah ! But in world music, I’ve always been more into instruments than singers, really. Until Medulla I hadn’t even thought about singers. My big thing is rhythms and patterns, and a lot of African music and its relationship to rhythms just gets me crazy."

"Very early, I was into the idea of doing something with Konono No 1 from the Congo [the collective whose amplified thumb pianos provide the backing beat for Earth Intruders]. The sound they make is amazing – it’s like an electronic rhythm not stuck to a computer grid, which is very rare. I couldn’t go to the Congo unfortunately as it was impossible to get visas – you know, it’s not a peaceful place. So when the group had their trip to Belgium, their first trip out of Africa, I had to meet them. We didn’t spend very much time together to be honest, but I would like to think that it was just the beginning of something."

"Both Konono and Toumani Diabate [the award-winning kora player from Mali] – they changed my music. Toumani Diabate especially. I mean, he’s a virtuoso of highest degree. Playing with him was such a privilege, because his kora playing just makes your head want to fall off. I went to Mali for a week and we tried several things – and I’m going to meet him more often here. It makes we want to shout and scream, it’s exciting."

"Brass has real power when you use it right"

"This album, it’s funny, I went back to brass. I always do, on Debut, Homogenic...maybe because I still think I have a long way to go with brass. People think they are bold instruments, about power, that it’s this controlling army music, quite hard-edged. I think I prefer it more matt and warm and sort of human. You know, folky. Because I love trumpets, trombones, tubas, and the noise they make can be like a sad voice, a cry, a human uttering something. Brass has real power in that way when you use it right. Like on Wanderlust – making brass sound like ship flutes, something coming in, yearning for you."

"Electronic music has lots of heart"

"All music has different branches. People say electronic music is cold, but for me, it often has lots of heart. It’s another branch, and there’s just as much passion and coldness in it as the rock branch. I think people realise it lot more in Europe with dance music and stamping their feet. It still seems to be stuck in the US. There’s still this rock critic, stuck-in-the-70s attitude about electronic music being cold over there.

But, slowly, it’s changing. People like Animal Collective, who I really, really like, are changing that idea. You know, people who are dealing with electronic in very soulful, human way. In Europe we have bands like Modeselektor to look to, bands who don’t copy Aphex Twin or LFO but make music with warmth, humour and emotional scale. It’s exciting. To me, that emotional scale is very important to everything, really, it’s what makes the music work. And making it work is always possible. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not the tool, but what you do with it."

PART 5

Just like that, we’ve come to the end of our world exclusive Björk week, just as Team Gudsmundsdóttir are rigging up for tonight’s opening UK tour date at the Manchester Apollo. We hope you’ve enjoyed these five days as much as us. Click here to catch up with our instalments from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to find out what the lady herself thinks about feminism, motherhood, music and all manners of other mischief. In our last chat today, we talk about Björk’s plans for the future and how the Volta tour feels like a grand finale. Plus, as an extra Friday treat, we’ve peppered some of our favourite Björk videos around the words of the woman herself. Enjoy !

"This is the last big tour I’ll do for a long time"

"You know what’s happening with the internet and how the music industry is being in general... to me, this feels like the last big tour I’ll do for a long time. I mean, for me, as well as everything else. My daughter’s going to school in the Autumn, and when I’m touring, I feel that. But also it might be the last time I can tour with a 15-piece band, given the money in the music industry. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just means what I have to do from now on has to be more lo-fi. So this feels like a grand finale of something."

"People say you’ve changed everything again, but I haven’t"

"I’ve always got the same voice, I’m always from Iceland, every year I age one year, but people always say to me, God, you’ve changed everything again. But I haven’t. Maybe 40% is changed, but the rest is me. Like on Volta, I have a continuity song like Pneumonia that has a relative on Medulla and Vespertine – it doesn’t matter what album is happening at the moment, certain feelings are just going to come.

Maybe people think I change a lot because I always have these clashes within me all the time, and those change in importance. For instance, Iceland will always be my emotional home, but I love cities. I’m a rural person but I always like to go back to these noise. These priorities change around, and they do because I’m human, you know ? So these differences for me are part of being the same. "

"Take risks more than not take risks"

"If I had to give advice to myself as a teenager now I’d say : ’Just stick to your gut’. Have I done that ? Yes and no. 50 and 50 like anyone. You do things to please people like anyone ; you do what you think what you’re suppose to do, whatever that is. But the important thing is not get too selfish and no too cabin-feverish, try and go with your feelings but think about others. That’s what I tell my children. But definitely take risks more than not take risks."

"In my head I’m moving towards my next project"

"It’s funny touring Volta now, because already in my head I’m moving towards my next project. Because emotionally, Volta’s songs are so huge. And although it is a lot about me being in a woman some ways, Volta is quite macho too, like a warrior. I’m not feeling the warrior any more. I’ve done that. My next project’s going to be less interested in hooliganism. There’ll still be brass, lots of brass, but maybe taking it to more chocolatey places. But emotionally I’ve been too bombastic for a while, you know ? Like, hmm, Björk, why don’t you just join Manchester United Fan Club ? [punches fist in the air and sings] Oh-way-oh-way-way-oh-way ! [giggles] But if there was a time in my life for the flag and the trumpet, that’s gone for me now. It’s time to move on."

Jude Rogers

publié dans The Lipster - 08.04.2008

 

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