Bjork Gudmundsdottir, 28, formerly of the Sugarcubes, is nothing if not sui generis, not only artistically but aesthetically. On the day we met she was wearing a vintage black skirt (“I have full respect for the classical”), Reeboks (“my futuristic pump shoes”)and a Moomins T-shirt (“sort of like Norwegian Winnie-the-Pooh only more anarchist”).
Her 1993 solo album, Debut, which has sold a half million copies, has secured her a position in the music industry that could best be described as the World’s Only Cheerful Techno Icelandic Surrealist. I think it’s fair to say that she is prepared for the future.
Before we start, I would just like to say I like that cute fuzzy sweater you wear on your album cover.
Thank-you. I’ve always been for hairy things.
Does that go for people, too?
Yeah, I guess so. I like things when they’re a bit alive. And if you don’t have a friend or a pet or you’re away traveling then it’s nice to have cuddly things to wear.
All right, Miss Voice of the Future. Do you feel like you represent your generation?
Well, I’m definitely one of them, that’s for sure. But I look on myself as one of those people rather than as a representative. And to me the future will be about being able to do all things at once. You can be, like, a really good businessman and also be a mother and also be really into health food, and you can do basketball – just pick up the best things.
Do you think that’s partly because technology offers so many choices that people can make a custom combination platter?
Definitely. Technology used to complicate things, and now it’s simplifying. I’ve gone up, like, nine points in being a businesswoman because I’ve got a little organizer, and I can write songs and arrange things. You just need the machine, and you can put out records. So record companies, you won’t need them, and you won’t need media because of Internet.
You’re eliminating the middleman.
Yes. I’m not saying there won’t be any record companies or media. I mean, that’s a pretty big statement.
That’s OK. I don’t take it personally.
Well . . . I’m exaggerating. But a lot of people from the ’80s, for them, the biggest aphrodisiac was power. And I have never identified with that. And for this generation the biggest aphrodisiac is freedom.
And what do you think are the dangers of freedom?
Well, the good thing is with all this equipment, you can pick for yourself. But when you’ve got all these choices, you can let them control you.
This is what Kierkegaard calls the dizziness of too much possibility.
Yes, you have to know what you want, and it focuses you – not in a yuppie way, in a freedom way. It’s all about “Stop moaning and do something about it.” But I can sense a sort of optimism in the air.
Where do you think that comes from?
From a generation that realizes that media and the system are not gonna satisfy them. And maybe the people before expected that and then were disappointed. Now it’s more like “They won’t disappoint me.” And you can see it here, like in The Simpsons, they’re just taking the piss, there’s no respect. I watch something like Ren and Stimpy, and I love them so much, I wish I could marry them or something.
If you could relive your adolescence, what would you change?
I’m quite happy with it.
Oh. You were the only happy teenager in the world.
We had a laugh, man. We were very active and busy and did stupid things. Like not having any money, so we got stuck at autobahn stations, and we would just eat sugar from the bowls and steal petrol from other cars. We would drink two tequilas through a straw and then go roller-skating on the hardboard.
On the what?
On the hardboard. The hardboard. You know, where the ships are.
Oh, the harbor. I’ve often thought it was a miracle that anybody survives past the age of 16.
Yes, after drinking all the tequilas, you could sink to the bottom of the ocean quite easily.
If you could live in another time, which would you choose?
I’m really happy about this time. I don’t want to go through all the cliche subjects, but just being a woman now has never been better. And to be the generation after the generation that fought all those fights, it’s outrageous.
How would you define the different stages of rock music?
Well, in the beginning it’s always the same thing and then we lose the plot We start looking at the outside of things and lose the heart. That happens over and over. I was just listening to these records from the ’30s, bebop music, with one microphone in the middle and a 50-piece band, and it’s completely dynamic. It was like punk. I’m sorry, Sex Pistols, but it was punk. It has this complete hardcore energy.
Right. In the same way that Ethel Merman is a rock & roller.
Yes. And that’s what I like: the beginning. The beginning of everything is always about the same thing. Being completely spontaneous, with raw emotion and not censoring anything and just sort of having a lust for life.
Do you believe in Generation X?
That’s like Kurt Cobain, right?
Sort of. It’s the lost twenty something generation.
OK. I don’t live here, but just the overall view for me, America reached its last climax in the ’50s. In America you can just sense that they’ve lost hope. But then eventually it will go up again. I mean, I’ve been living in London for one and a half years, and that’s just so depressing because it’s rock bottom there. They’re at that point like the Romans when they were just eating berries and overdoing it because that was the only way to deal with just going down the drain. That’s what London is like. It’s like . . . I don’t know if it’s the same word in English. Like when a brother has a baby with a sister.
No, that’s maybe not the same word. Like when all the royalties were only marrying to each other in the Russian Empire, and they just got all these diseases and everything?
When all the royalties were only marrying to each other . . . I don’t know. . . . Inbreeding?
Yeah, in a way. There’s some other word in Icelandic. Anyway, culturally when that happens, you just have to stop there and start fresh.
What kind of music were you brought up with?
There was music 24 hours a day in my house. All of the hippie bollocks. You know, Joni Mitchell, although I would never say she was bollocks – she was the genius of the century. Jimi Hendrix, Cream, early Eric Clapton, all those guitary things. And, um, Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s my roots.
What makes music “alternative”?
You mean like journalists categorize it? I’ve never really gotten it. That’s another problem, when people analyze my music as dance music. I’m like “What? Why?”
Maybe they say it’s dance music because that’s the kind of music male critics traditionally don’t understand. On the other hand, maybe it’s because it does have a dance-music beat.
Yeah. But I mean, give me one more guy wearing a black leather jacket, jeans and sneakers, and I’ll shoot him.
But even if your record is not a club record, you could be dancing at home.
Yes, I suppose. But the whole alternative thing I think, has gotten a bit stuck. But there are bands out there that I like very much now. Like the Breeders girls, they are so great – their attitude is so fresh and so modern. And I really admire Courtney Love as well. And with Madonna, I’m not going to go into the things she’s done for women. You’d fall asleep, there are so many.
Well, name a few.
Just the fact that she made it look good to control your own life when that was something that was not supposed to be very sexy for a woman. She’s one of the few women who has remained true to herself and been a character.
How do you think music will change as it gets more mixed?
I think what hopefully will happen is people will rediscover pop music as one of the strongest forces in the world, up there with religion, sex, food, politics.
So you think music can change the world.
Definitely. It does every day. It’s just the biggest nurse in the world. Because it sorts out people’s heads, it makes them braver and happier and sadder or whatever. It’s one of the most important emotional forces in the world, I think.
Do you consider yourself a political person?
In a personal sense, yes. I believe in individualism.
So what’s in your future?
My future? I just want to keep on going. I get so easily bored, I have to find something new every fucking day. But then again, I don’t even have to find it. Because there are so many things out there. Films, books and just . . . people. That’s what I’m up to, really, when it comes down to it.
This story is from the November 17th, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.