ON THAT WHOLE MAGMA ENERGY/ HS ORKA THING
-What, in your view, is the Magma deal all about?
It is a very important case for Iceland. An international corporation is trying to buy up the exclusive rights to our natural resources. We were warned almost immediately after the banking collapse that this would happen, for instance by Paul Hawken and Joseph Stiglitz. Naomi Klein also discusses this kind of situation thoroughly in ‘The Shock Doctrine’. It is widely known that nations that find themselves in trouble get besieged by vultures that want to take advantage of their situation and make an easy profit. They start off being all nice and reasonable, gaining the locals’ trust – “here to help” – and then…
You know all about Magma’s history in Peru, right? It is swaddled with human rights violations and disrespect to local customs, unions, law and regulation. The list goes on… Some might say that Magma making rotten deals with Peru is irrelevant, that Iceland is no Peru. “We are not a third world country.” But the deals we’ve made with them are just so bad; a large part of Magma’s downpayment comes in the form of a bullet loan from HS Orka itself with 1.5% interest for seven years, with HS Orka shares as collateral. It’s a joke.
Not only that, but Magma are also attempting to negotiate with several other energy companies around the country, as I explain in my letter, and they’re doing it behind our backs. It’s rather evident that they want to take over pretty much everything if we let them. They won’t stop at HS Orka.
This sale will likely determine how we deal with such matters in the future, for instance regarding water rights. We have to formulate a clear position as a nation—what we want—before we start selling off our resources to international corporations, at bargain rates, no less.
ON XENOPHOBIA AND CUTTING GOOD DEALS
-Some people want to write off the opposition to Magma as xenophobia…
I think that’s an absurd interpretation. If anyone’s been lucky working with foreigners, it’s me. A majority of the people I’ve worked with throughout the years have been foreigners, people that have been extremely honest and good to work with. As I say in my article, the people that have treated Icelanders the worst are, in fact, Icelanders.
I feel this talk of xenophobia is an attempt to sidetrack the discourse. The real question is whether it is a good idea to privatise and sell off our energy resources at this point. We as a nation are badly burnt after the collapse, and we are not in a good position to negotiate. We have to make a clear strategy that we agree on, to prioritise, so we are in a better position to negotiate with the outside world.
Getting past the collapse and all the bankruptcies and unemployment follow will take us a few years, and once we’ve done that, our resources are really the only thing we have to guarantee a good future. And if we manage to lose them now, we will become a third world nation.
-Do you believe the people behind Magma are bad people? With evil intentions?
No. I mean, were the banksters bad people? They are just trying to cut a good deal, and now we are a good deal. There is a certain sociopathy behind it all… is that evil? Well… I don’t know. I can’t really answer that question. Let’s just say that they are businessmen willing to cut a good deal at whatever cost. They care about their profit margin, and if we or our country stand in the way, then too bad for us.
-You have drawn some pretty snarky, even downright ugly criticisms in Iceland for drawing attention to these matters. People are talking about your financial affairs, your taxes and the like…
I answered some of those in an interview with RÚV [Icelandic State Radio] today, for the first time. I noticed my father defending me on some blog earlier and I thought that maybe it was time for me to answer for myself, to let him focus on something more interesting.
This is a banal discussion, and I do not like going into it, but some people seem to want me to justify myself.
I felt bad about maybe coming off like I was bragging, but I brought up on the radio that my share of all my Icelandic record sales have always gone to Smekkleysa. In this way, I can support Icelandic music. I feel this has had more value than taxes.
-Do you regard these criticisms as an attempt to silence you?
I’m not sure. Most people don’t really understand how the music business works; they don’t understand ‘publishing deals’ or the difference between performance royalties and sync fees and merchandising. They understand taxes, and if they hear “oh, she’s not paying taxes in Iceland,” they are easily sidetracked. Maybe my paying or not paying the tax revenue from my business in Iceland isn’t the only way to measure my contribution.
ON TAKING THE FIGHT
-In light of some of these reactions: How can you be bothered? What is it that makes you exert yourself like this?
It does take a toll, and being in the spotlight and under scrutiny. This is definitely not my favourite thing, I can promise you that. But with all this media attention, it’s been like this throughout the years, good and bad, I’ve gotten used to it and learned to accept both sides. You have to take the negative aspects along with the positive ones.
Speaking up on cases like these isn’t really a choice for me; I do not have the option to remain silent or neutral. If I do not harness the media attention that’s available to me and use to raise awareness of what’s going on, it is a crime, plain and simple. It would burden my conscience.
In that regard, I face a bit different situation than your average Stjáni or Gunna who might also feel strongly on issues like nature conservation. I know I have a greater chance than the average person of getting people to attend a press conference, of getting them to listen and pay attention—to try and prevent what I believe to be a catastrophic event. Not using that opportunity would mean disregarding deeply held beliefs of mine. My choice is thus: either I commit a crime, or I take this all the way. And I’ve made my decision.
I am a musician, and I get deeply involved in my work, but I still try and follow what’s going on in the world. And some things are more important to me than others. For example, I followed the SIC report case closely, but that isn’t something I should get involved with. Like I said, I am trying to focus on writing songs and working on my music. However, issues of nature and nature conservation are something that get me going. I can’t even work, I get so upset. When I see nature endangered, it offends my sense of justice, my very core.
I don’t think I am alone in wanting to ensure that future generations of Icelanders get to enjoy the unspoilt nature that we have. The common Icelander seems to be of the opinion that the privatisation of our natural resources needs to be investigated further, and thought about more. If it were only me and ten of my friends that felt this way, I feel it wouldn’t be justifiable for me to put this into the spotlight, but since there are so many of us I feel am acting more as a mouthpiece for these beliefs, the views and opinions of a large group of people.
And it’s taken a lot of work, the press conference and the petition, not to mention the letter writing. I was supposed to be working on a lot of things over the past fortnight, but I put them all on hold. It has some of my musical collaborators puzzled [laughs], but I am a person that is always very focused on the context of things. I cannot isolate the protection of Iceland’s nature from my role as an Icelandic musician. They are so closely linked.
How am I supposed to live with myself if I stand back and potentially allow the worst possible scenario to arise, without attempting to fight it? Iceland has given me so much, I feel as if Iceland’s nature was bestowed upon me and all the rest of us as a gift, and I feel a great need to defend it. I simply cannot ignore that.
Just imagine, how can I face myself at age eighty if some nightmare situation has unfolded where we have eight more aluminium plants lining the countryside and our hitherto unspoilt nature reserves are all gone to ruin, knowing I could have done something but didn’t even try.
ON PUBLIC SERVICE AND MAKING A CHOICE
-You feel a sense of duty?
When you’ve been in the spotlight for as long as I have, you realise that you are, for better or worse, a public servant. Then you have to make your choice of how much you want to be involved.
When I was in London, I could have been a 24/7 celebrity, going around parties and charities for a living. I could have stopped making music and thrown myself into tabloid life completely. Then there’s the other side of that coin, which is saying no to everything. A lot of people choose that path. I have decided that there is a certain level that I can deal with it all on, and I try and do that in accordance with my ideology and inner self.
Some aspects of this ‘public service’ do not excite me, like Hollywood premieres on Times Square or whatever. But some do. Like here, I have this platform, I can get people to listen when I speak, and I try to be of service. This involves being centre of attention in the press, which is not my favourite, but it is all part of the balance.
Still, I don’t want to play a martyr; being in the spotlight certainly benefits me and my career as a musician. I know a bunch of musicians that are at least as talented as I am, or more talented, and they don’t have this platform.
Some choose to disregard this area completely, to not play along with the press. Some talented people choose to go on a deserted island and paint or draw or sing songs all their lives without anyone knowing. They do not communicate at large when they are creating. I am not saying this communication is a must; I am merely trying to explain the position I am in. I have chosen to communicate, but not to the maximum level. It’s a large part of the reason why I chose to move away from England, I couldn’t stand being a full-time celebrity. I can handle it maybe once or twice a year. I think that’s a healthy share. Anything more is too much for me.
-You seem to have a clear idea of your relationship with the media, and the public at large. Is this something you think about a lot?
Not really, but I am very experienced in it. When I was playing with my first bands I was the youngest by far and did a lot of chasing and learning. Then I had a child at a young age, around the Sugarcubes period, and was just busy being all ecstatic about that instead of having to deal with the media. I didn’t really confront the whole media issue until I started my solo career at age 27, at which point you could say I’d undergone ten years of schooling on the subject. Being in the backseat taught me a lot.
I think that media glorification isn’t necessarily positive, but then you can also hide yourself away too much. That isn’t necessarily a pro-life statement. Still, being all over the place in an extrovert fit can be pretty bad too. Emptying yourself completely, the other extreme. There needs to be a balance, and every artist needs to find their ideal one. Some can be 70% extrovert and 10% introvert. I am more of the type that’s 60-70% introvert and 20% extrovert.
-You were also lucky to be able to make that choice, instead of having to strive for attention like many musicians and artists do.
That’s true. I was lucky to have all that behind me when I started at 27. Had I started my solo career at age 17, things might have been very different. It is fortunate to be in the position where more people are eager to hear what you’re saying and your music. I realise that. I’ve never really known a lack of attention.
But there is also a philosophy that I derived from Grammið [the notorious record store that would go on to become Bad Taste/Smekkleysa] and Smekkleysa. First you have to plant the seeds, then you wait, then you maybe have a plant. You can’t just stand around shouting: “Where’s the harvest! Where’s the harvest?” Things have to be done in the right order. You need to plant your seeds, make ten mistakes, start all over again and then, maybe…
Oops, now I sound like I know it all, like I have a degree in music career management or something. That’s not the case. We [The Sugarcubes] weren’t even trying to get noticed when we got Melody Maker’s song of the week. It was all word of mouth, based on six or seven years of steady playing.
A lot of people think—and I had many conversations about that when I first moved to London around the time of ‘Debut’—that I was this big networker and careerist. An expert at presenting myself. That’s not the case at all, and it is not my interest. People had been hearing my voice for five years by then, and they were interested. They kept coming. I wasn’t desperate on my knees, pining for attention.
And the record [Debut] sold slowly at first. Many people forget that. It took a year and a half to gain momentum. There was no crazy marketing campaign or any of the like. It was a word of mouth record.
ON WRITING LETTERS
-Back to the Magma deal. You’ve been corresponding with Magma CEO Ross Beaty over the past week [see elsewhere in this issue]. Would you care to reflect on that?
It surprised me. I was really trying to be careful when we launched the campaign ten days ago. We started preparing it in May, when we learned Magma was acquiring a 98% stake in HS Orka. It took a while to get the thing running, but when we first started planning it the last thing I wanted was to make it all personal. To make it into me against some person.
However, the local media seems intent on turning every discourse on issues into a personal argument. I realise I cannot avoid it. And for the public, maybe the letter format makes the information easier to digest. When I write Ross Beaty a letter and address him in the first person, it perhaps makes the issues easier to take in than long tracts filled with complicated specialist language. I also realise I can’t control everything; I just had to go with the flow and surf the wave as it happened.
So maybe putting information across in this manner [of correspondence] is effective and easier to digest, but at the same time it turns me into some anti-Magma robot or icon. I cease being a person. This is not what I set out with or intended. But you’ve got to work with what you get.
-What would be the desirable outcome of the Magma deal, in your opinion?
Well. Hopefully, we’ll get a national referendum on the sale of HS Orka, maybe on our resource policy in general.
-Do you have anything further planned in this specific case?
I just don’t know. I never plan these things. I just plan on making music, then something comes up and I find that I cannot contain myself. Like when we staged the Náttúra concert in 2008, the summer before the economic collapse. It was during the purported height of Iceland’s economic bubble, and everyone was gearing up to build five aluminium smelters. When I learned that, I went straight into producing that concert, to protest. And then I saw that it had no effect at all, fifteen thousand people showed up and nothing changed. Everything went back to normal.
Then I returned from my tour and went straight into working with municipal governments around Iceland, trying to create jobs. We worked for four months straight. I skipped making music for that time and jumped into the deep end. And there wasn’t a lot of governmental support or interest in fostering these start-up companies that we were trying to harbour and encourage.
We worked on ideas; we handed in a large document of ideas and proposed law changes—that would help create a better environment for startup companies—to the Prime Minister [at the time, Geir H. Haarde]. We turned in the results, and indeed some things were changed.
Eventually, I withdrew and went back to working on my music. I knew of the Magma case, but I thought it would be stopped for sure. I thought the notion that it would be allowed to carry on was just absurd.
Then in May I learned that it was still happening, on and on I went. I would much rather not have to focus my energy on this, that someone would just take care of it and make sure such foul things don’t occur.
There are some things I simply cannot be silent about.
ON WHAT SHE HAS BEEN UP TO THIS YEAR, AND NOT JINXING IT
What have you been up to this year?
I am working on a project that I started over a year ago and has grown a bit in the process. It’s gotten quite large in scope, actually, so nothing will probably come of it until next year or the year after. I am superstitious and would rather not talk about it—often, if I talk too much about a project before completing it, it implodes. So I’d rather not talk about it.
But it is what most of my year has been devoted to, and it will see the light of day next year or the year after. This is why I haven’t been talking to the media this year; I’ve learned a rhythm over the last twenty years. I enter an introspective mode when I am working, and then I switch to ‘extrovert’ when the music is released and needs to be promoted and toured. Actually, all this action over the last two weeks has left me scared that I am getting too extroverted in the middle of my introvert process, that I might not be able to enter it again.
-We can stop right now if you want.
Well, I won’t talk about my project, but I can talk about these projects I’ve guested on this year, since they are already completed. So it can’t jinx it.
ON WORKING WITH DIRTY PROJECTORS AND FEELING A CERTAIN RESONANCE WITH A GENERATION
-Let’s talk then. What are these projects?
The first one to appear is the one I made with Dirty Projectors. It’s an EP called ‘Mount Wittenberg Orca’ that’s being sold on-line [www.mountwittenbergorca.com] and all the proceeds are going to creating international marine protected areas, in cooperation with the National Geographic society.
I had been talking to them before. The music website Stereogum organised a tribute to my album ‘Post’, where different musicians recorded covers of the album’s songs. And one of the participating bands was Dirty Projectors, and they wrote a really nice treatise on how my music had influenced them. Stereogum put David and I in touch, and we were e-mailing back and forth. Then they released ‘Rise Above’, the Black Flag record, and I fell in love with it. Especially what David was doing with the voices. And he had been talking about how he was inspired by Medúlla. We kept on e-mailing, sending each other notes and ideas and vocal processing software tips; it soon transpired that both of us were total vocal geeks.
Back in May of 2009, I performed a concert with them in New York. [Stereogum writer] Brandon Stosuy had suggested we do something together. They had just completed their record ‘Bitte Orca’ at that time, and I had just started my current project. And I told David: “You’ve just completed an album. That’s the best time for side projects. All the wheels are greased. Perhaps you should write it and I’ll just be one of your voices.” Then we recorded it a year later and now it is out.
Anyway. It happened. And it’s been great, the whole process. There was so much positive energy, and the collaboration was really fertile. Hats off to all of them! It could have been so complicated, me with my world and they with theirs. But it wasn’t, not at all.
I feel a certain resonance with their generation of Americans. For some reason I have more in common with them musically than my own generation. Some musicians have mentioned Medúlla to me, and there seems to be an upswing in acapella music, which I am really enjoying. When I was in England, singing was all but illegal in the circles I moved in, with the whole Warp scene and so on. Having vocals on your track was tantamount to selling out, or selling oneself short. Everything was instrumental. It’s funny to see how things turn around. Everything goes in circles. I really enjoy all these vocal harmonies in bands like Animal collective, Grizzly Bear and Battles.
I think these are exciting times, and I am really thankful for getting to observe this generation making its way in music, and getting to interact with its members. When I first started dividing my time between Reykjavík and New York back in the early 2000s, I could not at all relate to what was going on there. I was all nostalgic, shopping music off Bleep.com and thinking about England. And it’s just so great, what’s happened since. The difference between New York in 2010 and 2000 is vast. I guess it’s just closer to my personal musical tastes. People like Antony [Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons] and Joanna Newsom and Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective. It’s all music that I’m really enjoying.
-And you are actively interacting with it now, in the form of your collaboration with Dirty Projectors
Yes. I feel this is very fertile and giving. The fact that David has talked about my music inspiring him and then I just walk into the studio and tell him back: “I am ready to be your instrument. I trust you, and I will obey.” There is a healthy rotation there. Trust. They were so creative in the studio, and the mood was just right. I have the feeling that they’ve only just begun making great records; that they have many to come.
-Why do you think you connect so well with this generation of Americans?
I have a homemade theory about this… The same year I moved to the US, Bush took over the White house and stayed there for eight years. I used to think it didn’t matter who was President, but now I know different. It matters. I can imagine a similar situation as punk was being born in the UK during the Thatcher era. I wasn’t that politically involved then, but now I observe that Bush taking over spurred a certain contingent of people to retreat to nature. There was so much anger in America, from people who didn’t support Bush and his policies, who didn’t feel at home in the mainstream. So much anger and a need for something new. I think it’s no coincidence that Britney Spears and pop stars like her reigned over the Bush year. They’re not exactly ‘organic’…
All the while, this underground was brewing, an underground of people who yearn for organic things, for connecting with nature. Eight years pass, and these people start gaining a following, moving up from the underground. People like Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective, which would have been written off as hippie remnants a decade earlier. People started thinking: there must be other ways.
Anyway, this is my homemade theory.
And I come from a country that is very nature connected. When I was at their age, Iceland didn’t have banksters or corporate Vikings, no one was planning to build five aluminium smelters. It was all very organic and in close connection to nature, maybe with similar emphases as this generation is now making. I am raised in that climate, so maybe that’s why I relate to them.
-Working on that EP was obviously a great experience, but how do you feel about the results? Do you like the album?
I need to listen to it. I last heard it while it was being mixed, and I haven’t heard it since. I need to download it… Things have just been so crazy with this Magma thing, but I really want to find a time to listen to it on a nice stereo, in a car or something. Listening in a car is always nice.
I am really happy with it, though, and proud of it. When we initially performed this project in the Housing Works we had only practiced it two times, it was very spontaneous and fun. When the girls started doing their thing, with their voices, I jumped and had to be careful not to scream with excitement. It was like a new World Record in acapella. I was really in awe, and honoured to get to be a sort of vocal ‘old aunt’ that was invited to the acapella party, so to speak.
ON WORKING WITH ÓLÖF ARNALDS AND NOT BECOMING A BURDEN
-You’re appearing as a guest on albums by Antony and Ólöf Arnalds. You haven’t really collaborated with many artists like this—outside of your own albums anyway—in past years. Is there a reason why it’s happening now all of the sudden?
Actually, these three projects that I’m appearing on in 2010—Dirty Projectors, Ólöf Arnalds and Antony—they aren’t connected at all. But I was wondering about it. Maybe it’s because I’m older now and, as the oldest of three brothers and three sisters, it is natural for me to assume the role of the oldest sibling. Maybe a new period in my life has begun? I used to always be the youngest, like in the Sugarcubes, but maybe I am more comfortable with being the oldest. I always tell the boys of Sigur Rós that I am their old, proud aunt, so it is a role that maybe comes naturally to me.
With Ólöf, I really get energized from hanging around with her. She has heaps of creativity surrounding her, and the energy is infectious, like what happens between her and Davíð Þór [Jónsson, stellar Icelandic musician]. It’s exciting. For that project, I really didn’t mean to butt in like that, but she played me a song and as soon as I heard it, a vocal to go with it popped in my head. I didn’t tell her about it, I thought it was a really tacky thing to do, but when I heard the track for a second time the vocal part jumped out again.
So I told her. I said: “I have this vocal part in my head, and if you want to record it, I’ll be happy to sing it. I’ll totally understand if you decide to not use it in the final mixes, and I won’t get upset.”
I felt I needed to make that clear. It can sometimes be a burden for a young musician, having some old-timer singing all over their record.
-Were you really afraid of becoming a burden to her?
Yeah, I was laughing about it with Ólöf the other day. Saying that it’s as if she’s a beautiful little bird sitting on a branch, singing its youthful melody, when all of the sudden this big peacock sits on the branch next to her and breaks the tree. Ólöf and I are friends and equals, but as interpreted by some American blog that doesn’t know anything, my singing on her record might become a burden. But it all worked out, though, and she decided to use my vocals in the end. Hopefully I didn’t break her tree.
-Tell us about working with Ólöf. What do you think of her music?
I think she’s an original, she has her own style. I really like her songwriting style, and she is also a brilliant lyricist—I don’t think she gets enough credit for that. I also think her songs will be sung later on, like Megas’s songs.
And her best is definitely yet to come, even though the forthcoming record is great. She still has a lot of growth in her. She has already grown a whole lot and matured since I started following her, I think it is exciting to witness…
ON WORKING WITH ANTONY AND STREAMING ENERGY BACK
Then the Antony thing came up a bit differently. When I was making Volta, I rented a studio in Jamaica for a month and invited him for a visit, and to sing with me on ‘Dull Flame Of Desire’. We spent a few days singing together, and during that time he wrote a piano song that I sang over in gibberish Icelandic, you know, that hazy undefined scratch vocal you make when you’re coming up with a melody
-What, you mean Hopelandic?
Well, it sounds really new age-y [laughs], but when I’m writing a melody I’ll generally just start off with sounds and empty vowels. Then I write a lyric and sing that. I’ve always respected Jónsi for daring to leave it at that first stage. But anyway, I was improvising over his piano track, coming up with a melody. After I went to bed, Antony stayed up all night, recording vocals and harmonising all my gibberish with these lush four part harmonies, effectively making a choir out of it. When I woke up in the morning, he told me he wanted to play me something. I was really honoured when I heard his work. And the track is great. It’s him singing in Icelandic, even if he has no idea what he’s singing about.
Afterwards, we didn’t really know what to do with the track. It was completely different from the rest of his album, a tiny accident. In the end, I told him: “This is your song, you do with it as you please.”
It’s been a while since we recorded it. It was during Easter of 2006. So this is a four-year-old song. I am very happy that he finally used it, I was always very thankful that he made the trip to Jamaica to make a song with me, and it is beautiful that we can stream the energy back and he can use something from the sessions. It is all very healthy.
ON BEING SAVED BY PARIS HILTON
-You are working with all these people and singing their praises. All of them have made some stunning music, but none seem to have breached the mainstream like you did. None of them have had a top forty hit. Have times changed since you came up? Are the masses harder to reach?
One day, the internet showed up and changed everything. All of our yardsticks are in flux. A band like Dirty Projectors can be called big on the Pitchfork scale—but it maybe doesn’t translate to physical copies sold. Things are different now. The posters are hung in other places. We are still figuring out how to define ‘success’ in this day and age. When the last Animal Collective album was released, they were on the covers of all the magazines in New York, and they won ‘record of the year’ everywhere. Isn’t that success? I don´t know …
I think these are exciting times; we are inventing our own definitions of success. Both in terms of record sales, but also these… these Lady GaGa moments that keep popping up. She is the first superstar of our time. She maybe isn’t doing anything new or interesting musically, but she still is a very interesting character. She has individual style.
I’m no musicologist or specialist in pop matters, but it seems to me that everything was perfectly aligned for her to make her appearance. And I feel that a similar thing happened—albeit in an entirely different way, with a different outcome—for me when I released ‘Post’. All these different factors lined up to make it as big as it could get.
I can’t judge how it happened, though—I am too involved with it to do that. There are probably several reasons. Instrumental electronic music had been around for a while then, all these introverted electronic scenes, like Acid House, were dominant and upcoming, but it lacked all narrative and all lyrics. There was a big hunger for that when I lived in London. People would say: “This is great music, but where are the songs?” Songs, not as in techno songs, but songs with stories and refrains and choruses. They were missing. That was one of the hoops we passed through…
-You’re saying the environment that young musicians face these days, especially in regards to the media, is totally different from what you experienced? And still in formation?
This populism that has followed globalisation and the internet, it is so crazy. People are gagging on it. Like how they treat Britney Spears. She can’t exit a cab without panties without close-up shots of her crotch being spread all over the internet five minutes later. This is vulgar. People do not want to participate in this. I can imagine people that are in their early twenties now and maybe releasing their first records not wanting any part in this atmosphere.
I think people are more and more starting to bypass these places, this sphere that has been created by the tabloid newspapers and gossip websites. Media gossip has changed so much since I was young. It’s so pervasive and dominant. Amy Winehouse leaves a club, five minutes later there are clips of her throwing up on YouTube.
When… [makes an old woman voice] when I was young, being a ‘celebrity’ really only consisted of one thing. You got invited to these premieres or charity events, and if you were interested or curious you went along and got photographed on the red carpet. You maybe gave an interview, posed for some photos and then you were done.
Now, we’re facing quite a different situation. A whole new league has been created, this Paris Hilton league, with her and Lindsay Lohan and others. I was actually pretty grateful when this new media culture appeared. It meant people like myself and Radiohead—people that would rather focus on making the music and didn’t want to participate in the whole celebrity package—could leave the stage to these new people. Sheesh! What a relief! I experienced it when a bit when I was living on Warwick Avenue in England, with forty photographers camping in my backyard, stocked with zoom lenses and stuff. I cannot thrive in that environment, and that’s why I backed out of it. And I was lucky, as soon as I got totally sick of it, the internet and this new league of celebrity fascination came along, these people like Paris that were really craving the attention.
They saved us.
-Like celebrity martyrs, hanging on their cross to set the rest of you free?
Exactly. And this is maybe causing a lot of the music websites and outlets that cover new music to not focus on the persons behind it so much. They’re not publishing crotch shots of Animal Collective all the time.
People are exercising their freedom to choose. They can choose this way, or the other. And I like that.
That’s certainly a refreshing way to look at it. Every time I go online and see all these news sites turning into sleazy gossip blogs I feel disheartened. It is a lot nicer to think that the über-gossip is isolating itself, and those interested can take care of it.
Yes, not pretend I know everything again, but in my experience: You have a choice. I got caught up in the whole celebrity gossip ride, and I had a choice. I simply chose not to participate. I did have to move to another country, but I chose to do that.
-I understand you’ve also recorded a track for the upcoming Moomin feature film?
Yes. That was very joyous. They contacted me and asked me to write music for the film. After seeing a screening copy, I agreed to write the title track, and I asked Sjón to write the lyrics. The film looks great, and I feel it is much truer to the Moomin spirit than some of these Moomin things I’ve seen, which often stray from the original stories, have all these pastel colours and depict the Moomins as being all cute. This is a full length movie, about the comet, and it isn’t at all cute. It’s real, like the Moomins.
I felt that writing the track was a great opportunity to support [Moomin author] Tove Jansson. I’ve read many of her books—she wrote a lot beyond the Moomin series—and is now finally receiving due credit as a writer, not just of children’s novels. She has this great philosophy, and the way she lived her life on a small island is also inspiring. All her characters are different, everyone gets to be as they are and they all live in harmony. I agree with a lot of her messages, and really empathise with Tove.
So you’re big on the Moomins?
Yes! Yes! That’s just the way it is.
ON RECEIVING THE POLAR PRIZE
Then I heard you got nominated for some ‘Polar Award’
Yes, it’s some award. They’re apparently very respectable; they always select one pop musician and one composer. Ennio Morricone is the composer this time around…
-What does this entail?
I got to invite my parents along, and I think the prince or king of Sweden will be there to meet us. A lot of interesting projects have received this award in over the years. I had no idea, though, when they contacted me. Usually when I get nominated for such awards, I just say no. A lot of them are just some celebrity drivel—they’ll just need celebrity presence to top off their party and they award you for all sorts of ludicrous things—I don’t know what. And not about music. You can have it as a full time job, accepting awards, attending premieres and being a socialite. I cut that off after ‘Debut’ and ‘Post’, so I would have time to make music. So when they contacted me about this award, I was just about to say “no thank you, I don’t have the time” and get back to my music… then everyone around me got all upset; “Are you crazy? It’s the POLAR PRIZE!” And I realised this was apparently a very big deal.
It was a nice surprise actually. A lot of these award ceremonies or charity events are just preposterous. When I still attended those, I would often walk in all excited about helping cancer patients or whatnot, only to be met by a group of socialites dressed in deluxe garments, comparing their shoes or dresses, sipping on champagne. Very little concern for the cause, sitting around loaded with diamonds, talking about poverty. What’s the context? What’s the context?
ON SOMETHING THAT HAS FOLLOWED HUMANITY SINCE WE WERE APES
One last question. I mentioned earlier that whenever we print something about you in the paper we get a huge response from people from all over the world—your fans. There seem to be a lot of people looking up to you, looking to you for guidance, even. That given, it is reassuring that you are trying to use your influence in a positive manner and raising attention to important issues, but… it also must be weird for you…
It comes with the job. I don’t know why. Singers that wrote their songs a hundred years ago maybe didn’t face the same reaction. Then again maybe they did. Religion is at a strange place right now, and not what it was a century ago.
I think most of it doesn’t have anything to do with me as a person. It’s just a certain need in society. Also, when you step on the stage, a certain shamanism is put in motion, something that has followed humanity since we were apes, or even longer. On the stage you are not yourself, you are a representative, a symbol, it is symbolic and it raises you to a frequency level.
And you realise this once you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s not that I’m so great, the concert is not about me. I am not focusing on my blemishes and shape or who I am, exaggerating my particularities. I rather try and tap in on how everyone is feeling; I rather enter the stage and sing about an emotion that I know everyone experiences, over something specific, like I hate this thing or the other. I keep those emotions to myself.
A Smattering Of Ideas For Innovators & Entrepreneurs
Because not every solution needs to involve heavy industry
Just prior to the economic collapse of 2008, Björk and her Spark team engaged in an active dialogue with job development agents, job developers, innovation centres, universities, specialists and investors in all parts of Iceland. The idea was to try to find start-up companies and idea seeds that need nourishment; to encourage further innovation and sustainable development in Iceland, and to underline the need for start-ups and seed companies, for small local industries as opposed to more heavy industry.
Below is a sampling of some of the ideas that were mentioned in the dialogue – which is ongoing – as compiled by the Spark group. It is not meant to be definitive or final, merely a conversation starter and a way to draw attention to the fact that there are other ways, and those ways need support and care.
Water in different forms
a) For export
b) Production based on water, such as beer, soda, energy drinks, health and tea-drinks
c) Food production that requires a lot of water
d) Fragrances, contact lens solution, cosmetics and other solutions that require a lot of purified water
a) There are numerous established designers in Iceland, and countless young ones
b) In relation to clothing design accessories, such as handbags, watches, jewellery and many other things can be designed and even produced locally
Food production in various forms
a) Using Icelandic vegetables in a more diverse manner, such as producing high quality baby food for export
b) Pet food from seafood leftovers, etc
c) Freeze-dried protein for food-, medical-, and chemical industries The production requires a lot of energy and steam for drying
d) Slow food and direct-from-farm local foods
a) Production of hard kernel tires
b) Recycled plastic for production
c) Recycled waste for production of bio-fuel and bio-charcoals
d) Production of small transportable geothermal energy generators for export
e) Carbon recycling for production of gasoline incentives
f) Consultancy service related to geothermal energy worldwide
a) On-line language courses
b) On-line data banks
c) On-line music services
d) Software solutions for ships, homes and transportation to reduce energy consumption
e) Value added service for customers of Icelandic data centres
f) Identification software for law enforcement
g) Search software for aggregating on-line feedback
Energy solutions in different forms
a) Data centres in various sizes
b) More vegetable production
a) Animated films
b) Computer games
c) Software solutions for the music- and film industries
Glassmaking from sand
Solar panel production
Fish farming: cod, trout, salmon, mussels
Artificial intelligence research and development
Using hot water for fish farming: production of warm sea fish species
University of the Ocean: An international research centre relating to the ocean, fishing industries, fish farming and the environment, located on the Westfjords
Memory research technology development
Medical products from fish skin
Effective use of by-products from shrimp production, for production of bio-chemicals.
Post-production of algae, production of alginate and materials for food supplements, food and cosmetics.
Production of high-quality fly-fishing wheels.
Production based on the use of herbs, flowers, fungi and moss.
Natural, hot geothermal pools.
Wellness, sleep and health centres/hotels
Long term scientific studies in pharmaceutical- and biotechnology
Blue shell mussel production
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