jeudi, mars 15, 2007

Björk and Volta

On Friday,
Björk opened her music box and revealed its latest treasure:

Volta, the Icelandic powerhouse's forthcoming album, due out May 7 on One Little Indian/Atlantic.

The record was produced by Björk herself, and features a globe-trotting all-star cast of contributors, including Timbaland, Antony, Lightning Bolt's Brian Chippendale, percussionist Chris Corsano, African collective Konono N°1, kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté, Chinese pipa player Min Xiao-Fen, and a ten-piece Icelandic brass section.

Last week in New York City, Pitchfork's Brandon Stosuy sat down with Björk for her first interview about the new album. (Full disclosure: Stosuy is a friend of Matthew Barney, Björk's partner.) During their lengthy chat, Björk opened up about the politics and sonics of Volta, her relationships with her collaborators, and her plans for the future.

In the first part of a series that will continue over the course of the coming weeks, Björk talks about the rhythms of Volta: how they're different from the rhythms of her previous work, and how a trip to tsunami-stricken Indonesia inspired the life-force behind the beats.

Pitchfork: On your last album, Medulla, you focused on the human voice. This album has more of a percussive feel. Were you consciously trying to focus on percussion on this album?

Björk: I guess it was really different from how I usually work. Because at least with Homogenic, Vespertine, and Medulla, if there was a starting point, it was rhythms. I don't know why, maybe because it's the thing that I don't do. With Homogenic, I would start with a programmer, just to do distorted rock beats. And we did, I think, 100 just one bar things. And by the time I had written enough songs, I would just sit down, and then I could just sort of call it, 'okay, for the chorus of this song, like beat 73, and for the verse, number two' or whatever. And for Vespertine, I had just gotten my first laptop, and it was very much about the static universe of the internet, and all the beats clicking and everything whispered. So that would be the starting point. And obviously, Medulla was a vocal album.

But with this one, it was different because I knew more emotionally what I wanted. And because I'd done two or three projects in a row that were quite serious, maybe I just needed to get that out of my system or something. So all I wanted to do for this album was just to have fun and do something that was full-bodied and really up.

I actually did the whole album, and it wasn't until the last two or three months where the only jigsaw that hadn't been solved was the rhythms. We had done a lot of experiments with rhythms but I just threw them all away because it was like every time we did something really clever with drum programming beats, it was just too pretentious for this album, it just didn't stick.

For some reason, for me it was maybe a little bit nostalgic going back to 1992, where you had really simple 808 and 909 really lo-fi drum machines, not doing anything fancy but really basic, almost like rave stuff or trance stuff, and then really, really acoustic drums. So there are a couple of tracks on this album which are actually programs, with many programming hours spent, and you listen to it, and it sounds like kettle drums or something.

Pitchfork: Marching--both the rhythm of feet and the concept of marching itself--seems to play a big part in this record. What's the significance of marching?

Björk: I just wanted to get rhythmic again. Medulla was my way of pulling out of that, refusing to be categorized as 'Oh what rhythm is she going to do next?' Just feeling the pressure of all these young drum programmers or producers or whatever you call them contacting me, like, who was going to be the flavor of the month. It had become this kind of fashion statement, it just wasn't right.

I mean, I do love one-upmanship sometimes, like when you see kids breakdancing and who can do the best tricks. It's common, it's in our nature as animals, like the birds of paradise who've got the best feathers and that sort of stuff. But it's fun when it's impulsive and it's about fun. When it becomes clever, when it becomes more of a left-brain, who can mathematically out-do the other, it's not so fun anymore. And maybe I just sort of pulled out and did a whole vocal album.

But I definitely missed my rhythms. I mean, I love rhythms. I started an all-girl punk band when I was 14 and I was the drummer, not the singer. I'm very, very, very picky when it comes to rhythms. So it was fun to approach it from another angle on this one.

And I'd be lying if I didn't say it was some sort of reaction to the state of the world today. I mean, I went in January over a year ago to Indonesia, to the area where the tsunami hit the worst. Just seeing a village of 300,000 people and 180,000 died, and people were still there digging people out and the smell of corpses and bone. The tsunami kind of scraped houses away, you could still see the floor, and the people I was with found their mom's favorite dress kind of in the mud and it was just like, outrageous.

I mean, the human race, we are a tribe, let's face it, and let's stop all this religious bullshit. I think everybody, or at least a lot of my friends, are just so exhausted with this whole self-importance of religious people. Just drop it. We're all fucking animals, so let's just make some universal tribal beat. We're pagan. Let's just march.