Björk Invites You To Her 'Utopia' In a conversation with Rachel Martin, Iceland's musical auteur unpacks a new release that couldn't be more different from 2015's stark breakup album, Vulnicura.
NPR logo

Björk Invites You To Her 'Utopia'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/563290559/566326458" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Björk Invites You To Her 'Utopia'

Björk Invites You To Her 'Utopia'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/563290559/566326458" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Have you felt like the last couple of years have been particularly heavy, hard - made you want to run away? Well, our co-host Rachel Martin sat down with the Icelandic musician Bjork, whose new album is designed to take you somewhere you've never been so that you might be able to let some of the weight go.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJORK SONG, "UTOPIA")

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Bjork's music has always had this otherworldly quality to it. She's maybe the world's best-known avant-garde musician. This time around, the feeling of just jetting off to another planet is explicit. This time, Bjork is searching for Utopia.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJORK SONG, "UTOPIA")

BJORK: Because the subject matter was Utopia, I wanted to feel like you've entered this - come to this island and there were all these sounds and birds and plants that you've never seen or heard before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UTOPIA")

BJORK: (Singing) Utopia...

MARTIN: It is an interesting intellectual exercise to think about what Utopia sounds like.

BJORK: (Laughter) Yeah, I think so. We did a lot of research into, like, mythological stories from South America and Africa and from all over that had flutes in it. And they all seemed to have that sort of same kind of story where all the women escape with the flutes and the children. And they go to some place where there's no violence and no aggression. And they form a new society that's utopian. But then always three quarters into the story (laughter), the males return.

MARTIN: The men ruin their Utopia?

BJORK: No, I think in the end - like, first they come in some aggressive way. But then they have to kind of negotiate. The stories always end, like, on some sort of turn where the sexes have found a new way to communicate. So it has a happy ending.

But I think the beginning of this album and the utopian idea is very much about escaping aggression and escaping - as almost like a radical protest to say, OK, I'm going to go with the children and my flutes (laughter) over to that corner over there. And that's where I'm going to define my Utopia. And then once I've defined it, we can talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARISEN MY SENSES")

BJORK: (Singing) Was all there is.

MARTIN: Bjork made her own radical departure after her last album. It was called "Vulnicura," and it was about the pain of separating from her long-term partner. For the album "Utopia," she assembled a 12-women flute orchestra to create what Bjork calls a sound that is light and fluffy - maybe.

(SOUNDBITE OF BJORK SONG, "COURTSHIP")

MARTIN: The flute, it is an instrument that you have worked with for a really long time. This was your first instrument growing up. Am I right on that?

BJORK: Yeah. I started playing the flute when I was, like, 5.

MARTIN: So many people learn the piano first or maybe the violin, a string instrument. But when the flute - when that is the first instrument, I wonder if it has influenced how you compose music.

BJORK: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I started writing melodies really young. I would always walk a lot outside. And I lived on the suburbs of Reykjavik. And that generation, we would walk in any weather. And I would sing a lot. And that would be, like, my friend - like, how I would sort of cope with all the different weathers and the darkness.

I think when you walk and sing at the same time, you know, you're probably regulating your breath - it's like a certain rhythm. And I still - kind of that's my most preferred way of singing still is walking - not fast or anything, just like slowly but - and actually very horizontally. I'm not much of a vertical hiker.

MARTIN: (Laughter) What is your - can I ask you what is your go-to song when you're just walking around the city?

BJORK: But I think most of the time when I'm singing, it's just more - I just make things up. I don't really sing other people's songs - not even my old ones. I usually always try to walk somewhere where nobody can hear me. So I usually - I'm not really comfortable with people hearing. It was - because I think for so long it was a secret of mine so I think I'm probably quite good at hiding it.

MARTIN: I have to say there's something funny about the idea of Bjork walking around singing to herself and then being so embarrassed that you then stop when someone walks up (laughter). I mean, you are Bjork. You're pretty good at singing.

BJORK: But I'm not Bjork to myself. I'm just - nobody is an icon to themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLISSING ME")

BJORK: (Singing) Cliffhanger like suspension - my longing...

MARTIN: But Bjork is an icon to artists and fans around the world. So when she took to Facebook in October to describe sexual harassment she had faced, the world noticed. Bjork says she did it to stand beside the growing number of people who are publicly naming their perpetrators.

BJORK: All the women now that are coming out, they knew that if they would stand up, they would just be ridiculed. And what's so beautiful about this moment now is it's changing. And it's wonderful also for me to have a young daughter. And I feel just confident about that she's not going to have to take this on, you know. I think it's - really feels like there's a big change in the air.

MARTIN: Do you think Utopia is possible? I mean, did you pick that title because you are inherently an optimist? Or is it a more cynical interpretation, casting it as a sort of naive expectation?

BJORK: I think it's all of the above. I like the complexity that the title "Utopia" brings. I have six younger siblings. I was the oldest one. And then I had a child when I was - I was a single mom very early. I've always had a lot of kids around me. And, you know, when you are bringing up children, you have to have a spiritual plan with optimism. There has to be a way out.

And I feel - I am a stubborn optimist in that way. But I don't think I'm unrealistic. I think with any situation - especially the tough ones - you have to have an imagination to think of a Utopia. And then if only half of it or even just a quarter of it comes true, that's still plenty. That's still a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GATE")

BJORK: (Singing) I can care for you - care for you.

MARTIN: The new album is called "Utopia." We've been speaking with Bjork.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

BJORK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GATE")

BJORK: (Singing) I care for you - care for you.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.