The Icelandic artist talked about her forthcoming ninth album in a live webchat with Nowness, discussing her relationship with Arca, the key to a successful collaboration – and that it’ll be titled Utopia
Earlier today, Björk and filmmaker Andrew Thomas Huang sat down with Dazed co-founder Jefferson Hack for an illuminating discussion, broadcast live via Nowness. Wearing a gold lamé pussybow dress and a face mask designed by regular collaborator James Merry, the Icelandic artist talked about her newly-released single “The Gate”, its forthcoming music video, and her upcoming ninth studio album.
Here’s what we learned from the conversation.
“THE GATE” IS A SONG ABOUT HEALING…
Björk described her last album Vulnicura as “very much about grief and sadness”, but “The Gate” is a much lighter single. After a long period of grief, Björk said, “you’re gonna eventually float up to the surface and become light and fluffy. This song is a documentation of that.”
“The Gate” opens with the lyrics, “My healed chest wound / Transformed into a gate / Where I receive love from / Where I give love from.” The chest wound was a recurring visual motif in Vulnicura, appearing most prominently on the Andrew Thomas Huang-designed artwork for the album’s vinyl edition. Now, the wound has healed.
“It’s about almost like a metaphysical thing, where the wound of heartbreak – where you heart gets broken and your chest implodes – when that oval shape restores,” Björk said. “It becomes a gate. And then you maybe discover, even more so than before, that it was there all along. It’s like a gate: when you’re next to people you love, you exchange energy.”
…AND ITS VIDEO WILL VISUALISE THAT
“The Gate” video, premiering this weekend in London, sees Björk work once again with director Andrew Thomas Huang, and sees her wearing a dress designed by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele and a headpiece designed by James Merry. The video is very CGI-heavy and future-facing, with a basic narrative of two lovers passing a prism of love back and forth to one another; Huang describes Michele’s dress as a character in itself, setting up much of the visual language for the video.
Huang and Björk previously worked closely together on Vulnicura. “The wound was going through that whole album, especially in the video for ‘Family’,” Björk explained, “To come through that with Andy in the visual world – we’d almost gone into short speech describing that he’d be the one directing this video, where it (the wound) heals. You get healthy currents and energies back and learn how to love in a healthy way again.”
HER COLLABORATION WITH ARCA IS KEY
When Björk started collaborating with Arca on Vulnicura, she’d already written the majority of the album and had spent 14 months working on its string arrangements. “Notget” was the first song they wrote and produced together. After the album was finished and they performed a few emotionally heavy shows together, she felt they’d earned the chance to be lighter. Arca pulled out old instrumental b-sides of Björk’s that he’d listened to as a kid, and they used them as “coordinates” for the new music they started making together.
“I obviously saw a gigantic musician in him,” Björk said. “I felt that he’d gone into my world with such elegance and dignity… that I wanted to meet on a more equal basis. It’s my album for sure, and he makes his albums and has his name on it – but as a pure musician, we decided to enter this other world, this other island, which is this sort of Arca-Björk overlap.”
That overlap is more than a musical partnership – there is a spiritual connection there, too: “Where we keep our joy is very similar, and where we keep our darkness is not that dissimilar.”
THE ALBUM IS VERY LIGHT
“I arranged flute,” Björk explained. “I started a 12-piece Icelandic flute section and spent a few months recording and rehearsing with them. I’m kind of taking the flute, the instrument I learned as a child, and putting that into everything. The whole album is a little bit about air, because we decided to have synths that have a lot of air in them, and we have flutes that sound synthy, so there’s that sort of crossover there.”
SHE DISCUSSED HER KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL CREATIVE COLLABORATION
Björk’s new album has a few collaborators around it – Arca, Huang, Michele, and Merry are just four of the names closely associated with her. When asked about what makes a good collaboration, Björk said that she’s willing to go with the flow. “I’m just a very impulsive person,” Björk explained. “I really act on hunches.”
Every relationship is different, she explained. “My relationship with Andy Huang is very different to my relationship with James Merry.” Part of it is about letting go of egos, something she learned from her time in Iceland’s collectivist punk scene as a teenager. “It was about dropping the egos – if somebody wanted to make a poster for a poetry book, we’d all do it together. I did that for 10 years, so when I moved to London and met you guys, I had that.”
But it’s also important to spend time on your own. “I spent a lot of my time on my own arranging music, walking outside, making the melodies. That’s a separate side to me that I don’t really talk about (that much) – the solitary or lonely hours that Björk does at a computer.”
THE NEW ALBUM WILL (PROBABLY) BE CALLED UTOPIA
“I’ve had a thousand name suggestions, and I think it’s probably going to be called Utopia,” Björk explained. “I can’t think of anything better. If I change my mind five minutes before the album goes to print, that might happen – but as I’m here with you guys…”
“I kind of like the fact that it’s a cliche, that word, and I like the fact that it has a fascistic, weird, ‘I want the world to be like this’ feeling about it. It’s a proposal of how we can live in the future with nature and technology in the most optimistic way possible. We have Trump, we have Brexit, we have our issues in Iceland, we have our environmental issues – if there was ever an urgency or necessity to come up with another utopian model, how we’re gonna live our lives, I think it’s now. And this is my proposal.”