Björk has just
recorded Medúlla - an a cappella album that sees her
fascinating voyage of discovery taking her further away from
mainstream music than she has ever been before. “Instruments
are so over,” she tells Jonathan Wingate
that Björk’s sixth album is the bravest of her
pioneering career, it comes as no surprise to learn that Medúlla
is also the least radio-friendly music she has ever created;
as anyone who has been listening in on her weird world since
she arrived with The Sugarcubes at the end of 1987 will know,
that’s really saying something.
has redrawn the boundaries of what one woman can accomplish
simply by mixing pop and art. Of course, if it were that simple
in reality, then everybody would be doing it. But as it is,
the only major star making music this far out of this world
is Björk. Her music is proof that pop can transcend its
influences at a time when we are in desperate need of someone
who dares to be different to fly the flag for artistic freedom.
first I was recording the album with all sorts of instruments,
but it just wasn’t working,” Björk explains,
sitting in a private dining room of a favourite restaurant
near Reykjavik’s main square. “I was trying to
figure out why, thinking, ‘Where are the songs in all
this mess?’ Then I sat down at the mixing desk and started
muting the instruments, and it was like, Oh, there they are.
I figured out that if I removed everything, that was OK. The
only other rule was for it not to sound like Bobby McFerrin.
It really just happened by itself. After that, it became a
very spontaneous, carefree album to make. It really wasn’t
days, she spends half the year here with her boyfriend, American
artist, Matthew Barney and their two-year-old daughter, Isadora
in their new place round the corner from the city centre.
The rest of the time they spend in their house, once owned
by Noel Coward, across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
A Creative Life
is besotted with Barney and their little girl, and despite
her palpable nervousness when the tape recorder is switched
on and we begin the interview proper, she is obviously more
at ease here than she was the last time we met in London three
“It’s surprising how exhausting
talking about yourself is,” she says. “I probably
do it totally wrong. For some reason, it sort of feels like
I’ve done a four-hour show or something really physical.
I’m just wrecked afterwards. It’s just really
extreme, that’s what it is. I mean, I probably won’t
sleep tonight and I’ll be going over all the stuff I’ve
said in my head.”
Would you say you are working on music most
days? “Um, usually there are things going round in my
head. But I wouldn’t call that working,” Björk
grins. “I’ll sort of be working, but I mean, every
day? It’s not every day. Anyway, it doesn’t feel
like work really.
“I think people like me who make music
have always sort of stayed the same, but in the meantime,
the music industry has grown from zero to nine hundred billion
trillion million billion and then collapsed. The monster just
got bigger and bigger, but at the end of the day, it’s
no big deal - putting a record out. It’s so easy,”
she shrugs. “We started doing it here in Iceland when
I was 14. You just record a song, you make a poster, glue
the poster up and then you sell it.”
All Stripped Down
Much of the Medúlla was recorded
on Dictaphones with Björk and her buddies singing their
hearts out whilst they walked over mountains and through caves.
The album was made in 18 different locations including New
York, Iceland, Venice, the Canary Islands and Lincolnshire.
“I ended up in a cave somewhere, just
going out singing,” she explains. “I liked all
of us to make up special noises whilst we were recording this
album. You know, we don’t need those ghetto blasters,
we don’t need those tools. Let’s just have a good
time. You do the basslines and you can do the drum machine
noises. We can just do it ourselves.
“I had to use a Dictaphone after I
had my daughter, because the only thing you can remember is
you and the baby. I had to exercise that muscle with Dictaphones
until I got my memory back. You can work on an idea and make
it better and better, but there’s something very important
about the first time you record it. That is usually the take
that stays. I can’t record it again. I have to use the
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