Interview : Björk, 20 février 2008

Iceland’s most illustrious export, Bjork is known for both her experimentally baroque electro-pop and her idiosyncratically eccentric personality. She now has six albums under her belt and her latest offering Volta sees the artist thematically revisiting conceptions of feminism, childhood, and paganism, albeit according to her trademark lighthearted and jubilant musical aesthetic.

In an interview with Pitchfork, she summed up Volta thusly : "It’s sort of trying to put out some good vibes for the little princesses out there. There are actually other things than losing a glass slipper."

Released late last year, the album debuted at number nine on Billboard, and as part of her post-album world tour Bjork plays live in Shanghai on March 2 at the Shanghai International Gymnastic Center.

The singer started recording when she was 11 and is now a global household name. Bjork has always stood out, at school in Reykjavik her blond class mates thought she was Chinese because she had straight dark hair and brown eyes, Bjork thrives on her uniqueness. Breaking on an international level with the release of her seminal 1993 album Debut (featuring the single "Human Behavior"), Bjork has gone on to receive 12 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and two Golden Globe awards. Expect none less than a captivating and expressive performance this March, as Bjork’s musical and theatrical sides unite.

SmartShanghai caught up with Bjork for a chat about her new album and the live show...

You live in the USA now, why did you choose to move to New York ?

A mix of things. It’s not somewhere I’ve wanted to live all my life or anything like that. It’s different from London in that London was always the big city next to Iceland and I remember going to London for the first time when I was 16 with all my pocket money and going to Virgin Megastore and being in there for hours wondering what albums I was going to buy and putting them back on the rack and going, "No, I’m going to get his one." Having to sit down because I was dizzy. It was like heaven. I always had that relationship with London that it was this place where everyone was playing music, where all the DJs were and there were amazing record shops. With New York it’s more like just skyscrapers and an urban extreme. It was a mixture. I really did love London but there was a time when I had the paparazzi always hanging around. I’m not judging people who thrive on that sort of attention but I don’t. I can’t write music. That’s my reaction and that’s one of the reasons I ended up in New York because it is a cosmopolitan city. But I don’t get followed around here which is amazing. And my boyfriend’s from here, it’s a mix of things. I still spend half my time in Iceland and it’s just a five-hour flight from New York, which is not bad.

In Iceland I heard everyone knows you personally.

Well, there are only one hundred thousand people in Reykjavik. I’m sure you’d bump into everyone at some point.

Has it changed you ? Have you had to curb your eccentric side living in America ?

I probably couldn’t live anywhere else [in America] other than New York, but not really. I’m used to not being understood. In Iceland the media didn’t like our band and thought we were really weird until Melody Maker made our song record of the week. It wasn’t until England said we were great that people in Iceland said, "Well, actually they’re not that bad." I’m not that huge in the States but people like Robert De Niro can walk around and unless you go into SoHo, where there’s a little paparazzi scene going on, especially on Saturdays... but if you don’t go there you’re fine.

How will the sound of this tour be different from the others and is this a reflection of the direction from your new album ?

I’ve done a few albums done in my house and probably part of it was having a child and breast feeding in between takes — that maybe it was time for me — I really want to expand in many ways, both emotionally and also musically and also just literally geographically of going to places.

China is topical in the Western media right now in relation to environmental and political issues. Local musicians in Shanghai such as Zhong Chi aim to get political messages across in their music. Your track "Declare Independence" from your latest album is a very politically driven song. Do you think music can effectively deliver political messages to positive ends ?
Bjork, Volta (2007)

In Iceland there’s been a lot of talk, like everywhere on the planet, about terrorism and the war in Iraq and all this... Part of it, I find kind of very interesting and the other part of it I find almost close to ridiculous, so I think a lot of it for me is humor. I think this may be one thing that people don’t realise about me. There is a lot of self-parody going on. For example with the track "Declare Independence," every time I hear that track, the beginning of it, I just start laughing because it’s just so extreme and there is kind of like a totally "anti-everything" kind of person who is very ... walking with banners and protesting and very green ... and you know, I just find it very comical, these kinds of personalities. But, yeah, I do believe that music can solve things. Probably a bit naïve, but I think sometimes it’s better just to go out on a Saturday night, have a few drinks, just go and thump your feet for a few hours and you wake up the next day and you have solved a couple of things.

As a performer the energy in your live shows makes them very memorable. What do you prefer more : live shows or recording albums ?

I have been a live singer since I was a child and this is where I learned to be who I am and it’s the roots to what I do — to sing on stage and I was pretty late on my own music. It wasn’t until I was 27, which is probably quite late, and so I sort of slowly learned to be this studio boffin where you can be doing embroidery and spending three years doing little details. I was kind of ready to go to a place where these two worlds could meet : The person in me who is the live singer and the person in me that’s more academic, or more like a producer, if you want, and meet at a point where there was more of a holistic approach to it... like an overall view of what I do.

How is the live performance different from the album ? Are you successful in recreating the album in a live concert ?

I’ve been quite excited about doing tours where I will — obviously I’m not so interested in repeating the record and it sort of becomes something else... Probably a part of it — I’m like a kid in a toy shop where, like on this tour, I can have ten brass players, so I’m really excited about playing all the songs that will probably be better with brass than for example, strings. So the tour now has ten brass girls, Icelandic girls which I auditioned for and Mark Bell is back on the team with me. Damian Taylor is assisting him with the electronics and Chris Corsano doing drums. He actually plays on three songs on the album. And Jonas Sen who is an Icelandic Chinese concert pianist. He’s an old friend of mine and is doing pipe organ songs and playing celeste and harpsichord and these kind of things. He’ll be taking care of playing the pipa and the kora. That’s going to be his department. Certain songs like "Bachelorette" and "Yoga" something even more grander. So it is really interesting how it changes the quality and then you have to kind of mold things as you are going.

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