Bjork Gudmundsdottir is so willfully creative, unpredictable and prolific that it’s hard to imagine normal life would keep her off the road in the U.S. for nearly four years.
But the Icelandic avant pop auteur says it was “love of houses” that kept her mostly at home. “I had previously been on the road more or less for 22 years,” explains Bjork, 41, who’s currently touring to promote “Volta,” her sixth solo album since leaving the Sugarcubes in 1992. “I wanted to try normal things that other people do —cook, be long enough in one place to witness a seasonal change, stuff like that.”
But Bjork says she was also a bit too creative to tour on her last project.
“It would have been hard to play ‘Medulla’ live,” she says of her Grammynominated 2004 album, which featured songs recorded using only her voice. “It had layers and layers of vocals that I myself had done, which I could only have done (live) with, like, six larynxes (and) six necks. Too scary!”
Bjork wasn’t exactly dormant as she hunkered down with her partner, Matthew Barney, and their 4-year-old daughter Isadora, as well as her 11-year-old son Sindri from a relationship with former bandmate Por Eldon. She composed a soundtrack for Barney’s film “Drawing Restraint 9” and oversaw the mixing of her albums into SurroundSound 5.1 for the 2006 box set “(_surrounded).” She also put together an album of remixes of her 1995 song “All of Me,” which has raised more than $250,000 for UNICEF’s relief efforts in tsunami-devastated southeast Asia.
“Volta,” meanwhile, emerged as one of her most playful and spirited albums, featuring collaborations with Timbaland and Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons.
“I guess after quite a bit of time of domestic bliss, I started writing songs about being happy with what I’ve got,” explains Bjork, whose film work includes the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for “Dancer in the Dark” and a 2001 Academy Award nomination — when she famously wore a swan-shaped dress to the ceremony — for “You’ve Seen It All,” one of her songs from the film.
“I got a bit of cabin fever and had grown an appetite for the big world out there again. So it has enthusiasm for communication ... some sort of step from being passive to becoming active.”
Bjork also wanted to continue her mission to “unify” disparate musical approaches in her new music.
“I feel what drives me a lot of time is unifying,” she says, “unifying techno and acoustic, the audio and the visual, male and female, ‘serious’ music and ‘fun’ music and so on. Not like it is planned, but looking back on it I seem to have prioritized that a lot.”
The percussion-heavy “Volta,” Bjork adds, “is an attempt to unit the tribal and the modern, the global and the local. It is naive in the way it wants justice and everyone to be friends.”
The album has certainly found plenty of friends. It debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 chart — Bjork’s best showing yet — while the single “Earth Intruders” is only her second to make Billboard’s Hot 100 survey. Commercial success has never been her priority, but Bjork says “Volta’s” success certainly “doesn’t make me sad.”
“But it’s not the most important thing in the world to me, either,” adds Bjork, who’s using a 10-piece all-female Icelandic brass band on her current tour and plans to release a live album later this year. “I just find it quite troubling when (success) changes into some sort of worship. I’m too much of an anarchistic individualist to agree on such hierarchy; everyone is equal, right?
“It is nice to walk around the streets in the USA and not be noticed, and if it would change I’d probably have to escape again. But things seem nice now. I feel quite lucky actually; it seems quite balanced. I’m able to do whatever music I want to do and people are still interested.”
Bjork and M.I.A. perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 11) at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50-$89.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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