02.06.2007, Words by Paul Benney

Bjork: Humorous electro-pagan thing.

Were you to judge a book by its cover, or in this case a record by its sleeve, you might quickly come to the conclusion that Björk’s new album, Volta, is her most avant garde and downright bonkers yet. It features the 41-year-old Icelandic singer sprouting chicken feet and wearing what appears to be a multicoloured apple.

However, following 2001’s emotionally raw Vespertine and 2003’s experimental Medúlla, which was composed entirely of vocals, Volta is her most accessible and upbeat record since 1995’s Post. It features a feisty collaboration with LFO’s Mark Bell, some superlative duetting with Antony Heggarty from Antony And The Johnsons and beats programmed by hip hop/R’n’B superproducer Timbaland. The turn of the millennium was a tumultuous time for Björk. She earned a Best Actress award at The Cannes Film Festival in 2000 for her performance in Dancer In The Dark and famously turned up to the Oscars in 2001 wearing a swan, but snapped under the ensuing tabloid pressure. However, Volta’s rhythmic tribal sound suggests she’s having fun once again. She recently reformed the Sugarcubes for a fund raising show in Iceland. In 1987, the band’s debut single, Birthday, thrust her into the spotlight exposing the world to a unique voice. Twenty years later her mercurial talent remains undimmed. She answered the following questions by e-mail while on her recent American tour.

What on earth are you supposed to be on the sleeve of Volta?

“It’s supposed to be a humorous electro-pagan thing. Kinda neo-nature.”

In a recent review, the outfit was described as ‘a chicken crossed with a toffee apple’. Another said you were ‘a Monty Python-inspired psychedelic Orangina bottle’. What do you think?

“If it stimulates the imagination of people: great. If it doesn’t: stagnant.”

The album artwork also has photos of you wearing tribal face paint and a crocheted costume. What are you trying to portray?

“Perhaps a more feminine version of the neo nature thing.”

At which point do you start to think about the artwork and imagery? Is it always at the end of recording, or do you conjure images and then base a song around them?

“Sometimes when I write lyrics there are images in them, usually on a quite simplistic level, like colours. But most often music comes first and then later I sit down with visual people and we chat about what we want to do. I don’t look at myself as a visual artist. I make music.”

For Post you were photographed in a London backstreet with 50 giant postcards being blown about by a wind machine. Now it would all be done on computers. Is something lost when everything becomes computerised?

“I don’t agree with you on that one. The Volta cover is a sculpture that took ages to make and I was inside it dancing during the shoot. There is nothing computer generated on that cover. I did way more stuff on computers visually ten years ago than now.”

You use a lot of brass on Volta. Did you ever hear Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Dellar’s Acid Brass project in 1996? It featured a brass band played acid house hits such as Pacific State by 808 and Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald.

“I think I went to a gig of his, in that place south of the river in London. The South Bank?

Volta is very rhythmic. Did you start with the beats and then decide on musical content/lyrics?

“Melodies almost always come first. Then we noodle with the beats forever. There are exceptions though.”

You said you felt restless on Post. What word sums up the way you feel on Volta?

“I feel in a lot of ways Volta is Post 2. Very restless and sort of schizophrenic. Promiscuous in collaborations, but sincere. It’s consistent in its restlessness.”

You say that first single Earth Intruders is about a tsunami of people fighting for justice in the world. What three things would your earth intruders change first?

“It came from a sort of a naïve dream. But wouldn’t it be great to distribute the world’s power equally. No more muzak would be good as well. Either people play loud music they really love, or just skip it.”

How do you know Timbaland? What common ground do you share musically?

“I don’t really know him. But in the past there has been a long distance respect kind of thing. First time I met him he came up to me at a party and said he loved the bassline in Venus As A Boy. Then he sampled Jóga. I feel we’re both into some prangsta rhythms.”

Will you be asking him for tickets to see Justin Timberlake?


Can you remember the first time you heard Antony And The Johnsons? Where you were and how did it affect you?

“I was in my kitchen in New York. Someone brought me his then unreleased album. I thought it was a black woman.”

You’re playing Glastonbury this year. It’s headlined by Arctic Monkeys, The Killers and The Who. Do you like any of those bands?

“Not really.”

Last year, your old band The Sugarcubes reformed for one show. Did it all go smoothly?

“Yes. It was extremely enjoyable. We wanted to rescue our label we have run in Iceland for 20 years from bankruptcy, and we did. Hopefully it will be OK for another 20 years.”

You had a love affair with London around the time of your first two albums. What do you miss most about London?

“I miss London’s relationship with music. The CD shops, the DJs, how passionate people there are about it. The paparazzi there is horrid though – four tabloids compared to Manhattan’s one. Both are cosmopolitan cities a reasonable distance from Iceland. I have always spent half of my time there.”

Let’s explode some myths about you. Björk myth one: You attempted to eat your blouse in frustration while filming Dancer In The Dark.

“Wrong. Totally fabricated by the production company of the film desperate for attention.”

Björk myth two: You once recorded vocals naked in a cave full of bats to get ‘the right vibe’.

“Not naked, but I did climb in a dark cave and sing the vocal for Cover Me [from Post]. I have to credit Nellee Hooper with that idea though. He did it as a treat. Put me blindfolded in a car and when I got to the cave, he had headphones and generators set up with the song and I sneaked in and sang it in one take. One of my favourite experiences ever. Yes, there were bats there.”

Do you ever indulge in lowbrow culture? Kick back, open a can of lager and watch Grease?

“Definitely. I don’t like lager though. I prefer cider. Berry cider. Does that count?”

Are there any instruments you have yet to use?

“Tons. My taste is actually quite limited.”

Why do you rarely use guitars?

“They suck.”

What is your favourite sound?


You sifted through 500 of your own concerts in order to pick the four best for 2003’s Björk: The Live Archive. What was that like?

“Torture. I could only have done it because I was pregnant. My nesting hormones had kicked in and I was into tidying up and making space for new stuff.”

You’ve worked a lot with LFO’s Mark Bell in the past, and you did so again on the new album on Declare Independence. What inspired that track?

“Thirst for fun.”

Have you heard Justice, who are on our front cover?

“If you listen really closely, I whisper that name a few times in Declare Independence.”

Your biggest UK hit is It’s Oh So Quiet, which reached Number 4 in 1995. It’s a bit of a novelty record. Do you regret releasing it?

“Not really. People just have to make my stuff into what they want. It’s out of my hands.”

Do you think you would ever record an album entirely on your own?

“I do record 90 percent of my albums on my own. The guests are really not that time consuming.”

When you were a teenager, you were in garage punk bands called Spit & Snot, Cork The Bitch’s Arse. Do you ever fancy being in a garage band again, like Nick Cave did recently with Grinderman?


You saw your first tree when you were nine years old. Can you remember how you felt?

“Well, I have to correct that. It was the first tall tree and the first forest. It felt a little claustrophobic not be able to see far. In Iceland you can always see far.”

I went to a warehouse party in London last week and a couple of kids were shouting “raise your flag” from Declare Independence in the queue for the toilets. Have you ever heard your songs crop up in unlikely places?

“People usually keep that stuff from me. But that warms my heart.”

Björk’s new album, Volta, is out now on One Little Indian.

Written for the summer 2007 edition of Dummy.

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