Claire Cross: ‘I love Bjork’s ability to get mileage out of her musical elements’

Regardless of your opinion of Bjork, the fact is that she’s one of the artists who has been pushing the boundaries of pop music and culture for more than 30 years now, essentially being a one-woman avant-garde movement. This is a fact. Here’s another fact: Claire Cross is one of the most restless creative people in Melbourne today. As a jazz-and-beyond bassist, she will blow your mind; as a composer and bandleader, she has created a sonic world of her own (seriously, if you haven’t listened to her album with The SURFACE project, do it now). Which makes her the right persion to present a deconstructed version of the Bjork songbook, featuring a diverse dream team of vocalists (Mama Alto, Tom Barton, Hannah Cameron and Georgie Darvidis), for what is probably one of the most anticipated events of this year’s Stonnington Jazz Festival. Here is her take on the whole thing.

How did the ‘Bjork: Interpreted’ project come to be?

Back in 2016, the SURFACE Project went on tour and as part of that, our drummer Cameron Sexton put together an amazing arrangement of Bjork’s ‘Pluto’, featuring Tom Barton on vocals. It’s such a creative arrangement and is a lot of fun to play.

Chelsea Wilson, the Artistic Director of Stonnington Jazz, checked it out and was really into the concept of putting together a full concert of Bjork arrangements and asked me if I’d be keen. So here we are!

Cam and I had previously discussed the possibility of doing some Bjork arrangements for the ensemble, but this Stonnington opportunity has really kicked things into gear.

How did the group of people involved come together?

I drew up a shortlist of vocalists I’d love to work with on this with the help of Chelsea, and got in contact with them individually. Luckily, they said yes! Each of the vocalists has a relationship with Bjork’s music and I think they will each bring their own sound and perspective to each of the arrangements.

It is understood that this is not a Bjork covers band; what should the audience expect?

I guess when I think ‘covers band’ I imagine a band performing songs exactly as per the recording like the more traditional ‘tribute show’ type performance. For this project I felt like it wouldn’t be fulfilling for the audience or musicians if we just attempted to play Bjork’s music the way she has produced it, especially for a jazz festival!

There has to be something fresh, intriguing, experimental or risky involved for it to make sense to me. I guess this is what we will strive towards presenting some amazing music that we all know and love with a new perspective and sound and room for everyone involved to get their individual voices across.

How ‘jazz’ is this project?

There will be improvising but I doubt you’ll find any ‘swing’ feels, if that’s what that question means! It really depends on how you feel about the various definitions of jazz. Some groups are more focused on arrangement with designated places for improvisation and interaction, and I think this particular performance would fall into that category. I have allowed room for instrumentalists and vocalists to stretch out in places and solo/collectively improvise.

Which Bjork hit is NOT included in the set list?

She has so many hits so… a lot?!

I asked each of our guest vocalists to send me the songs they would really love to perform and I’ve designed the set list based around this. So it’s really been determined by a little bit of my own preference, but largely by the music that has inspired these amazing vocalists that I’m stoked to be working with.

I know that they all agonized over their choices, and I know if I was selecting all of the songs on my own that I would too! There are just too many amazing pieces of music to choose from to be able to get everything into one concert.

Hannah Cameron, Georgie Darvidis, Claire Cross and Tom Barton

Why Bjork? What is her appeal? Why is she significant to music today?

Wow, what a huge question! Where do I begin? Bjork is a popular artist who has strived over a number of decades with a solo career and with every album she brings something new to the table – you can really see her evolving and expanding through the course of her life/material. She truly keeps seeking.

The immense amount of work and ambition demonstrated throughout her career is hugely inspiring. And of course we have to mention the fact that it’s amazing to have such a radically honest female role model on a global platform. I’ve read lately about how as women get older they begin to notice… that they aren’t being noticed, that at some point in their age they feel as though they become invisible. Considering Bojrk is still going stronger than ever and remains extremely visible is so encouraging and it says a lot about her vision as an artist and how she has managed to determine her trajectory over the course of so many years despite the inherent challenges of being a woman working in the very male-dominated music industry.

How has she influenced you personally?

I love Bjork’s ability to really get mileage out of her musical elements, and I’ve discovered that even more so now that I’ve been working on re-arranging her songs. The way she crafts stories, feelings and atmospheres is something I admire. I’ve checked out bits and pieces of Bjork’s music since being a child and hearing some of her singles on Rage every Saturday morning. During my studies at Uni it was great to see how many other students and teachers were so deep into her music and that definitely encouraged me to keep delving into her material.

How does this fit in with your other projects?

I’m not sure yet! I think every project I take on is a chance to wrap my brain around getting better at what I want to do and to improve as a composer, arranger and as a musician. I’m happy that The SURFACE Project in whatever form it is taking on for this concert gets to come out of hibernation to try something new and to collaborate with some amazing people. I guess mostly I just want to do the best job I can and see what happens next – it’s part of my story now.

Which song best describes your current state of mind?