Words by Ken Scrudato
Comes a time in every girl’s life where she’s got to reach for the trigger and take aim at the motherfuckers (usually mostly guys) who seem forever intent on poisoning their sugar and spice. Not that Bjork has ever spent a tenth of a millisecond playing by man’s dastardly rules. But perhaps she’s finally exhausted the certainly noble but possibly futile “All is full of love” approach, and is intent on rolling a few heads. And after all, this is the girl that once emphatically reminded us in song that she’s, “no fucking Buddhist.” True Bjorkies, of course, knew that all along.
On her new album, Volta, some heads do, in fact, roll. And like all of history’s great cries for justice (think, in modern terms, of Sinead gloriously savaging the Pope on network TV), it is not a coy, introverted affair. The groovy, futuristic pop goddess we all fell in love with when Debut was released in 1993 has arisen once again. These are the most immediate tunes she’s done in years.
Bjork, it seems, would have us dance our way over the barricades, rather than just sit around griping that they might be too difficult to scale.
WC: I witnessed some rather violent–in other words, severely negative–reactions to your last two records, Medulla and Drawing Restraint 9, which I actually found challenging and fascinating; especially as I don’t have reason to doubt the honesty of your work. How was the making of Volta, a much more accessible record, a continuum or a reaction by you to those records?
B: “Medulla and Drawing Restraint 9 were very important albums for me to make. I don’t think I could have done Volta without having gone to these other places first. People overrate extrovert music, and introvert music is underrated. Personally I probably listen more to introvert music than extrovert. But I have been lucky, I’m not complaining. A lot of people’s favorite albums of mine are Vespertine and Medulla. So, I guess I’m just going to continue on my little path and some people will get it and some won’t.”
WC: A collision of nature and machines seems to be an ongoing idea, maybe even struggle, in your work. How does that play out on Volta?
B: “The struggle is still there for sure but it is more seamless and complex. Some of the most natural sounding noises on this album are actually done with computers and then you have trumpets imitating Morse codes.”
WC: Is there struggle or harmony between your modernist and ancient impulses?
B: ”Overall I’m always quite interested to unite, to create a whole. Some cheap psychology might explain it, being a child of divorced parents; but I have always felt that by uniting techno and acoustic, the modern and the roots, man and woman, the symphonic and the rhythmic, sound and vision, words and music…I can go on forever, but I seem to be quite driven by uniting these things and feel that only then a flow will happen.”
WC: You use an Icelandic female brass section on Volta. Yet on “Wanderlust,” you sing, “I have lost my origin.” Was employing musicians from your homeland a way of trying to reconnect through art with the sort of primal essence that Iceland has instilled you with? Or am I over-analyzing it?
B: “Could be. My anchor this time around was pretty global; tired of nationalism. But it is great to have them around. Perhaps they support also the ‘female power’ aspect of the album.”
WC: Antony told me that he wished that people would stop seeing him as odd or eccentric, and realize that he is just writing simple, heartfelt songs. Have you ever felt you were overly-classified as being sort of peculiar or idiosyncratic?
B: “Yes. I feel I’m a pretty healthy, normal human being. I haven’t been [oppressed] by religion or sexism and so on. But people are scared of [anyone different] so they point at me.”
WC: Was there a statement in your working with African musicians, at a time when the West seems to be badly fumbling our relationship and responsibility to that continent?
B: “Yes, not so conscious though. I asked both Konono and Toumani [to play] because of their brilliant musicianship and it was a coincidence they where both from Africa.”
WC: Yours have always seemed to be the politics of the human spirit, that the world can be changed by not being afraid to be an individual. But “Declare Independence” seems to be railing with a bit more of a punk sense of defiance. Can you describe your emotional zeitgeist?
B: “Maybe I felt that up to here things would be okay and the ‘good’ would win in the end if only it persists. But things are not looking so good right now. It is time to go up on a mountain with a flag and a trumpet and insist on justice!”
WC: On “Hope” you insist that “Nature has fixed no limits on our hope.” Yet hope seems to be forever crushed under the heels of the greedy and corrupt, who can often be found holding much of the world’s power.
B: “I guess in the lyric I was talking about the pregnant suicide bomber and trying to understand what drives her; and that sentence just seemed to fit.”
WC: You told me before that you would probably die without your music. How would you describe this chapter, Volta, in terms of carrying on the Bjork life force?
B: “Hmm. It is always funny when you see old comments of yours taken out of context. They seem so extreme. But in a way it is still true. Making music is a way of survival for me. Or I would probably implode. But the Volta chapter is very much about justice. Justice for women, the female spirit, nature and people in need in general. Perhaps having a little girl influenced me in a way that I felt I needed to update, to educate myself on the state of things and how I was going to explain it to her. Like, for example, why there are no floor thirteens in Manhattan skyscrapers?”