With contributions from the likes of Arca, Michel Gondry, Eileen Myles, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Haxan Cloak, here’s what happened when some of Bjork’s most enigmatic fans and collaborators got their hands on the Icelandic artist’s remarkable mind.
Haxan Cloak: How do you define relevance with respect to music? ‘Staying relevant’ is an oft-used phrase when discussing artists who’ve had long careers. Relevance seems to be such a subjective term, so I wondered what music you would deem ‘relevant’, and how you see your own music within that?
Björk: That’s a good question. I think the honest, sincere, simple answer to that is that I’m kind of attracted to things which I feel are timeless. (Sometimes) new things come along and I feel like I somehow recognise them, like it’s the song I always wanted to hear but was waiting for someone to make. Or maybe it always existed and someone simply had to dust the earth off it. But maybe it’s a taste thing, too? To be less deep! I feel like a lot of stuff that came out in (the) early 2000s I found harder to relate to… And then (in the) last five years or so, there’s been mountains and mountains of new stuff that I absolutely adore! (I feel like) this generation went even further to the core and managed to keep the best bits of what my generation did, and then add some.
Jenny Hval: What’s the connection between music and magic? (This question is partly inspired by the comic-book series Promethea by Alan Moore.)
Björk: I haven’t read that book, but it sounds incredible! Obviously, I aim to connect the two as often as possible, and have better results some times than others… I try to find the right song to play in my house in my daily life – or in the car or wherever – to join with that moment and elevate it, without being aggressive or too passive. I would say this search is with me non-stop. If it’s in concert-going or dancing in a club or preparing music for people, I try my best to merge the two.
serpentwithfeet: “Are there days when being transparent becomes exhausting?”
Björk: “Absolutely ... but isn’t it something that isn’t meant to be effortless for all of us?”
serpentwithfeet: Your work has been a relentless compass for me through the years. Your words have given so many of us the real estate to be piercingly honest. ‘Unravel’, ‘Hyperballad’ and ‘Lionsong’ are just a few Björk monuments in my life. But obviously you’ve taught us many lessons with all your songs. Are there days when being transparent becomes exhausting?
Björk: Thank you from the bottom of my heart! That means a lot to me! And absolutely, I try non-stop to find the balance between the open, sensual feminine and action-adventurer masculine, more closed do-er — but isn’t it something that isn’t meant to be effortless for all of us? (Don’t) the choices we make make us who we are? (I will) probably still be making that choice on my last day. That day will start with me trying to decide (whether) to have a double cappuccino in the morning and take the world on, or to calmly embrace introvert yoga…
Mitski: How much trust do you put in your audience, and how much does your audience matter when you’re performing live? Sometimes when I perform and it’s obvious the audience is just there to party, or if I feel a wall between me and the audience, I get existential about it. I know a lot of it has to do with ego, but when you’ve flown in and you haven’t slept in days and then you play a show where nothing seems to connect, it’s easy to wonder what and who exactly you’re performing for.
Björk: Hmm… I guess that’s why I have always asked to play early! A lot of my tunes are slow, (so) even when I’m headlining a festival, I ask if I can play at dusk. I check ahead to see what time the sun sets and try to start my set at dusk, so it goes dark halfway through. Then you get that steep curve, and end with the mental techno tracks. The first few songs might be embarrassingly slow, but it kinda lets the ones who can take it and are there to concentrate stay, and others leave. I get you, though! What’s most annoying for us musicians are the phones – people texting or taking photos. It kinda breaks the spell.
Hans-Ulrich Obrist: “What is your unrealised project? What is your dream?”
Björk: “I have sooo many things... I want to try to write as many of the most different, truthful, celebratory songs I am capable of, and not just have them lying around inside me, unwritten.”
Michel Gondry: Alfred Hitchcock is not my favourite director, but he made a lot of movies. There are these two famous pictures of him: one in which he is piling up all the scripts of his films like a tower, and the other in which he lined up all the film cans in a row on the floor. There is one Björk now, but there have been many Björks in the past. Do you see them piled up, like the first picture, or lined up, like the second one? In other words, the lined-up version illustrates more clearly the notion of time and the tower is more like the inside of a tree-trunk, or layers of dirt in the forest. Is there only one Björk that grew?
Björk: Ha, that’s an amazing question! I think I see us kinda like a planet with our lives orbiting around us like a moon, and the trick is to somehow to get rid of unnecessary luggage on our moon as it circles. If we can’t process stuff, our moon goes off orbit inwards and we implode… and if we get too neurotic or involved in craziness, our moon shoots off its orbit into space. Does that make sense? So that means I wouldn’t be into either of those back catalogues. Ha ha. It also explains why my digital exhibition suits my character better than huge, weighty retrospectives…
Hans-Ulrich Obrist: What is your unrealised project? What is your dream?
Björk: I have sooo many things. Damn, I guess I’ve already swallowed that I won’t get them done before I die, so I’ve tried to limit it to songwriting and make that a priority for me. I want to try to write as many of the most different, truthful, celebratory songs I am capable of, and not just have them lying around inside me, unwritten. Because this universe is truly a magnificent spectacle, and needs to be mirrored.
Eileen Myles: “Do you have any vision of yourself as a really old artist? What will you be doing?”
Björk: “I do, actually – I always had a better sense of what I’d be doing then, than the middle bit. I’d love to just be writing songs, hanging out with family and friends in nature, cooking, hiking and dancing. I’d like a simpler life than now.”
Arca: One of the most inspiring things I have witnessed is seeing the way in which you go about life. Your mercurial attitude toward ‘connecting dots’ – to nurture, to solve, to create space and mitigate what might at first appear to be dead ends or tension as alchemical materia prima. Countless times I have watched you transform things by both looking outward and inward and creating a way to harmonise both spaces to one another in an almost playful way. To find a way to make it all work together means believing in considering all possibilities and then choosing. Would you mind trying to communicate what that attitude means for you as a musician and as a human?
Björk: Thank you! That is one of the most lush compliments I’ve received, especially from someone like you! It’s just that sometimes things feel quite chaotic, so I often don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job. But I guess life is chaotic in its nature and one has to cooperate with that chaos. One cannot retreat, isolate and create a disciplined, ‘forced’ life outside of that – but you and I have talked a lot about how the feminine element in ourselves has been underrated and looked down upon, but we want to give it an upgrade! And pride ourselves in being the queens of connecting all dots and creating a flow between things. There has to be equilibrium between as many elements as possible, for our personal worlds to rotate with that big outer one.
Eileen Myles: Do you have any vision of yourself as a really old artist? What will you be doing?
Björk: I do, actually – I always had a better sense of what I’d be doing then, than the middle bit. I’d love to just be writing songs, hanging out with family and friends in nature, cooking, hiking and dancing. (I’d) like a simpler life than now, (so) I’m kinda doing my homework, experiencing the maximum so I can have these calmer moments later, and write about it.