Björk on the wild side

The Daily Telegraph (UK), 21 juillet 2005

Björk’s latest album, a film-track collaboration with her partner Matthew Barney, is the strangest she has ever made. She talks to Jonathan Wingate about art and pop

“I’m a little bit hung-over today, but I’d say it’s only a five-bar hangover, so I’m not feeling too bad,” mumbles Björk with a guilty grin as she grabs a bottle of water and slumps on to the deep sofa in the Soho Hotel.

We are here to talk about her boyfriend Matthew Barney’s new art-house film, Drawing Restraint 9, although Björk’s head feels a little too fuzzy to wax lyrical at this time in the morning.

“Trying to even start to explain the film is kind of challenging,” she giggles, “but with my little alcohol-pickled brain, it’s really tough. I guess that’s the point with the way Matthew sets it up, because there is no story. You just have to sit there and enjoy it, a bit like nature. The film has a narrative, but a really abstract one. It’s not your average Hollywood movie, let’s put it that way.”

The film represents the first collaboration between Björk and Barney, two of the most innovative characters in music and art. Björk makes a brief on-screen appearance alongside Barney, as well as providing the soundtrack, which is undoubtedly the most leftfield music she has ever released. If you thought last year’s a cappella album, Medúlla, was weird, Drawing Restraint 9 ups the kook factor to another level.

“After doing the research with all the vocals on Medúlla, I was very curious to take that further to a place that was not narrative. Then, when Matthew explained that the film happens on the ocean,” she says, pinching her nose and holding her breath, “I was curious to make vocal patterns that were sort of oceanic. My music is very much about structure, whereas Matthew is much more abstract. I have to have a map and a compass to see the final point before I start the journey, and then I can meet 10 lions or whatever.”

A couple of years after she first burst into earshot as a solo artist in 1993 with her Debut album, an astonishing box of tricks that captured the zeitgeist and made Björk one of the most famous faces in the world, she seemed to have become a star almost by accident.

“Yeah, I suppose I did feel like I was in the wrong job,” says Björk. “You know when you’re in the gang at the back of the class, and you’re wearing black clothes, and suddenly you’re being treated like the cheerleader ? And it’s like : wait a minute. I’m not the one with the long blonde hair and the big boobs. You got it wrong. But I have to say, just to try it on for a few years was a laugh.”
At the end of the 1990s, after a series of high-profile relationships seemingly played out in the gossip pages, Björk quit the constant glare of London’s spotlight for the relative anonymity of New York to retrieve some semblance of a private life. Since then, she has guarded her privacy so fiercely that her collaboration with Barney comes as something of a surprise.

“I guess we never would have done this when we started going out, but now, five years into it, it’s really natural and effortless,” Björk beams. “It’s not such a big deal, because we’ve already got the foundation, and nobody can mess with it. I knew we’d planted a lot of seeds over the last five years, and it felt like the right harvest time.”

Barney is best known for The Cremaster Cycle, a surreal sequence of five films shot over 10 years which became the subject of a recent Guggenheim retrospective. Matthew Barney may be the name on every hip lip on the Big Apple’s avant-garde art scene, but Björk’s involvement is sure to bring Drawing Restraint 9 to the attention of a whole new audience outside the art world.

“Our working relationship is hard to explain,” she says. “I guess what I like about Matthew is that he’s very down to earth. Being an artist is a very functional kind of job. He would say : ‘Aggressive ship’, and I’d go and write an aggressive ship track. I’m translating his ideas into sound. He just gives me hints. Because we’ve known each other for a while now, the majority of it happened without us having to talk.”

Björk’s background in Reykjavik’s punk and DIY art scene has stood her in good stead for her latest challenge, and she sees no reason to differentiate between highbrow and lowbrow.

“I’ve done lots of projects in Iceland that people abroad don’t know about, so doing this project didn’t feel so new to me. Being this ‘singer-songwriter’ is only part of me. It’s all music at the end of the day. Iceland is so isolated that there’s no such thing as high and low art. You have the guy who plays cello in the symphony orchestra, his brother is in a heavy metal band, and together they go to their niece’s art opening. It’s all very working class, because there’s no hierarchy there. I’m probably a good example of it. To do a disco song one day and then do Matthew’s project the next day is no big deal for me.

“Right now there is a big wave in visual art going on in Iceland,” she continues. “I’m working with an artist called Gabriela Fridriksdóttir. She has her own sort of universe happening, which I personally always find quite appealing,” laughs Björk.

“She’s exploring the emotional spectrum in a very conscious way, and there are a lot of similarities in the way we work.”

As Björk set out on her sometimes strange but always compelling career path, she took her music to places nobody had ever even dreamt of before. Albums such as Post, Homogenic and Vespertine became increasingly experimental, yet the media remained interested, and the public carried on buying Björk’s music. Her adventures in recording have never been more daring or modernistic, yet Björk clearly still thinks her music is an equal mix pop and art.

“People think that I’m too eccentric, so it’s never going to work. I’ve always loved pop and leftfield music. My record company thought that Debut wasn’t going to sell. I said : I don’t care. I really have to do this or I’ll go insane. You’ve just got to do what you do. I came from a punk background, so there was no way that I was ever going to compromise with my music. I have this utopian view that the common person—like your gran, or the guy who works in the sandwich shop—actually wants an adventure, to hear something they’ve never heard before. I might seem leftfield, but I’m really not trying to be weird, you know.”

publié dans The Daily Telegraph (UK)