Curiouser & Curiouser, septembre 1995

With a career built on adapting to and manipulating her surroundings, Björk is focused on experiencing as much as she can as quickly as possible. As Val C. Phoenix discovers, life isn’t simply a walk in the park.

“Try not to look back,” says Björk with a grin. “The effect is better.” Easy for her to say. She doesn’t break stride on the steep incline of London’s Primrose Hill. Björk has promised a view, and she’s right. The view over her adopted city is lovely. And, of course, she doesn’t look back either.

“I don’t like nostalgic things,” she says, tucking her blousy dress over her knees, as she settles on the grass under a tree. She has just come from a photo shoot where she posed in scary raccoon make-up like a pouty film star. Now, with her face scrubbed clean of the fright make-up, she looks the better for it and more relaxed. As well she might be. Debut, her first solo album outside her native Iceland, sold millions worldwide, vaulting her from quirky cult figure to pop star. Occupying an enviable position, she retains both street credibility and critical acclaim.

“The Modern Things” from her new album, Post, decries the “irritating noises of dinosaurs,” which could well sum up her desire in life : to try new things. “I think it’s a mission thing. I think everybody’s on a mission. I’m personally on a very, very sort of fast mission. I have to experience 900,000 things just to know that I’ve tried them all, you know ?” she says.

A collage of borrowed fragments from the worlds of jazz, club land, hip hop, and classic pop, Björk’s music reflects her curiosity. She is in fact a master synthesizer, adept at cutting together discordant sounds into a cohesive and sparkling whole, rather like a club DJ. She doesn’t take offense at the suggestion.

“I don’t look at myself as original. I look at myself more that I’m trying to do something that hasn’t been done before,” she says.

“You go to the secondhand market and you pick up all those different things, but you just use them to express yourself. And the fact that I’ve never expressed myself in that way before—that’s what makes it that it hasn’t been done,” she explains.

“Personally, I’d like to listen to old music—say, like Bach or Beethoven and all that—say, one day a year and that would be enough, and then the other 364 days should be about now.” As a child, Björk studied those old crusties, along with the jazz her grandma liked and the hippy music her parents favored. “When I grew up, I was surrounded by all these musical styles and none of them were mine. None of them belonged to me,” she avers.

Björk’s whole history includes a thread of adapting to and making the most of her surroundings. Coming from Iceland, whose entire population could be squeezed into one corner of London, Björk’s made her home in the metropolis and thrived. An avid clubgoer, she likes a bit of fun, spawning many a tale of dancing on tabletops.

Colleagues and acquaintances describe her as bright, crafty, even manipulative, but charmingly so. She knows what she wants and gets others to follow. “She’s got a way about her,” says collaborator Tricky, who appears on Post. “You meet her and you think you want to see her again. She’s quite an interesting character.”

Björk’s worldwide forays are all conducted in a second language. The dips in her accent as she speaks, from pseudo-cockney to Scandinavian, are a reminder that as well as she can blend in, she retains something to set her apart.

Her embrace by critics as an original and unbounded artist stands in stark contrast to the ridicule heaped on someone like Sinead O’Connor, an equally iconoclastic artist who’s also picked and chosen genres outside her domain. Björk knows Sinead, and in fact the two women, as single parents newly arrived in London, used to take their sons to the park together.

Praising O’Connor’s work, Björk muses soberly, “Maybe the reason that she doesn’t get away with it— maybe it’s because she’s serious and people that are serious, they’re sometimes not considered as flexible, whereas I’m probably a bit more of a clown, so I can get away with things like that.”

Björk would love to work with O’Connor and the equally off-kilter Polly Harvey, but most of her collaborations so far have been with men. Women, she says, rarely are willing to make the sacrifices needed to write the perfect pop song, which is her aspiration. She has met a few, among them her band member, Leila Arab. But she rarely meets women instrumentalists. “Two singers can only go that far, you see.”

Björk has described her more intense collaborative efforts as musical love affairs. “Probably my best friend ever is music, because that’s the one who always understands me,” she says.

“But to find a person, a real person, who’s on that same ‘Boing !!’—you can add to theirs and they can add to yours—that’s just ever so precious,” she enthuses. Tricky, 808 State’s Graham Massey, and Debut producer Nellee Hooper all qualified on the “Boing !” front, and the results can be heard on Post. Björk explains, “I think most of the people that I have my little musical love affairs with have been people that make beats, because that’s what I need, just like a rhythm to feed off.” She pauses. “So that’s tricky.”

Or is that Tricky ? Their two co-writes on Post came from a two-day writing and recording session in Iceland, but there are also six unreleased tracks sitting around. “They’re very, very weird,” says Tricky. “I listen to it every night. There definitely ain’t a market for it at all.”

He agrees with her characterization. “You meet someone and you’re kind of running away together for two weeks,” he says. But, they also met on the common ground of having bizarre public images. “She’s supposed to be like a little elf, and I’m supposed to be a demon. I think everybody thinks we’re mad.” Needless to say, they found each other quite normal.

Alas, Björk finds the rosy glow of the love affair doesn’t last. “You’ve got something to look forward to. And then you wake up one day and it’s not happening anymore and that’s a bit sad,” she says, frowning.

Likening music to life, she says she likes a mix of fantasy and reality : “I think it should be 50/50.” The songs on Post are tangled up in technology, yet manage to convey an elusive quality among the club soundtracks littering the airwaves ; they’re clearly inspired by a flesh-and-blood personality, and they have a soul.

Surprisingly, given her modernist bent, Post includes one cover, a torchy big band number called “It’s Oh So Quiet.” Her reading of the song, originally done by Betty Hutton, is an endearing mix of veneration and experimentation, twisting the song so it sounds classic but still thoroughly Björkian. “I loved it to death and it was just very sort of relevant to how I felt—the lyric.” Classic subjects like love and hate exert a strong pull for her.

Intuition also plays a very strong role. “Isobel,” the recent single, is a complicated fable about trusting one’s instincts, and a lesson for herself, as well. Born of a spark in the woods in South America, Isobel clashes with those around her, falling in love with the wrong people, and so forth, until she isolates herselt. Björk’s favorite song on Post, it is also the most recent, written only a week or before recording.

“I was so full of Isobel. I had written like a whole diary on Isobel,” she says. She sings softly, “‘My name Isobel /Married to myself/ My love Isobel/Living by herself.’ It’s like a relationship you get with yourself, which I think is so important, and is something I’ve been trying to learn-is to have that relationship with myself and be self-sufficient and surprise myself.”

Heading back down the hill, she says she’d like to do a jungle mix of “Isobel.” She likens the sound to flamenco—a quick beat, but slow dance steps. Then she demonstrates. Arms flung out, twirling on the grass in her garishly colored sports shoes and formal dress, she seems in her element somehow. As she says, “The green dot should always be there among the pink dots.”

par Val C. Phoenix publié dans Curiouser & Curiouser