Time off

The Venus Volta

MORE DANCEABLE and upbeat than its 2004 predecessor, the peculiar Medúlla, Björk’s new album Volta is something of a return to her roots.

“I just wanted to get rhythmic again,” Björk says. “Medulla was my way of pulling out of that, refusing to be categorized.”

Björk recorded most of the album before delving into the rhythms and, despite a lot of experimentation, admits to trashing all the rhythms she created with programmed drum beats. It was at this stage she decided to find inspiration via collaborations with two of underground noise and jazz’s most vaulted percussionists, Sonic Youth collaborator Chris Corsano and Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale.

“If I had 500 years, I could collaborate with a lot of people,” Björk says. “But I think another side of me is really, really loyal and really precious about collaboration. I don’t think you should even go into it unless you think it’s the absolute right thing to do, and that you have equal things to give each other.”

For Volta, she didn’t stop with Corsano and Chippendale : the international cast also includes the African collective Konono N°1, Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté, Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen, and a ten-piece, all-female, all-Icelandic brass section. Long-term collaborator Mark Bell (of LFO fame) co-produces a track and adds various instruments, while the voice of Antony of Antony And The Johnsons features heavily. Another collaborator is hip-hop producer Timbaland (Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani), who co-produced two tracks.

“I think because I do spend a lot of my time on my own and just write, I would say 90 per cent of this record is a solitary thing. It’s like an author writing a book, especially with no computers. What I did with both Antony and Timbaland, we would spend very little time together recording them and then I would go and spend weeks and months in an editing room arranging them and adding instruments on top of them.

“As much as I would like to say I’m really blessed and lucky that I can collaborate with people, and I would like collaborations to be ‘let’s you and me meet as equals’, I think… that it wouldn’t work. I have to spend a lot of time creating the skeleton and the muscles so the collaborations have a home and can stick to something. I’ve always been the sort of person who likes extremes. So I like a lot of solitude and I like to work with people when I merge with them… so it’s a bit of both.”

How did the collaborations with Antony and Timbaland come about ?

“With Antony it was quite organic ’cause we have mutual friends and I heard about him a few years ago and it sort of became almost gradual until it was like, ‘Shall we do something, then ?’ and then he was in Iceland doing a concert and we went to a cabin in the mountains and the first time we didn’t even know what we wanted to do. I didn’t want to prepare anything because I thought we should just meet on equal ground.

“With Timbaland it was completely different. I know I spend a lot of time in interviews talking about long distance collaborations and how it has to be organic for me, but the Timbaland thing has to be a bit of an exception for me because we wrote those songs a year ago and after that his life got incredibly busy. He went and did the Justin Timberlake thing and the Nelly Furtado thing and he was off doing TV performances with them in Japan and just didn’t have a lot of time, so I ended up finishing the songs myself which wasn’t a bad thing. I felt honoured that he trusted me. I don’t think he’s done that with anyone else.

“He’s not a close friend but there’s been a mutual admiration. He did sample my song ‘Yorka’, like, 11 years ago and made a track out of it and talked a lot about how much he loved ‘Venus As A Boy’. It had Indian strings in it, which he really liked, and there’s been talk through the years of us doing stuff and it never really happened. I guess I was ready now to do a fully bloody uptempo tribal album so this seemed to be the time. But as different as we are, we do have things in common.

“And it was interesting going into the studio and in three hours we had seven songs or something. I thought, ‘I’ve never worked like this - how fast !’. And he said to me, ‘I’ve never worked like this - how fast !’.”

Although the pace of their collaboration caught Björk by surprise, she says she prefers to work quickly, except when it comes to editing her songs.

“I spend weeks and weeks on each track, on every little detail getting all the little bits right, but I’m not interested in it being perfect. The older I get I appreciate rawness better. [Also] I’ve never worked long hours. I don’t believe in that. I’ve always been like that. Even when I was in a punk band I never understood that thing of going to the rehearsal room and hanging out there for eight hours. They would go and noodle and I would come in for an hour and leave. I think you have to have a life to make music and locking yourself up in a studio is a bit… but then again it’s a contradiction to the fact that I spend a lot of time editing. I sort of do four hours a day.

“I’m not really into routines. I get really claustrophobic if things get really routine. I say I work four hours a day but it really isn’t that regular. That would be a long day for me. Everything I do, even though I’m not aware of it, is about what I do, ’cause I’ll go to a gig or go to a record shop. I’ll write poetry or read poetry or write a brass arrangement.”

Is it ever about doing the washing up and hoovering ?

“For sure ! Obviously - I have a young child !”

Simon Gage & Tom Thorne

publié dans Time off - 30.04.2007

 

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