Providence Journal-Bulletin

Björk creating myths in some styles all her own

But I can’t sing alternative music.
Well, I could, but I wouldn’t sound as interesting as Björk, for example.
I’ve really been into Björk lately.
Björk is God.
Björk is the total, undisputed God.

—k.d. lang

“I don’t know how to respond to that. All you can do is blush,” said the total undisputed God, speaking from a hotel room in Minneapolis.

Over the phone, Björk Guðmundsdóttir’s voice is soft and girlish, with a pleasant but indefinable accent that sounds halfway between British and Scandinavian.

In performance, Iceland’s gift to the rock world doesn’t sound like anyone else, her voice capable of going from a deep growl to a piercing wail.

“I think everyone should sing,” Bjork said. “No two people tend to sing the same way, it’s like fingerprints.

“I don’t think my singing is weird. I just sing the only way I can sing. I’m definitely not going out of my way to sound different. That’s the cheapest way to explain my singing.”

Björk began her career fronting a band called the Sugarcubes, then went off on her own to release two solo albums, “Debut” and “Post.”

“Post” is an eclectic affair, opening with the assertive industrial clang of “Army of Me,” proceeding along to an old big-band tune, “It’s Oh So Quiet,” and haunting soundscapes like “Headphones.”

She sees “Debut” and “Post” as “twins,” outlets for decades of music writing that she didn’t have a chance to expose previously.

“I did my first solo album when I was 11. It did pretty well in Iceland, but I hated the attention, and from then on I was working in bands,” she said. “I was very interested in the whole idea of learning from other people, and was into a punk ethos that one person doesn’t control other people.”

But she had been writing music for herself all along, she said, and had the chance to cram at least some of it into her last two records.

“ ‘Post’ is about the last 10 years of my life ; the next record, in 1996, will be about 1996 ... but still, even in a single day there are so many U-turns. You can walk out the door, and a car has driven over your cat, then later see a friend you haven’t seen in 10 years,” she said.

“Pop music is supposed to be about real life, which is like that. A lot of pop records I buy are just written in one style, which is not the way people live. It’s so boring.”

She decided to sing “It’s Oh So Quiet,” originally recorded in the ‘40s by Betty Hutton, because she liked the story line, in which a delicate hush is interrupted by the wild “Zing ! Boom !” of love.

“I like that, how right in the middle something changes,” she said. “It’s also a blast from the past, like looking at an old photograph.”

Björk’s lyrics can be as intriguing as her singing style.

On “The Modern Things,” for example, she sings that “all the modern things/like cars and such” have always existed, hiding in a mountain, awaiting their turn to come forth and multiply.

Asked about “Isobel,” Björk spins an intriguing yarn about creating a new goddess of pure instinct.

She wanted to create such a goddess, she said, after moving from Iceland, where people are very up-front about their feelings, to England, where they decidedly are not.

“Isobel” is born as a spark in the forest, and then discovers that the pebbles on the forest floor are actually tiny skyscrapers, which grow into large ones that overwhelm the forest. (Some of this is actually in the song lyrics ; some not.)

After a series of misadventures, Isobel isolates herself, but still sends messages to people via moths that land on their collars and go “Nana na nana.”

“I’m very selfish. I just make up things I enjoy. After all, I know I’m going to have to be singing a song for two years,” she said.

Björk has gotten something of an otherworldly reputation since her days with the Sugarcubes, to which she responds with an annoyed little snort.

“That irritates me, because it’s lazy journalism,” she said. “People don’t have the curiosity to listen to my records twice, instead of just once. Then they just label me as weird because I don’t sound like—I don’t know—Linda Ronstadt or something.”

Other critics supposed there might be something Icelandic in her approach. Wrong, Björk said.

“In Iceland, no one sings like me, either. They thought I was very strange there.”

Andy Smith

publié dans Providence Journal-Bulletin - 27.11.1995

 

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