’It’s so exciting to sing outdoors’, 21 juin 2007

As she prepares to return to Glastonbury after 13 years, Bjork tells Bernadette McNulty how festivals make her feel like a part of nature

One of the most rare and visually spectacular shows lined up for Glastonbury this year is the return of Björk. Already picked out as the best set of the Coachella festival in California this April, her headlining performance on the Other Stage on Friday night promises female brass-band choirs, insane costumes and stunning projections underneath the Somerset stars.

Bjork : "I like festivals generally and get excited about them because my favourite thing is to play outdoors"
The last and only time Björk performed at the Glastonbury festival was in 1994, but it might as well be a lifetime away for her,

"I can’t remember anything about it. Somebody had to remind me !"

Then, she was a newly exploding pop star, all over the charts and TV with her album Debut, gate-crashing the Britpop party with her exciting punk-operatic take on dance music, and embraced by the hottest creative talents, from producer Nellee Hooper to photographer Nick Knight.

Tomorrow night, with Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian playing the main arena, she will headline the festival’s Other stage. While Björk has largely retreated from the world of celebrity, the intense ambition and musical innovation of her new album Volta still mark her out as a unique female voice in a world of boys and guitars.

"I don’t know why it is just me still doing this sort of music and being this sort of perfomer. I think the world has maybe got more conservative. But there is a backlash rising, especially in America. People like Joanna Newsom and Antony and the Johnsons give me hope."

For many people, Björk is that girl-woman from Iceland with the funny pigtails and the swan dress at the Oscars, with the roaring, rolling voice.

But, when we meet in London, she is more like a beautiful, exotic bird : shy, serious, still, with a high, strong, sing-song voice, talking mostly about politics and being a mother rather than elves and volcanoes.

Certainly, on a muggy weekday afternoon she is wearing silver leggings, silver tap shoes, a diaphanous kaftan and a necklace that looks as if it is made out of tiger teeth. And she belches loudly and freely after too much tea. But none of this seems contrived or kooky. She is utterly, naturally, wonderfully herself, indifferent to the tyranny of criticism - especially of that dress.

"Come on - it was six years ago, and people are still talking about it. It was just a joke that nobody got. Everything is so prescribed and critical now, and women get punished for how they look. What would happen if Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix or George Clinton walked down the red carpet now ? They would just get executed."

Björk’s creative independence is embedded in her. She became a child star in Iceland when she recorded a hit album aged 11.

"I felt guilty because I hadn’t written any of the songs. I was just a singer ; it felt like being a shadow, as if you are not the one doing the work. So I turned down the chance to make a second album. I was lucky : it made me know what I wanted to do."

She spent the next 16 years in punk bands, immersed in DIY culture, eventually achieving some international success with the Sugarcubes. By this time, she was sure of her own sound and moved to London to record the solo record that made her name.

"Those three years in London, where I got to feel like an A-list celebrity - that was a very tongue-in-cheek experience. Of course you would want to try fame if you got the chance, but not for long. It was an exciting time to be here for the music, but, when it stopped being about the music and was about being a socialite, I wasn’t interested."

Björk left Britain and has continued to push her music into ever more extreme directions, especially after falling in love with American experimental artist Matthew Barney. But, after they had a daughter, Isadora, now four, for her next album she felt the need to re-engage with the world.

So Volta (the name can mean the turn at the end of a sonnet, or a dance, or an African river, or the man who invented batteries) explodes with rhythms and collaborations, taking in everything from rave beats to brass bands, from Timbaland to Tinariwen, interspersed with stunning duets with Antony Hegarty.

"My last album Medulla was about the quiet domestic bliss of having a baby : breastfeeding, cooking, knitting, napping. The horizon was as narrow as possible for me. But, when your kids start to grow up you realise they are not going to have a nervous breakdown if you leave the house. So I reacted to being cocooned and set my horizons as wide as possible. It felt like : let’s get out of the house and dance and merge with people."

Which should make it the perfect sound for Glastonbury, the only performance she is giving in England this summer,

"Although Glastonbury is exceptional in terms of how big and excessive it is, I like festivals generally and get excited about them because my favourite thing is to play outdoors. You feel as if you are part of nature, and I have always loved that."

par Bernadette McNulty publié dans