"Music is being abused so much. There are so many things with no emotion, no feeling, and without craft-– it's a tool of power. I've always felt that it was my role to do the other thing. To keep it emotional."
What better way to start a new year than a talk with Björk? The Icelandic superstar has already set 2008 off with a bang, releasing "Declare Independence", the third single from her latest album, Volta, on January 1. (The accompanying video, which premiered in December, reunited Björk with director Michel Gondry, who helmed such classic clips as "Human Behaviour" and "Army of Me".)
Shortly before the holiday break, we chatted with Björk about "Declare Independence": the song, the video, and the remixes. We also got an update on the video for the Antony duet "Dull Flame of Desire", as well as Björk's thoughts about a certain music industry award.
Pitchfork: Congratulations on the Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album for Volta. Do these kinds of awards mean anything to you?
Björk: I don't know. I'm not going to pretend I don't care about awards, but I don't think I will ever win a Grammy. I've been nominated before. But I think they find me...I think it's a really conservative, middle-of-the-road thing. I think they're probably a little scared of me.
Pitchfork: Let's talk about "Declare Independence". The song has a political element to it, but it's also very broad. I know you've talked about that before-- how it's about freedom and justice for everyone, that it's a personal as well as political message. But in the video, you and director Michel Gondry use a lot of military-industrial imagery. Were you nervous about how that might potentially narrow the scope of the song?
Björk: The military thing was Michel's idea. I was quite intrigued by using the costumes that we had been using live; they're very colorful, very happy. But for him, because of the whole thing with the string being the only part that's in color, the costumes couldn't scream for attention. So the military thing was something that we thought might help [the performers] blend into the background.
Pitchfork: Like camouflage.
Björk: Yeah, that was kind of the idea. When I spoke to Michel, it was important to me that it was a live performance. And it was important to me that there wasn't a hierarchy. That everyone be kind of equal. I never see myself in a position of controller, or as someone with authority, even though I happen to be on stage. So that was something I was quite sensitive about. That [the other performers] would be giving me as much energy as I was giving them, that it was an equal thing.
Pitchfork: Well, quite literally, with the string, there's an amazing exchange of energy.
Björk: That was one of the reasons we were all wearing the same thing. We're supposed to be on the same level. If I was wearing some crazy colored dress it wouldn't be balanced. But maybe-- I haven't really thought about this-- but maybe you're right, maybe it comes across as too military. It wasn't military, it was more just about trying to make everybody equal. Having the clothes be neutral. I think we were more excited about the flags on everybody's arms.
Pitchfork: What is the significance of the flags?
Björk: It's Greenland's flag and the Faroe Islands' flag. Iceland became independent from Denmark 60 years ago. We were a colony for 600 years, and we were treated really badly, as all colonies are. And Greenland and the Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark. The song was partly written to those countries. In Iceland's newspapers, there's always some talk about the Faroe Islands and Greenland wanting independence, and Greenland seemed close, but then they found a lot of oil, and Denmark doesn't want to let that go. If you were to go into a local bar and ask about Greenland and the Faroe Islands, people get very feisty. People are very supportive of Greenland and the Faroe Islands getting independence. I think that Greenland and the Faroe Islands have looked a lot to Iceland as an inspiration, the way we set up our bank systems, the way we became more and more independent.
And I thought it was hysterical to say to your friend who is having a lot of problems with his girlfriend, to just say 'Declare independence and raise your own flag.' Maybe it's just my silly sense of humor. But it's definitely written to Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Pitchfork: Why did you choose to release that song now, as the third single from Volta?
Björk: For me, as soon as a record comes out, I switch and start working with visual people. [Creating visuals] is quite time-consuming, and I want to give it my all-- while I'm making the music, I don't have much time. So it's not a marketing scheme, where I call someone and they have a week [to finish something]. I prefer to work with a person who is on equal ground, and to give them time to give it their best shot. For example, I started working with these guys Encyclopedia Pictura, who did an amazing video for Grizzly Bear ["Knife"]. I met up with them in May about the next video. They're these gorgeous computer nerds. And they have been working 18 hours a day for six months, and they keep asking for another month and another month. And then I saw what they were doing, and I think it's going to be really incredible. But it won't be out until it's ready.
I was so excited to be working with Michel again. We wanted to do something that was opposite from what we'd done before. The ["Declare Independence"] video is based on a live performance. It didn't have a complicated narrative like our earlier videos have. It's very immediate, because the song is quite punk. So we basically shot it and a week later they had edited it, and it was ready.
Pitchfork: You've worked with Gondry quite a bit in the past, but it's been over a decade since you've done a video together. Could you sense the ways in which you've both grown? Was it a different experience working with him now? Or did it feel familiar?
Björk: I think it was both. The first videos he did-- outside the low-budget stuff that he did for his own band-- were all for me. So when I was working for him, I probably had a bit more experience than he did. But now, he's gone and done movies and amazing videos with other people and I think he's grown a lot. We've always kept in touch and we've become such great friends, so in a way, it was like nothing had changed. It's great working with him, I think we're quite excited about doing more stuff now. Not videos, but something else. I think we're a very natural fit. It's a very happy experience for both of us and very stimulating.
Pitchfork: Do you think you might work together on a movie project?
Björk: I think it's too early to tell. We have talked about several different things, but it's too early to say. I hope you respect that.
Pitchfork: Of course. Back to "Declare Independence"-- there are four remixes on the single, by Matthew Herbert, Ghostigital, and Mark Stent. What's that process like? It is ever uncomfortable to have your work deconstructed or re-imagined in that way?
Björk: When I started out in 1993, I was a bit naïve, and my record company would send my songs to people that I had never heard of. That immediately felt really wrong. Ever since, I've only been choosing people that I've met or that I know or I admire their work. So usually I'm really excited-- it's one of the most exciting things, because you don't know what they're going to do with what you did. I think it's important. There's so much music out there. Music is being abused so much. There are so many things with no emotion, no feeling, and without craft-- it's a tool of power. And I've always felt that it was my role to do the other thing. To keep it emotional.
Pitchfork: Can you tell us anything about the video for "Dull Flame of Desire", your duet with Antony?
Björk: When we did the competition for "Innocence", where all the fans sent in videos, they sent in like 400 videos. There were some that I thought were amazing, made by really talented visual people who had maybe never done this before, but they didn't totally fit with the mood of "Innocence". So I contacted them and asked them if they would work together and do ["Dull Flame of Desire"]. In that song, we repeat the same verse over and over again. So I thought it would be interesting to have one verse presented by one director, and then the second by another director, and then the third by another. I had never done that before, and it was quite exciting.
We recorded our part in front of a green screen, and sent it by email to the directors, one in Japan, one in Spain, and one in France. They're collaborating via email. I don't know how long it will take. I was being pressured by my record company [to make videos] for the more up-tempo songs, but I have great love for "Dull Flame of Desire", and it was very emotionally special for me to make that with Antony. I thought this would be a good way of doing it.
Björk tour dates:
01-18 Auckland, New Zealand - Mt. Smart Stadium (Big Day Out Festival)
01-20 Gold Coast, Australia - Parklands (Big Day Out Festival)
01-23 Sydney, Australia - Sydney Opera House Forecourt (Sydney Festival)
01-25 Sydney, Australia - Sydney Showgrounds (Big Day Out Festival)
01-28 Melbourne, Australia - Flemington Racecourse (Big Day Out Festival)
02-01 Adelaide, Australia - Adelaide Showground (Big Day Out Festival)
02-03 Perth, Australia - Claremont Showgrounds (Big Day Out Festival)
02-16 Seoul, South Korea - Olympic Hall
02-19 Tokyo, Japan - Budokan
02-22 Tokyo, Japan - Budokan
02-25 Osaka, Japan - Castle Hall
04-11 Manchester, England - Apollo
04-14 London, England - Hammersmith Apollo
04-17 London, England - Hammersmith Apollo
04-22 Plymouth, England - Pavilion
04-25 Wolverhampton, England - Civic Hall
04-28 Belfast, Northern Ireland - Waterfront
05-01 Blackpool, England - Empress Ballroom
05-04 Sheffield, England - City Hall
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