Song-writing cycle:
Write songs
Arrange them on computer
Have a party
Do videos
Go on tour
Become a mountain hermit

The phone rings. “Hello?” I say. The voice on the other end responds: “Hello. My name is Björk.” I glance at my notes. There are but four words on the sheet in front of me. They are written in fat red Sharpie ink on an otherwise blank lineless sheet of printer paper:

Talk slow. Listen. Breathe!

I have interviewed other talented artists, worked directly with some of my literary and musical heroes, and have myself been on the other end of such questions probably fifty or sixty times, but I cannot remember, ever, having to remind myself to breathe.

Björk has been a pop star since she was eleven years old. She won a Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award (almost reluctantly) for her work in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark; collaborated on groundbreaking videos with directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry; cultivated an underground fashion movement; and left in her teenage wake a series of radical Icelandic art collectives and rock bands, the most notorious of which was the Sugarcubes.

Björk is currently in the studio working on the soundtrack for her husband Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9, a film about sculpture which will premiere in Japan. She has also just released a CD benefiting UNICEF which features twenty cover versions of her song “Army of Me” as produced and performed by her fans.

There is a childlike quality to Björk’s voice. Our conversation is in English, and occasionally she struggles to conjure words that match the sophistication, clarity, and frightening intelligence of her Icelandic thought process. She is plainspoken and generous and remarkably present. She is a Surrealist punk prodigy turned grooved-out electronic nature priestess. She is on the phone.

—Jim Roll


THE BELIEVER: I watched a DVD of all of Michel Gondry’s videos, which of course included some of yours. As I was thinking about your new charity CD I started thinking about repetition. Gondry uses variations on themes and repetition in an incredible way. Then I thought that a lot of great art is directed by repetition. Music is a short form, and you must restate a theme in that short period of time. Music is particularly obvious in its use of repetition. How do you use or think about repetition as an artist? Is there a natural guiding force to such things, or do you find yourself returning to certain themes?

BJÖRK: Well, I base a lot of my stuff on nature, and I think there is a lot of repetition in nature, like day and night, day and night, day and night—it’s sort of a rhythm. The seasons are basically the same thing, but just really stretched out. Then again there are certain things that are always the same and others that are always different. All Aprils are different from each other, you know? I think there’s a balance there. I think part of me is very conservative and wants to keep very grounded, and part of that comes from where I come from in Iceland—and also the fact that I am a singer. I mean, I will always have my voice. It doesn’t matter how many fancy new objects I have in the arrangements; it’s always gonna be my voice. That will always show if I am happy or sad, reveal my age and health and so on. It’ll show if I am tired or energetic. All of this...

The other half is that things change and other things happen, and you bump into new experiences that you could never have anticipated. What I am trying to say is that it’s a fifty-fifty contribution of repetition and brand-new shiny objects that you never even could have fantasized about.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Jim Roll is a songwriter and recording artist from Ypsilanti, Michigan. He has released three albums. The most recent, Inhabiting the Ball, features songs he cowrote with authors Denis Johnson and Rick Moody.

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