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Björk gets her voice back

In this interview from 1995, Dazed's co-founder interviews Björk around her dizzying album Post

TextJefferson HackPhotographyRankin

Taken from issue 16 of Dazed in celebration of her retrospective MOMA exhibition. Read the rest of our Björk archive here

When lunar astronaut Björk crashed back down to earth during the US leg of her recent world tour, those closest to her wondered if she was going to be able to withstand the shock of impact. Her re-entry through Earth's atmosphere was caused by physical exhaustion; its by-product was she began to lose her voice. There was panic in camp Björk. After a back to back schedule of interviews, gigs and promotional chores she crashed for three days. A specialist was brought on tour. She had to cut her live set a little short, leaving out the encores at some of the less important shows. She stopped talking unless absolutely necessary, communicating by means of a notepad and pen. Björk was saving every last vocal chord for the remaining dates of the tour, determined to fulfil the commitments she'd already made.

In 1987 The Sugarcubes released “Birthday”, bringing Björk's voice to the attention of the British music press and a few thousand indie kids for the first time. It was alien, other-worldly, an escape into the imaginary situations and characters that shaped her hopes and desires. Four Sugarcubes albums and her own three million worldwide selling Debut, which captured the Zeitgeist with a soundtrack to the summer of 1993, have seamlessly imbued Björk's voice into mainstream public consciousness. You either love it or you hate it, but you damn well know it's her when you hear it and that's what matters. What was once considered too weird for commercial success is now accepted, as Björk flaunts convention at every opportunity, bringing experimentation and new musical ideas to the charts.

This year, Post shone new light onto planet Björk, after the clouds begun to settle on the peaks of the mighty but now overfamiliar Debut. Post spans a similar emotional radius, but the musical production breaks with any sense of the fluidity of its predecessor. While Debut appears carved by water and ice, Post seems shaped by fire and volcanic action; the lows are much more precarious, the highs more jagged and steeper to climb. Individually co-produced with Nellee Hooper, Graham Massey, Howie B and Tricky, the songs reflect the personalities of Björk's male counterparts. These are her collaborators in the sexually charged, creative act of making beautiful music. Björk takes liberties with melodies and form is avoided in favour of impression. You can imagine Björk still gasping at her own reflection in water, still seduced by the sound of the echo of her own voice.

Björk is now back on form, after a strict diet, rationed talking and plenty of rest. Last night she broke with convention and went on a binge, end-ing up back at her house with some friends, drinking and talking until five in the morning. Tonight she's in an hotel room in Liverpool, with a four poster bed and a four poster bathtub, “dead princess-like”. She describes the telephone she's talking to me on as being gold with roses painted on it, “Jeff Koons would love it”. It sounds like they knew Björk was coming.

How did you feel when you were losing your voice?

Björk: I was basically faced with, ‘If I can't sing, it's not only me and my life, but a lot of people rely on that’, you know? It was kind of strange to be confronted with it.

But I heard that you had nodules (whatever they might be) on your throat.

Björk: I got nodules, but basically it is physical exhaustion. It's so clever the way the body functions; it makes you crash and makes you rethink everything.

How long did you crash for?

Björk: I crashed for a few days, but then I did the whole tour very carefully. I called it my ‘monk tip’. So my last few months of touring has been Björk on the monk tip. If you're sort of really bored, Jefferson, and you want a new angle on life: don't do drugs, stop talking. It's amazing. The amount of energy that goes into communicating is just outrageous. And you end up just writing what is dead important. Everything becomes so precious. And it's very interesting. You start very quickly listening to completely different music as well, and reading completely different books and you get this urge for completely different films as well.

Are you at the end of your monk tip now? Are you talking more regularly to people?

Björk: I can still go completely bonkers. That's kind of how I was brought up, my drinking manners with my mates, was ‘go for it’, and do it for 12 hours and then don't do any of it for a month and I really like it like that. But it had become that I was going out all the time and it's not as precious. I went out last night and got drunk and it's like I've cleared up a lot of crap, and I wake up like this rucksack full of rocks has been lifted off my shoulder.

For me it's definitely the other way round. If I've been out drinking I feel like I've got a rucksack full of stones lying on my head.

Björk: Yeah, that's what it's like when you do it often. When you do it rarely and go all the way, it's better than any fucking psychotherapy. Because your body just screams for these needs and just goes and jumps on a table if your body needs to.

You've become very good at analysing your own psychology, working out what makes you tick. Have you ever been to see a psychiatrist?

Björk: No. I want to be quite self-sufficient like that. I think people should only do that in the case of emergency, but at the end of the day you've got to learn to live with yourself and if you need constant assistance just to do that... also I think you are supposed to be able to solve those things through friends and your relationship, not in an analysed, calculated manner, but in a free-flowing, natural way, so you don't end up stuck with the same problems for ten years.

“I guess everyone thinks I fall in love every five minutes, and I have nine boyfriends... it's not true” – Björk

When was the last time you cried?

Björk Gudmundsdottir: Listen, I cry all the time. I cried this morning. I'm over-emotional.

What was that all about?

Björk: Well after my binge last night, we ended back at my house and I ended up in a one to one talk with one of my oldest friends and we were just crying, not because of sadness, but because (laughs), it sounds so wack now, we were being fragile, we weren't on drugs just fragile, and when you feel too much in a happy way.

Close your eyes for a minute and tell me what you hear inside your head.

Björk: It's some sort of movement similar to cream I think. You know when they squeeze the cream out of the gas thing. Like really pretty when It's got a spike at the top, and it's got a circle. Sort of slow circle movement in the same way whipped cream would move. Very still and very satisfied.

So you're happy at the moment.

Björk: You know this touring thing is definitely one of the most difficult things I've done, like an Indiana Jones thing, and me dealing with my body, like ‘time's out, Björk’.

What were the overriding emotions you felt during this tour?

Björk: Goldie was with us, and all of Goldie's crew and our crew got on and it was the best vibe on tour.

So how come you didn't ask Goldie to coproduce any of the songs on Post?

Björk: I don't know really. It wasn't like I was trying to get the whole world on the album.

Yes it was...

Björk: (laughs) Yeah, I know, it looks a bit like that. I'm very much a person who has intimate musical relationships with people and they are almost like love affairs, you see. But I'm very loyal. So me and Nellee got through half the album and then we just stopped turning each other on. We remained friends, but we would just kind of know each other's taste too much for it to be a surprise. And at that point I met Tricky, so we did those tunes, half of which have come out on my album, the other half is coming out on Durban Poison.

And Graham Massey and Howie B, how did your personal relationship with them affect the music?

Björk: The tunes I wrote with Graham, I actually wrote before Debut, and I saved them for this. I met him in 1990; that was when we were really sparking big time off each other, and for a few years we sent each other tapes, and then when I started doing Debut with Nellee it just became very obvious that it would end up as a very musical affair between me and Nellee. So I talked to Graham and decided to keep the other songs because they were just too different. So I saved ‘Army of Me’ and ‘The Modern Things’ for this album, and then Howie has been one of my closest friends in England for over three years and that just kind of happened one afternoon. That song we wrote in an hour.

It's a very spontaneous-sounding song. 

Björk: I'm just going bonkers now, I had a three hour conversation with Nellee yesterday. I fucking wake up in the morning with a far too big heart, I don't know what to do with it really. I love so many people so deeply I could happily die now. It's scary. It's so scary it's outrageous. If it wasn't for my kid I would... emotionally-wise, I think I've achieved as much I think I can achieve

I don't think you have.

Björk: But do you know what I mean?

No. But you've probably achieved more than what you think is possible...

Björk: That's true...

But I don't believe that you've given as much as you're ever going to give.

Björk: (sighs) And the band as well; when I went through my monk tip, they developed this amazing way to tell me jokes without making a noise, they worked their way around it.

It's funny because, when you're more serious, your accent is more British, and when you're speaking more emotionally it's more Icelandic.

Björk: It's definitely that. For me Icelandic is my instinct and English is me being clever. Icelandic is unconscious and English is conscious. And when I speak English, especially when I do interviews and stuff, I can very easily see myself from the outside and describe myself. But then again I would have to be pretty stupid not to have developed that thing, because I've done interviews now for 900 years. But it's impossible for me to do interviews in Icelandic. I just listen to myself and I sound so fake and so terribly pretentious and so Little Miss Know-it-all, I just want to strangle myself. The Icelandic media is going bonkers because I do one interview there every five years.

Do you feel like you have multiple personalities you can switch into at any time to suit the mood or occasion? Like when you do interviews, or when you're with friends or when you're performing. Or do you feel a lot more sorted than that?

Björk: I think I'm learning to combine them. And that's kind of what Debut and Post are all about. Like, I would love to do one experimental electronic song with Graham and the next day I would love to be a diva walking down the staircase being a drama queen. The day after, I would love to do a punk song, and that's very much how I've done my music so far, but I can feel very much that I'm starting to become more everything at once. Like I have one friend who I'm very humorous with and another friend whom I'm very sexy with; and another friend that protects me and another friend that I protect; but now I can see it, I'm not planning it or anything, I can just see myself being able to be everything with each person and just being more spontaneous about it, and just let it flow. But I think everyone is a bit like that and that is kind of the target; combine all those things without leaving any of them out. Because it's very tempting, as we grow up, to leave one of them out.

Are you in love at the moment?

Björk: (pause) I am, actually. I haven't eaten or slept for two weeks.

And there's me thinking that's because you've been working really hard, not shagging.

Björk: But it doesn't really bother me. I just look at a plate of food and I just think it's rubbish. It looks like wood to me or coins. It's just impossible to put it inside my system - it's got nothing to do with me.

But you seem to fall in love very easily.

Björk: I think my reputation has gone a bit funny, because I've got a lot of friends, but I get very precious when it comes to love things, you know?

“It's impossible for me to do interviews in Icelandic. I just listen to myself and I sound so fake and so terribly pretentious and so Little Miss know-it-all, I just want to strangle myself” – Björk

What do you think your reputation is?

Björk: I dunno, I guess everyone thinks I fall in love every five minutes, and I have nine boyfriends.

Yeah, they probably do.

Björk: It's not true.

So you've just got one on the go?

Björk: This is definitely the strongest, though for many, many years. I'm on natural E; I don't even want to drink, because that will make the feeling go away. I just have to drink one glass and push me a little bit up, and I'm ecstatic.

What's he like? Does he work in the same industry as you?

Björk: Don't ask me please. Let's put it this way, I don't meet a lot of people other than the people I work with. You know, it's not like I hang out with shoe salesmen. Or gymnasts.

Or psychotherapists.

Björk: Not in my line of work.

With you and Tricky. Why was it so short-lived?

Björk: With me and Tricky I don't think we ever knew if we were going out together or not. I mean, we were going out together and then we weren't. Because, basically, the way our relationship functioned was that we were a support mechanism for each other, and we still have this kind of, like, permission to call each other in the middle of the night, when I'm in fucking Munich and he's in fucking Tokyo. It's a very strange job we've got, and we don't have to explain it: we know. And we know the pressure. So that's more what our relationship is like and still is. And I think it didn't last a long time before we realised that that is why we'd met and sucked like a magnet to each other.

So are you writing at the moment?

Björk: Yeah. Pathetic Michael Jackson songs, (sings ‘Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough’) My next record is going to be happy Smurfs or something, I dunno. It's very happy, which makes a change.

Tell me about one song. Have you got one in your head at the moment? Apart from cream?

Björk: It's very happy, very simple and very poppy. I usually have two at the same time. And they are usually opposite to each other. It's like that mood and that mood, black and white. I've got about five songs that I could go and record tomorrow. Basically, what happens to me is I write the melody first and then, if I work with someone, then the other person adds the other half.

So who's next on your hit list?

Björk: I think I have to start being a bit self-sufficient.

Especially if you have to jump into the studio with some geezer every time you want to record a song.

Björk: I just love doing music with people; it's the biggest kick ever. But what I need is patience to make the song finish in my head because now in my head I've got a lyric, a string arrangement, a bass line, the sounds, what instruments I want to use, I've got the rhythm, but if I would have met a person that I would have musically fallen in love with, say, in June, that probably meant that I would have only written the melody and the bass line by then, so he would have written the rest. But if I wait, I end up finishing the song myself.

What kind of person do you fall musically in love with?

Björk: I want people to be strong characters and personalities; I thrive on that, I'm motivated by very strong characters, I don't get any kick out of bossing people around you see.

Read the rest of our Björk archive here