Any queries? Where you ask the questions

Attitude, 12 May 2007

The unofficial Queen of Iceland [no, Pot Kerry Katona] is back with a blinding album of outrageous genius, Hoorah! She answers your questions about Madonna, feminism, gang rape, swans and witches

Trying to get Björk to stick to the old question-and-answer thing can be somewhat challenging. The way she communicates is like her music: free, norrlinear, emotional rather than logical. To ask this icon of innovation something as restrictive as a question, to which she has to thon respond, is akin to throwing a fishing net over Pegasus. Bless her, though, she did her best.

"l’m tring to be organised," she says sweetly in her cockney-Icelandic singsong voice, at several points during Attitude’s grilling. She motions up and down from her temples as if to cajole her cacophonous thoughts into behaving properly. Most of the time, it’s best to leave her be. Cut Björk off mid-flow, see, and you risk not allowing her adequate time to wander around her Aladdin’s cave brain and find the answer lying hidden in a trinket under a goblin’s shoe. Which is probably where it is.
Such earnest attempts to be a good interviewee are touchingly endearing and not the kind of thing usually conveyed about her. Instead we hear about the high drama that has shadowed her since 1993 with the era-defining solo album that was Debut. We hear about her laying into a journalist at Bangkok airport; her being sent a letter bomb in 1996 by Ricardo Lopez who simultaneously filmed his own suicide; her notoriously destructive relationship with Lars von Trier on Dancer in the Dark (she denies eating her dress on set by the way); and, of course, lhe swan dress at the 2001 Oscars. But people: These. Are. A. Distraction.
The blistering genius of her work is too often either overshadowed by such events, underestimated by critics, or just left unsaid. Björk is frequently dismissed as bonkers. But to do so is to miss out on such musical stardust as: Venus as a Boy, Play Dead, Hyperballad, Bachelorelte, and Oceania. She describes her masterpiece new album, Volta (named after the Italian scientist who invented batteries and also the narne of an African river) as her most extrovert work. It’s also among her most commercial, thanks in part, to collaborations with Timbaland and Antony Hegarty (of Johnsons fame).
There is nothing contrived about Björk. It’s one of the criticisms oft levelled at her, that her so-called eccentricity is a stunt. Spend an hour with the 40 year old, however, and you realise that she’s not eccentric; it’s the rest of the world that’s repressed. Some things, then, that you may not know about Ms Gudmundsdottir: she laughs a lot and has a different type of titter for every note of the scale. She’s political. Through a punk prism she refracts an anti-hierarchical ethos that is utterly devoid of the "l’m a star, you are nothing!" attitude present in certain celebrities. She’s shy. Shy! Compliment her, her music or even make an observation about her art, and she visibly recoils. It’s as if, if she listens to praise for one second it will destroy her incessant strive for brilliance.
So when I knock on the door of her hotel room and the heavy sound of galloping footsteps grows louder, I know two things: a) that this is clearly Her and b) that behind the door lies Narnia, outside of which I must leave all my earthly notions. "Hello,”’ she says, beaming like a child at her birthday party. And my, this is some birthday outfit silver clumpy T -bar shoes, shocking pink tights and a T-shirt dress of fluoro mash-up hues. With her hair left wild and not a dot of make-up, this, dear readers, is Björk; laid bare...

After your last album, Medulla, you said that it was a reaction against what was happening in America after 9/11 and that your next album would be something to do with feminism. Is it?
Peter Burnage, Leicester

It’s funny because, in a way, you should always do interviews about your albums three years later, because I could talk really well about Medulla now, but I didn’t know jack shit about it after I had just done it Looking back on Medulla I think it was also a reaction against this over importance of beats and the whole IDA [intellectual dance music] thing. It’s like "What beats are next?" and all these programmers were contacting me and going, "Who’s she going to pick now?" and it became like a fashion statement. So I was just like "l’m doing a vocal album!" Part of it was a rebellion against that so... [looks down, confused, then steels herself] but let’s move into the question because that was not the question... So what is Volta about? I think it ended up being about the feminist thing a bit. I think having a daughter was a surprise te me how much affect it had on me, because I had a son [Sindri] before. l’ve heard other women describe how when they have a girl il opens up a channel, like the daughter, you and your mother and her mother and her mother. Suddenly it’s about this ancient link with your ancestors. But my mum was quite feminist and she was always preaching about this stuff at home and I was so bored by it, so I think I was just really interested in how she’s [Isadora] like, "Oh I wanna watch Cinderella all day" and ail these Disney movies have them looking for their prince. I never realised how bad it is. I thought the `70s feminists changed it all... It’s such a big thing, the Volta thing, it even links into the Iraqi war and... I tell you what; I read this book called The Alphabet Versus the Goddess [by Leonard Shlain] It’s all about the two hemispheres [of the brain] and before the alphabet came, Mother Nature was the Goddess and things were very fun and then in medieval times when they had print machines everybody for the first time was getting bibles to their own homes. So they switched people into their left [logic-driven] hemisphere. Then they just went out and burned people who were being more impulsive and in tune with nature like ’witches’ and women who were using natural medicine. For the sake of my daughter I was trying to bypass these thousands of years since the Bible happened. Maybe it was not such a good idea, organised religion. It’s very left hemisphere, religion, and il becomes stuck in conflict and arguing about things that are not that important. This record for me is about Mother Nature and a letter to my daughter. There’s one song on the record called 1 See Who You Are which is written for my daughter and another song called Vertebrae by Vertebrae where there s an image of the earth mother rising up from the grave like a zombie on ils back feet like "Raaaoooowwwww! l’m back!" It’s almost like a fairytale to my daughter. So in that sense, Volta is about that.

How did the collaborations with Antony Hegarty on your new album come about?
lan Goff, Newport

Well, we have mutual friends in New York so I sort of met him and he came to Iceland to play and I was showing him stuff and he came to a club so it was the most organic musical
relationship on this album. In the end we decided, with three days notice, to go to Jamaica. It’s only a three-hour flight [from New York] and we found a cheap studio on the internet. So we were swimming in the ocean and eating fruit from the trees and singing, which is the opposite of what we as northern hemisphere, white-skin-andblack-clothes people normally do.

Were you a fan of his voice?

Yeah I was. I didn’t pick up on it immediately, but I think he has incredible potential. I think his best stuff is yet to come and he played me his new stuff a week ago in New York and it’s amazing. I think I can say we are friends now. And I don’t use that word lightly. Most of my friends are from Iceland since I was a kid.

Would you take offence if I said my favourite Börk song is It’s Oh So Quiet?
Klaus Petersen, Plymouth

My obvious answer to that is I didn’t write that song. So yeah! It is interesting because to be honest for somebody like me, there’s always that conflict between writing music, being a musician and being a singer. Maybe on this album I decided to be not such a nerd stuck in front of the computer for nine billion years and my voice serves that side of me - I just wanted to get out a bit more. I had cabin fever. I just wanted to be the singer a bit more, so I understand. l’ve been a singer since I was a child and maybe have matured most on stage with a microphone in my hand in front on an audience since the age of 12. It wasn’t until 27 years old that I went in a studio and made my own music... so forgive me! [laughing] But the two sides of me are more equal on this project.

Are you secretly pleased to have gone down in Oscars history for wearing the most memorable dress ever?
David Bell, London

Um, a little bit. From my point of view if was a joke, you know. That nobody got! Well, three of my mates pissed their pants; they got it. I’m a bit surprised that they never write about the fact that I brought six eggs made out of Styrofoam, the size of ostrich eggs, and I kept leaving them on the red carpet and these Hollywood star’s bodyguards with walkie-talkies kept bringing them to me, like [affects yank accent] "Excuse me ma’am, you dropped something". And I thought il was hilarious, but that’s just my sense of humour. Perhaps I was a bit cocky and if sort of backfired in my face a bit. I just find it amazing that people look at the images of that picture of me in that dress, and next to it some Hollywood actress in a black Armani dress, and they actually think I was trying to fit in and got it wrong. Does this woman look like she was trying to fit in? [laughing]. I do love humour in the way people dress. Self-parody was definitely part of it. I think people in Hollywood aren’t used to that - to take the piss out of yourself. It’s the sixth fucking year and they’re still writing about it! It was funny, but not that funny. But I think that had I done it at Bafta and left those eggs around it would have been perceived in such a different way. I think that situation is so abstract anyway, it’s just like a red carpet and there’s the ’Gods of the Universe’ and everybody else should go on their knees and bow. I just don’t agree with that; l’m too much of a punk.

What are you like when you’re drunk?
Nigel Jones, Edinburgh

Brrrrrrrr, that’s probably for other people to say [laughing]. When l’m drunk, I think it’s always been quite an Icelandic experience for me. For weeks l’ll work really hard, and l’m not the sort of person who likes to have a glass of wine every night, it sort of spoils it for me. So when I go out. I go out!

And binge?

[Laughing] Is that what they’re writing about in the British press now? Binge drinking? l’m probably a binge drinker then.
I tend to go out with a small group of friends usually to a small bar where there are not many people there and I get left alone. Usually the sorts of bars I like to go to, the people there are maybe too cool for school, they don’t bother me. I dance, probably make a fool of myself, and go to bed, wake up the next day hung over and it was a laugh! I don’t usually get aggressive or stuff, that’s probably because it would be a week or two since I last had alcohol - I think that tends to happen when it’s night after night.

You’ve collaborated with Alexander McQueen a lot but who are the gay men that have Inspired you the most?
Curt Mason, via email

Wow... that’s a tricky question, let me think, because I don’t usually think of people in terms of gay or not gay so I haven’t really categorised il in my brain but I have worked with a lot of gay people. Let me think who...Matmos [the beat maestros on Vespertine] and right now, [fashion designer] Bernard Wilhelm is doing my tour collection. I’ve also worked a lot with [fashion designer] Jeremy Scott and M and M who do my album design work...
[Laughing] No no no, M and M! They’re called Michael and Mathis. And before I worked with Paul White, so there are a lot of people. But I sometimes know people for a while before
I even what they are. l’m not the sort of person who knows immediately. I haven’t worked with Alexander McQueen for a while now. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I was in living in London at the time so I was meeting him and bumping into him and most work relationships you start off knowing people and afterwards something comes out of it. It’s not like you’re thinking "Oh we have to do something!" It sort of just happens and the place [figuratively speaking] where we met I don’t think was in a fashion or pop world but in a more theatrical world and we had a similar pagan interest and thing about the animal world: nature. l’m not so into the kind of posh, aristocratic side of fashion, like if you’ve got this much money you can get this outfit.
And I wouldn’t describe me as chic [cracking up] - other words would probably come first! So
that’s where we meet – animals and a love of nature rather than showing the power structure
over animals, like "I control you!" It’s not that; it’s more celebratory. So I have that feeling for him; I think he’s amazing.

On ascale of l-10 how glamourous would you say your life is?
John Greenwood, Swansea

[Almost spills her tea down her face and giggles]
Whoopsie-daisy! It really depends on whom you compare it to: I do travel a lot, that’s probably quite glamourous. l’ve been doing it for so long, there are certain things that
have sheen to them that are actually not glamourous, like lots of cars. That to me says hard work, not glamour. Car insurance: can you imagine how many forms you’d have to fill in? I have an assistant, but not all the time. I always pay the champagne bill. But I don’t like Cristal - I like Veuve Cliquot. It’s like the same price as a bottle of wine anyway. But that’s my only ’living large’.

The sales of your albums have gone down, as your records have got better. How do you feef about that and about record sales generally?
Richard Evans, Norwich

It’s interesting because in certain areas, they’ve gone up, like when they were down in England they went up in France, so it’s really different between countries. Maybe it’s because my albums are so different from each other. I quite like that actually. Like the French love Vespertine, for example. And the classical world in New York totally fell for it too. I’m so flattered! When I sat at home, was I aiming for the classical market? No! [chuckling] It’s just quite coincidental what things come out - I do an all-vocal album [Medulla]. What market am I aiming at? I don’t know. Medulla was the same as the other albums; in the States all my albums have done the same. When I lived in England I was sort of an A list celebrity and I was selling a lot here. And when I moved it kind of went down a bit. But this [the UK] is the only country where that’s happened. Everywhere else I was never an A-lister, which I liked because, I can walk the streets. It’s one of the reasons why I moved here [New York] because I just couldn’t handle it and it’s not something I’m good at dealing with. So... do I worry about record sales? I’m happy if I sell a lot. I’d be lying to say that I don’t give a fuck. But it would never influence how I do stuff. I could only be run by what’s going on inside me. At 27 I thought, “l’m just going to do whatever l’m going te do. If people like it, great, if they don’t..." so that’s more why I do what I do.

When were you happiest?
Gareth Morgan, Sheffield

Hmm, good question. Do you know things aren’t bad right now, actually, I think it’s pretty abstract because you’ll have periods where five things in your life are going terribly badly and two are amazing. Looking back on periods that were pretty bad, there were maybe two or three diamonds there. But one thing I know: musically I have introvert periods and extrovert periods and maybe now l’m roady for an extrovert period, but I could never feel that way unless I was quite introverted for a few years before. Same when I was doing Debut, I had for a few years before that been in bands that were difficult. So by the time I did Debut it was harvest lime!

A lot of your work seems quite trippy, almost hallucinogenic. Have you ever been into acid or other such things?
Fabrizio Silvas, London

I once tried hall an acid and I decided never again. I’m such an introverted character, it really takes a lot for me to be extrovert, like when I do interviews I have to drink five kilos of coffee and talk and talk and talk. It [acid] just totally isolated me and I was not in touch with anyone in the room and I couldn’t speak to anyone and I was in another galaxy. That’s why I prefer champagne - you just go bubbly and dance on the table. Those kinds of drugs are more for... I’m introverted enough as il is: I’d be a rubbish pot smoker [laughing]. I can’t even inhale because I’m so paranoid [of my voicc] being a singer.

What’s the cheesiest, most mainstream, embarrassing record in your collection?
Brian Nelson, Loughhorough

(Thinks for ages looking up at the ceilingJ I got tons of those, I don’t know which to pick. I love pop, when you’re having that Friday night moment with a few glasses of champagne. You just want to hear pop, you know? I’m not even ashamed of it. I DJ Usher and tons of tracks. I used to DJ Foreigner’s Cold as Ice. I think it’s the works. I’ve always loved Pop. I’m Michael Jackson’s biggest fan.

Clearly you found the experience of doing Dancer in the Dark difficult and you said you would never act again, but do you feel a sense of achievement for it? Do you look back at it with pride?
Simon Chilvers, Stoke Newington

There’s a misunderstanding that I don’t want to act because of that movie, but I never really wanted to. I made an exception because of the director [Lars von Trier]. So afterwards
it wasn’t that that experience was so horrible that I didn’t do it again it was more like
"Oh yes l’m back to music!" I still haven’t been able to watch that movie, but then again I don’t listen to my own albums because you just move on. But I know in my heart of hearts, that emotionally, I went there. I decided to give it my all and I did. So in that sense... I’m not proud of myself in terms of the conflicts that happened because I find violence roally vulgar, I can’t handle it. I don’t like confrontation, I find it horrible but there was this thing where I had to stand up because every cell in me was shouting ’Justice!" I’m the daughter of a union leader and so the times when I rose up wasn’t necessarily me defending myself so much as defending human rights. It’s like watching someone being gang raped and then [saying] "Oh, it’s so cool!" You have to do something about it, because it’s just not right.

I’ve heard you’re a fan of Kate Bush, so I was wondering what you thought of her most recent album, Aerial?
Adam Lancing. Dover

I really like it. It’s a double album. I think for me, to be brutally honest, I would have made a single album. It has equally as many strong songs as any of her other albums. I think it’s amazing and there’s a lot of songs on it that I listen to a lot. For someone like her I think it’s fantastic that she’s not been driven by outside forces, she’s just driven by herself. So I’ve got a lot of respect for her in that way. She’s very respected as a singer and a songwriter, but
I think she’s very underestimated as a producer. She built a whole universe that was her own instead of just following a male...something. I don’t know, l’m not anti-male or anything.

What’s your ring tone?
Bradley MacKenzie, Fife

I just have the most boring... the one that was on the phone when I bought it! It’s gross. I know. I just haven’t had time. I should. I used to have one thal I really like, but I lose things all the time - credit cards. My favourite [ring tonel - you’re not going to be surprised by this - was sornebody beat boxing. But I didn’t programme it in myself.

A lot of people were surprised when you wrote Bedtime Story for Madonna. What did you think of what she did with that song?
Pierre Juhin, Belfast

I don’t know, I sort of did il as a favour to [the producer] Nellee Hooper who is a friend of mine and I think she at first wanted us to write for her together as a team and I just didn’t think that was right. I thought she was a bit of a ’left hemisphere’ kind of person - she’s very run by logic and she’s a bit calculated. But, I thought she could be a bit of a right hemisphere person. So it was kind of interesting and exciting - I thought the most exciting way to approach this thing would be to... say, for example, another singer like Thom Yorke would write a lyric for me and he would almost write the words that I’ve never written but that he thinks I should sing. So the lyric [I wrote] was "Let’s get unconscious, honey" so she was just more... er... and she did her own version and wrote the lyrics wrong. I can’t remember right now, but il was a really interesting mistake. Il was something like "Let’s say goodbye to logic and reason" and she got il wrong so that il actually meant the opposite. l’ll have to show you. I was like, "O-kay..."

“Volta” is released on One Little Indian on 7 May followed by the single “Earth Intruders” on 21 May

publié dans Attitude