"SONGWRITING IS LIKE A THUNDERSTORM BUILDING UP INSIDE ME," says Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk. "If I don't write songs, I get all bottled up. It's almost like a survival mechanism."
The sonic provocateur recently unleashed Medulla [Elektra/Asylum], an innovative album created almost exclusively from human voices without resorting to a capella clichés. Björk searched for inspiration across 18 different recording locations, including New York, Iceland, Venice, and the Canary Islands. During each stop, she explored myriad moods and voices via contributors such as Faith No More frontman Mike Patton, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis, human beatbox Rahzel, and the Icelandic and London Choirs. Epic production and sonic manipulation followed, resulting in the most atmospheric, minimalist, and intriguing effort of her career.
"In a lot of ways, this album goes back to a place I was in when I was 18 years old," she explains. "I was being quite intuitive and singing along with things without analyzing what I was doing. I was saying a lot of words that didn't naturally make sense to me, but they represented a flow of consciousness that was just kind of improvised. For my last album, Vespertine, the lyric writing was almost scientific. I wanted that album to be about being introverted and anti-social, and to capture that feeling of being underneath your duvet in your bed creating a magical world under your pillow. I was really excited to not be that scientific for Medulla. I just wanted to sing, sing, sing, and be quite physical. I just let whatever came out come out, and then I sat down with my librarian hat on and analyzed things.
"For me, music has to have a little speck of intrigue or the unknown. Also, I'm an old-school romantic in the sense that even if you write songs about dark stuff, the root of the song should be about going through the tunnel and coming out on the other side with a happy ending. I'm not into songs that are just about self-pity or self-indulgence. I usually look at songs as little trips that show you going on your way to some other place."
While Björk often juxtaposes spontaneity and analysis-and obviously toils very hard to illuminate the subtleties of her songs-the actual act of composition has eased as she has matured as a writer. "I'm not as restless as I used to be," she says. "Now, I can really sit down in a chair for a few hours, and songwriting can be more like I'm doing embroidery—with the same attention span required. It isn't that hard to write songs. You just have to roll up your sleeves and do it."