Interview sur Volta

XFM, 5 avril 2007

Transcript de l’interview sur la radio anglaise Xfm. Björk parle de Volta.

When did you start thinking about your new album ?
I guess it was in Autumn 2005 after I spent a year working on a soundtrack album. I finished that in spring, and then I decided to take two months off, just camping in Iceland, doing nothing. Then I just started coming in — I’m lucky because I work at home, so it’s not like I’m sitting a nine to five or something. If an idea comes, I document it. And then I just mind my own business, you know. I mean, always in the beginning of the writing process, you just kind of have to do other totally different stuff, and you never know when an idea’s going to arrive, and it just sort of arrives. And sometimes a week or two will pass without anything really. So, it’s not like it was literally, "Okay, it’s first of September », sit down in front of a desk and, "NOW !" [laughs] That’s sort of where it started.

Is it little ideas or whole songs that you take into the studio ?
I think its a mix, especially with this record. Before, I had done Homogenic, Vespertine, and Medúlla I kind of knew beforehand a little bit about the emotional envelope I wanted things to be in. I wanted to do Homogenic with just volcanic beats, a very Icelandic album for me, and with very over-romantic violins playing almost Icelandic national anthems. And Vespertine was very influenced by me just getting my first laptop, and I wanted to create a universe that was sort of virtual reality, songs from the ether, without any body, blood, or muscles, and my voice mostly whispering. And things that download really well, I was really curious, "Okay, we’ve got a new format. What downloads well, and what downloads badly ?" So it ended up being harps, celestes, and glockenspiels, things that sound even better when they’re downloaded. And with Medúlla obviously it was a vocal album.

But with this album, I was just like, "Okay, I don’t want anything like that." And maybe what was most influential on the album, especially looking back now, was probably two things : One of them that I had sort of been in my own studio working a lot for a few years. And I had gotten pregnant, had a baby, breastfeeding, all this kind of stuff. And then suddenly my daughter was old enough to go to kindergarten. I guess I was probably suffering from cabin fever, so in the begging of this album I was just like, "Okay, let’s go out ! Let’s go and have an adventure, go into an environment that is the unknown to me, and I don’t know what’s gonna happen." And before I felt that strongly, it probably affected the collaborations, the fact that I was really going for the album emotionally. That as long as it’s adventurous, I’m doing it. A bit of a one-track mind, but that was sort of what drove this album.

It’s such a diverse album, is that the way things came together ?
It did. Especially with Medúlla I was working a lot in my house, and doing things that could be described musically as not looking in someone’s eye, sort of introverted. And on this album I was very into having every song looking in your eye, always craving for communication. I knew whether I wanted it to be a down track, an up track, everything, but as long as it was looking at you in the eye. I mean, from my point of view I don’t look at it as "aggressive." It is very confrontational in the sense it is always looking at you in the eye. But albums I did like Homogenic, which I did in ’97, was for me pretty aggressive. I had been under a lot of pressure, and it was kind of my answer to that, and a reaction that I had felt attacked in a certain way, and to attack back. But in this one I think is very vivid, and it’s definitely me at the top of my toes being as vibrant as I can be. But I don’t look at it as being "aggressive », I mean, it’s in your face, but I think it’s pretty healthy and pretty happy. At least compared to me. [laugh] Which is probably "sick" for other people... Nah, just kidding. [laugh]

How did you come to meet and work with Timbaland ?
I wouldn’t describe him as a close friend but we’ve always kept an eye on each other since we met in 1994. He loved Venus as a Boy, a track I did in ’93 where the tapes were sent to India and had Bollywood strings in it. That maybe started our mutual interest. And then he sampled my song Jóga from Homogenic for a Missy Elliot track. It was that mutual admiration thing going on. Maybe, looking back on it now, it was that we’re both pretty interested in the, *ahem*... silk road, northern African rhythms and Indian music. Which is quite funny for an Icelandic woman and a guy from southern USA. But I think maybe also it’s not literally us being interested in those places geographically, but also scale-wise. It’s very chromatic, things that come from that place. Not the sort of western civilization — classical music, rock and roll — where it is very white and very square. It’s more things that have got curves on it and mysterious. We could probably get musical and sit here talking about it for nine hours, but let’s not go too deep into it. But yeah, there’s always been this talk, "One of these days we’re going to do something." And now, with me coming out of my cabin fever state, I was like, "Okay, let’s have some action." And I contacted him and he was like "Yes ! Let’s do it !" It was actually quite interesting to just go into a room with him and the first beat he threw out I immediately improvised on top of it. Just listening to each other for such a long time, we sort of had mutual little island that felt like it wasn’t Timbaland country, and it wasn’t Björk country, just our mutual little place.

Was Earth Intruders fun to record ?
Yeah it was, it was actually the first track me and Timbaland did together. The way we worked was very quick. He would just throw beats, and he’s got this guy that works with him called Nate, and he would just do basslines or whatever, it was very very immediate. One minute later I’m singing a melody on top of it, and three hours later we had full songs. It was very quick.

That particular track is probably about me coincidentally being in Indonesia just before that. I had been invited by Unicef to visit the areas hit hardest by the tsunami. I was there for a few days, and I just sucked it all up, I couldn’t even react to it, it was just too much. And then I had to take several airplanes and go to New York, and in a fit of jet lag, trying to sleep in airplanes, I had this dream. I dreamt that a tsunami of people would go over the airplane and hit the White House and sort of scrape it off its ground. And as I was in the dream, I was looking up at the floor tiles. Because that was something that was really weird in Indonesia, that you could see how a whole town was just scraped off the ground, but you could still see the floortiles and go, "This is the bedroom, this is the bathroom..." And all the mud and the bones, and people still digging out with teaspoons finding toys. I was with a woman who found her mom’s favorite dress there, her crying while pulling it out of the mud. It was pretty fierce. So this dream is like some peculiar naive fantasy, that maybe a tsunami of people will take over the white house and correct it all. But it’s a very chaotic song. It’s kind of hard for me to put into words, because obviously at the end of the day it was nature that created this event. Also Unicef was showing a lot of pamphlets about aids in Africa and I was looking at all that when I was falling asleep. Trying to convince me to go do something there. And the war in Iraq doesn’t exactly help the state of the world. So maybe this song is a sort of a mega-mix [laughs] of those themes. It’s a lot of things to be in one little song, but sorry, it’s a bit of a chaotic song. It’s speculation on the human tribe, globalization, that we all are. We are just a human tribe, and we’re just trying to deal.

Declare Independence is very confrontational...
For me, every time its starts I just burst laughing. I’m finding a lot of people don’t take it that way, which is okay. I seem to have a warped sense of humor that me and my three friends can understand, it’s very local. This one dress, for example... But I guess it’s sort of taking the piss of being myself, feeling that confrontational. I wanted the lyric to be a mix of like if you’re saying to your friend, who happens to be going out with a terrible boyfriend, and you say to the girl, "Declare Independence ! Don’t let them do that to you !" [laughs] I just thought it’s so extreme, and so ridiculous to say. You know, "Make your own stamp ! Start your own currency !"

And on the other hand, you can take that concept completely different. There’s this big thing you hear in the papers always in Iceland, that we were a Danish colony for like 600 years, and we got independence only half a century ago. And there’s still two Danish colonies, which is Farore Islands and Greenland. They’re still trying to get independent, and it’s just not happening. Greenland almost got independent, but then the Danish found oil there, so... It’s not gonna happen. [laughs] It’s sort of maybe a little bit of an anthem written to Greenland.

Your songs seem to mix small themes with big themes, is that how you like to write ?
It’s more like the songs just happen, and then I sit in an interview like this and I try to explain it afterwards. [laughs] But I don’t mind that. I mean, maybe because I’ve been doing this for a long time, slowly my body’s adapted to it. I happen to do my albums with the right hemisphere, and once I’ve given the tapes away to the record company and I know I can’t even fiddle with it, I do interviews and switch over to the left hemisphere and explain what it is from the outside. But I think that it’s healthy too, to have to sometimes explain. I mean, up to a certain degree, of course. And it also leaves me less isolated, because I think isolation can be a bad thing. It’s good to get questions, especially the ones that I never even thought of.

When did you meet Anthony Hegarty ?
We’ve got mutual friends in New York and it slowly developed. He came here to Iceland two or three years ago and did a gig. We ended up in my cabin in the moutains, singing. I never usually do that with people, really. It was just a one-off, a mutual admiration thing. But life is pretty magic like that. You just bump into people and have a lot to give to each other without any effort whatsoever, it’s just very natural.

We would hook up in New York also. I googled a studio in Jamaica and we decided with three days notice to go to a studio in Jamaica, probably because it was only a three hour flight from Manhattan. And we ended up swimming in the ocean, plucking fruits from the trees, singing all day. Which is sort of hilarious, because we’re both pretty much northern hemisphere creatures, with white skin and black clothes. It was a new experience for the both of us. We’d just sing over and over and over again. We sang a lot of sort of quiet stuff, whispering and humming, probably because we were too afraid of stepping on each other’s toes or something.

And then one morning I woke up and said, "Okay, enough of this wimpy stuff. We’re gonna blast it out like proper divas, and we’re gonna be Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand." And I had a melody that I had woken up with in the middle of night and written down. "Here’s the melody, and here’s the lyric." Just to liberate us, so we didn’t have to sing about ourselves. A hundred year poem by a Russian poet, a passionate love poem. "Let’s just sing this." We just sang all day, singing into the same microphone. Which is kind of hilarious because he’s so big, and I just sort of stand on this chair. And at the end of the day we both expressed that we had forgotten who was who. He was doing noises like I do sometimes, and I was doing noises like he does sometimes. That sort of sensation when you merge into one, for sure.

On the track My Juvenile ? does he play someones conscience ?
I guess that particular song I wrote to my son. It was one of the first songs I wrote for this album. I bought a clavichord, which is a plucked string instrument from medieval times. It’s quite unusual because when you press the notes you can keep on pressing them and make it do vibrato. So it goes like, "Drrrrung ung ung ung ung..." That kind of stuff. I wrote it on that and had already sung the vocals that Antony’s singing there. So we ended up for whatever reasons in my cabin in the mountains, and I asked him if he would replace those vocals. Because it’s sort of a conversation with myself, about my teenage son and how proper mad it is for grown-ups to let go of their children. For me it’s really like slapstick comedy, because they’re really good about it, but the parents are really clumsy, they just don’t know how to let go. So Antony’s kind of being Jiminy Cricket and I’m Pinnochio. And he’s saying, "You did your best, don’t worry about it, your intention was pure, you meant the best possible way." So that’s how it ended up.

« The Beast Is Back », where did that come from ?
It’s a long story. I hope I can squash it into a radio show, it’s a really long story. But part of it for me was having a daughter, because I had had a son before, and I heard from a lot of my friends that when you have a child the same sex as you suddenly a gate opens. Like I had a daughter, and suddenly I understood my mom better, and her mom, and her mom, and her mom. You get this kind of line. I’ve heard fathers say that about the first son they have, and they suddenly realize the relationship between them and their fathers, and back back back back. And suddenly you get this gate opening way to the beginning of mankind. And I started reading a lot of books sort of about that stuff, and again being slightly influenced the Iraq war, how organized religion is not a very good idea, for me at least. Like with what was happening before this organized religion thing happened, when we were more in touch with the right side of our brain, more intuitive and impulsive. Things like natural medicine, and wasn’t like you were a witch, and you weren’t burned. And this came into the fact of how I’m going to explain to my daughter stuff about women and their position in the world, and things that are pretty female. I mean, at the end of the day I still think we’re all both male and female, but...

But it sort of became this joke-song, kind of like a b-movie soundtrack to, "the Earth Mother, RISES back from the mud !" Like the earth goddess as a zombie. [laughs] And she’s going to go Vertebrae by Vertebrae, back on her hind legs, the beast is back ! Also taking a little piss on how scared organized religion is of nature, they’re just terrified. And I just find it so hilarious, I mean what’s so scary about it ? For example : the fact that in the year you have thirteen full moons, and women thirteen times a year become red. And they made the months into twelve months, and every year everybody’s still like, "Oh, is there 28 days in February, or 29, or... ?" Everyday you have to calculate instead of just having it 28 days and thirteen months, I mean come on. It’s kind of stubborn with organized religion how it’s like, "No, we control, and we’re not part of nature, and we’re Christians !" Or whatever, Muslims, Jews, all that stuff. "We’re gonna act outside of all that, and we’re not gonna take part of all that." And I live in a flat in New York that happens to be on the twelfth floor, and there’s no thirteenth floor. There’s no thirteenth floor in all of the skyscrapers in Manhattan, and I’m like, "You’re not THAT scared of nature ? !" You know, ’Friday the 13th’ and nature is just like some horror movie. So basically this song is sort of the earth goddess rising up on her hind legs, grabbing a crayon, and crossing out all the fourteens in Manhattan and writing thirteen. The beast is back ! [laughs]

Have you started thinking about new videos ?
I guess for this one I felt a bit sensitive about Earth Intruders. Part of the imagery coming from the tsunami and Indonesia, part of it the dream and people with aids in Africa, and part of it ending up working with Timbaland. And me being an Icelandic person whose totally looking at things form the outside a lot of the time. Like how Timbaland flew to the recording session in a private jet. But just 200 years ago probably his ancestors were slaves, and good for him, he should be flying in private jets. You know, I’m not criticizing that for one second. Seeing black people in the US finally getting a little bit of respect for what they do. Like they’ve won three Oscars or something, I can’t remember what it is. So that song is a little bit about that, and wanting to balance that power structure on the planet a little bit. [laughs]

It’s sort of a justice song. Like, "We want justice NOW !" So I ended up feeling "How on earth am I gonna do that visually ?" And I ended up finding an animator who’s French, but he was brought up in Africa, and did gorgeous cartoons. For example, one called Kirikou. I just think he portrays people with dark skin in a very on-level sort of way that is very equal. It’s not like the colony style that I think Africans are exhausted with, kind of like "Oh, I’ll kill the tiger and put its head on my wall", like it’s an exotic creature or something. I mean, me being from Iceland, I’ve never seen an elf in my life, but still 20 years later, everybody calls me "elfin" or whatever. So basically, (sorry it’s another long answer) Michel Ocelot is doing the video to this one. And it’s animated. And it’s about the Earth Intruders.

Are you looking forward to playing Glastonbury ?
Yeah ! I am ! I am looking forward to playing live. For every different sound world I’ve created a new band, and that’s been really exciting. Because for me, a record and live are two different things. But at the same time they’re both serving the same heart, so we should be loyal to that heart. I guess the last time I did that was for Vespertine, which was a long time ago for a tour in 2001-2002. And we ended up playing in opera houses with huge orchestras and choirs, with sort of 5.1 glitch rhythms, and speakers spread around the room. Then with Medúlla I didn’t do a tour, because for obvious reasons. There was like ten of me in a lot of the tracks, which would’ve been tricky. Obviously I did a ’Greatest Hits’ tour somewhere in there, but that felt a bit like cheating. But now I’m ready again.

So now I’m putting together a ten-piece brass section with ten Icelandic girls. And Mark Bell is coming with me on this tour, which he hasn’t done since ’97 on the Homogenic tour. Damien Taylor, and Chris Corsano the drummer, and Jónas Sen whose like an Icelandic Chinese concert pianist. And we’re sort of rehearsing right now as we speak, and I’m quite excited. I think to a certain degree I wrote this album thinking how it would be live, which is the first time I’ve ever done that. I mean, part of it feels really healthy because it balances at the end of the day. I started singing live when I was a little girl, and I did that for a long long time before I even became a studio buff. [laughs] It was later in my life that I became a studio buff. So it felt like this album would be a very live experience and not with 57,000 studio tricks. And yeah, I’m looking forward to playing it live, including Glastonbury.

Is it true you’re designing your own stage set ?
Me, when I go to live gigs, I kind of want to exercise my ears. I’m not too excited about things being too crazy visually. You know, there’s not going to be groups of people doing aerobics, or you know... I also feel sometimes if you have huge screens with things happening — because it’s much easier for people to use their eyes than their ears, including myself. Like if there’s a TV on in the room, I can’t even listen to the people talking to me because I’m just looking at the TV screen. I kind of wanted it to be more an audio experience for people. I wanted it to be about the musicians and music, so I think the visuals are actually going to be minimal.

par Transcript réalisé par Gungalei publié dans XFM