Under the radar

Interview

« There were some misunderstandings created by the press that i was going to do a hip-hop album, and then when that was not the case some disappointment », she says of the response to Volta, an album that is neither a hip-hop release not a return to her pop roots. « But Once that got cleared out – by the way, that was never, never my intention – everything has been good. »

Her first album to crack the Billboard Top 1O in the United States, Volta captured the now 41-year-old songwriter doing a bit of evrything that she has done since leaving the Sugarcubes in 1992. Inspired in part by her journey to post-tsunami Indonesia, the spirit of the album wanders through tribal marches (« Earth Intruders ») to austère ballads (« Dull flame of desire ») and spastic electro-punk anthems (« Declare independence »). There were songs with Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), experimental congolese band Konono n°1, and a 14-member brass band. And for many listeners, it sounded like her most overly political album, tackling thèmes of feminism and political oppression with some of her most vivid imagery. But to hear her tell it, the album had no grand political design.

« Not political, not as I understand that word, » Björk explains. »It is an emotional album, it’s about justice. « Declare Independence could just as well be written to a girl in a bad Relationship. It’s not about party politics. I’m not sure if « Hope » is about feminism. It’s trying to understand how a pregnant suicide bomber feels, more than about the cause she is fighting for. I don’t take a stand politically, I write about emotion. »

Another point of misconception comes courtesy of those who saw Volta as the album where, aside from three Timbaland-produced tracks, she finally took over the reins of production for herself. Though she has been co-producing her albums since Homogenic, only now is she getting credit and she sees an imperious implication in that omission : « Well it’s my music, why shoud others produce it ? » Björk asks when questioned why she decided to produce the majority of the album herself. « I feel that is a little sexist question… Guys never get asked that question. »

In her opinion, that sexism infects the entire business in which she Works. « I have felt prejudices – it’s true, » she continues. « The pop industry is sexist, end of story. Why ? Too many reasons. One , perhaps CD buyers are not interested in a female point of view ? I found in a couple of reviews on Kate Bush, [where] she was ridiculed in quite ‘intellectual papers’ for writing a song that included her washing machine. It was like they were trying to say that music written by women about household items doesn’t count, but songs written on guitars about driving cars or drinking béer is rock solid. It’s silly, really.

Of course, Björk has never been that kind of songwriter to spend much time writing about household appliances, and it’s possible that her hability to transcend all stereotypes through her creative eccentricities has helped her stay relevant when other female artists have struggle to be taken seriously. In that struggle, the press has been an unlikely ally. But as an artist who has never taken the next logical step, wether making the icebound soundscapes of 1997’s Homogenic in an era of bubbling pop music ot taking a turn as an award-winning actress in 1999’s Dancer in the Dark, Björk does not appear to be someone who pays attention to her own press. In fact, the opposite is true.

« I do », she admits. « I don’t change my ways, aiming to be liked, though. I more look a rit as a bonus if they do. But overall, my music seems to inspire a réaction and i feel Lucky with that. It’s not like everyone loves it ; the réactions have been very diverse and i like it that way. If i can feel conflict in the réception, it seems that people think I do so many types of music- « Vespertine-style », or « Homogenic-style », or « Debut-style » or so on – and they get very opiniated on which style i should only do and skip all the other ones. So they argue among themselves about it. « Vespertine was the best one, why wasn’t Volta like that ? Or « Debut was the best one, all the other ones are rubbish », and so on. I fin dit very interesting because the « styles » seem to be equally liked. It just amazes me how differently they see it. It sort of has taken a life of its own. I do not think in those terms when i make music. At any given time i can only do the album I do. I cannot repeat myself. I cannot force a « style ». But I do find flattering tha people feel so strongly about it all, though. »

A lasting testament to her perpetually restless creative spirit, Björk the persona, continues to remain just beyond comprehension, always somewhat mysterious despite her extensive body of work. « People seem to miss out on the humour, » she says, addressing the most common misconception about her music. « They take me way too seriouly. Like 80% of my lyrics are self-parody ».

That said, it’s difficult to not take seriously someone whose art seems so resolutely focused and ambitious, thoroughly unified in image and sound. No doubt, her outstandishly ingenious visual présence contributes greatly to keeping us at arm’s length. « Through my expérience, I have found that if I don’t bring the visual counterpart of my work, someone else will, » she explains. « So through the years, out of necessity, i have more and more gotten involved. This time around, i was into some tribal neon stuff. To try to unite modern and tribal, put importance in freedom. »

At the end of the day, despite her prolific imagination, the fact remains that Björk is entering a dangerous period for musicians. As masters of reinvention, Neil Young and David Bowie have learned, even iconoclasts struggle to stay perched on their creative peaks after two decades of erosion from time and touring. Nonetheless, Björk shows no signs of running out of ideas any time soon, and she offers a simple credo when asked how she’ll remain inspired when most artists are running on fumes : « If it bores you, don’t do it , » she says. « If it excites you, do it ».

publié dans Under the radar - 22.02.2008

 

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