Björk: The Stereogum Interview
We first caught up with Björk via email while she was in Australia as part of her Volta tour. Later, we did a couple follow ups shortly before she premiered her Encyclopedia Pictura-directed “Wanderlust” video at Deitch’s Long Island City space (today it shows up on the interweb). Despite this flurry of recent activity, we centered our questions on Post. Thank you, Björk, for talking about the old times…
How did you decide on the title Post?
It was a combination of things. I felt the album was the other half of Debut, so it made sense to call it Post — before and after kinda thing. Also, my friend Hussein Chalayan had made a whole [clothing] collection on Belgian envelope paper (I wear a jacket from it on the cover), so it sort of was in the air at the time. This word was waiting to be used.
Do you listen to it anymore? If so, what do you think of it thirteen years removed?
I listened to it when we did the surround mixes of it like two or three years ago and I have to say I was kinda surprised how the odd spastic thing of the album had actually aged well. I was very aware of it at the time that I needed to be musically promiscuous and have almost every song [a] different mood/style and so on. The picture on the cover is me on Piccadilly Circus (Times Square of London) too excited, too many things, Bright Lights Big City kinda thing, and me eager to consume. So my musical heart was scattered at the time and I wanted the album to show that.
For me, Volta is a similar album in that sense. The style of it is all styles, sailing around the world going to new places making new friends. It is a beginning of a new period. Then Homogenic — that came after — was something more stable. Post was looking, Homogenic was what I found. Volta is definitely looking, and I can feel my next one is going to be more centered.
How did you decide to approach the various dance producers at the time?
The people I collaborated with were all people I was hanging out with in clubs in London. I had known them all for a while before we ended up working together.
If you went back, would you do anything differently? Sequencing? Song selection?
Not really. You do the best you can at the time. That’s all you can do. You only get one shot.
“Army Of Me” sounds huge, this massive sorta opener. Had you envisioned the track sounding so big at the start of its composition?
I had written two tracks with Graham Massey before I did Debut: “Army Of Me” and “The Modern Things.” Then I met Nellee Hooper and we ended up doing a whole album’s worth of stuff together, so I decided to keep those two songs, wait, and put them on the next album. Post then ended up being more schizophrenic with collaborations of a lot of people, so it was a better match.
Graham came up with [“Army Of Me’s”] bass riff. I had written that melody earlier in Iceland. It matched very well together, I felt. I then did the sarcastic scratch noises in the chorus with a coin on a deep bass string that Graham sampled for me.
It’s a great opener — a call for hard-ass self-sufficiency — especially considering later tracks like “Possibly Maybe” or “It’s Oh So Quiet,” where another person, or a gentler set of emotions, come into play.
My younger brother was having a bit of a crazy period at the time, so I wrote this for him. It is sort of a big sister telling little brother off song. The other song I have written for him is “Where Is The Line” on Medúlla. It was written under similar circumstances emotionally.
Lyrically, what went into “Hyperballad”? How did you come up with the idea for the story it tells?
I think it was a dream I dreamt…
“The Modern Things” reminds me of themes picked back up on Volta: The inevitability and destruction of technology. Unlike “Declare Independence,” where we’re reminded we can plant a flag and start our own state, “The Modern Things” ends ominously, these objects taking over. When you wrote it, what were your thoughts on the line: “It’s their turn now”?
I guess it has some tongue sticking out in it. Cheeky. Kinda reminding the humans not to be too sure of themselves.
“It’s Oh So Quiet” still shocks with its Busby Berkeley/showtune stylistic differences from what comes before it. How did you decide to cover Betty Hutton?
It was the last song we did. Just to make it absolutely certain that the album would be as schizophrenic as possible, that every song would be a shock.
“Enjoy” and “You’ve Been Flirting Again” both have mysterious or open-ended lyrics. Are they to be seen as some sort of pairing? The idea of sex without touching and flirting?
Hmmm, at least I wasn’t conscious of it … but there was a lot of flirting going on.
Lyrically, “Enjoy” feels central to Post’s storylines: A need for the tactile, exploration, etc. Do you remember what/who inspired the song?
I guess it went with the mood of the album, to be greedy, to be eager to consume a city … to merge. Promiscuous musically and city-ally.
Can you briefly discuss “You’ve Been Flirting Again”‘s lyrics? There’s a weightiness to the words that’s quite different than the playfulness of the title.
I guess the title is taking the piss out off myself more than anything else. Hmmm … It is hard to pin it down … I guess that is the nature of flirting, it is ambiguous and slippery. The lyrics are an attempt to describe that.
Like “Hyperballad,” “Isobel” has a visually rich narrative: What’s the story behind it?
On most of my albums there has been one mythical song, [a] kinda literature based thing. And I have usually asked my friend poet/author Sjón to help me with the lyrics on that one. To make it epic. For me there is continuity from “Human Behaviour” — “Isobel” — “Bachelorette” — “Oceania” — “Wanderlust.” I guess it is slightly autobiographical but times one hundred. A heightened mythical state. Which I believe we all have … it just depends from what angle we look at ourselves from…
Opposed to the content solitude of “Isobel” there’s “Possibly Maybe.” Who’d you have in mind when you wrote “mon petit vulcan”?
An impossible Frenchman. I guess I was taking the piss out of myself after breaking up with a boyfriend — how your mouth misses kissing.
The last lines — “I’ll suck my tongue / as a remembrance of you” — create a strong image. Do you remember how you came up with it?
I just thought it was kinda comical to walk around sucking ones tongue.
“I Miss You” is highly percussive. To bring up Volta again — this has the percussive quality of some of those songs.
Volta is definitely for me very related to post. Similarly scatterbrainy. Searching for new things.
Who was “I Miss You” written for?
No one in particular. It’s a math thing. A play with words.
“Cover Me” seems to extend the quest of “I Miss You”: “I’m going to prove the possible (and then impossible) really exists…”
When me and Nellee decided to work together again on Post, I wrote this to him. I guess I was trying to make fun of myself, how dangerous i manage sometimes to make album making. And trying to lure him into it. but it is also a admiration thing from me to him. I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else.
Lyrically, “Headphones” finds sleep — “genius to fall asleep to your tape last night.” It’s also quieter than most of the record, outside of “Cover Me.” Are we supposed to see Post as the tape that saved the protagonist’s life? The album opens with “Army Of Me” (relying on no one but your own self) and ends with “Headphones” (relying on these headphones, a tape someone else made).
It was written to Graham Massey as a thank you. He was the best tape maker there was. He would make compilation cassettes and I would play them non stop. But, of course, it is also a love letter to sound. The sound of sound. Resonances, frequencies, silences and such … a music-worship thing.