You collaborated with Arca again on this album. Why do you think working together is so effective?
There was just such a musical connection between us. We were speaking in some kind of shorthand, sending each other songs, really on a high, seeing each other as a potential that we felt other people couldn’t see. It was like we could mirror each other. Overall, it’s the same amount of co-production as Vulnicura. What changed on this album is that Alejandro wrote more—I think I wrote 60 percent on my own, and he co-wrote 40 percent.
Maybe it’s some strange contradiction, because a few years ago, the lady that interviewed me for Pitchfork [Jessica Hopper] really encouraged me to speak up about female producers not being credited enough. And then I was talking a lot about that, and feeling more resolved, more healthy, more strong, and also more appreciated. People started asking me different kinds of questions after that. It really made a difference. I got more balanced and more confident, and I felt seen for what I can do. And then it was really exciting to meet this maybe once-in-a-lifetime person, where I could drop all my defenses and just play like kids.
To what degree was the process of making Utopia an extension of making Vulnicura? Did it feel like a continuation or an entirely new chapter?
It’s a bit of both, though more something different. “The Gate” is the bridge from one album to the other, in a way, even though I didn’t write that song first. The wound featured in almost every video for Vulnicura changed into a gate that you can love from. Then the rest of the songs are in a new place.
Vulnicura is so sad and heartbreaking. All the sounds are heavy—the beats are like rocks. There’s a lot of weight to it. It was really exciting to drop all those rocks off and suddenly be really free. You just lift off like an air balloon and float up to the sky. I started listening to completely different music, very euphoric, hyper, free music. I just needed that light so badly.
Looking back now, the melodies on Vulnicura are very sad, and there’s short spaces between the notes. It’s kind of paralyzed. The first song I wrote on this album, the opening song, “Arisen My Senses,” is the opposite. The melody’s like a constellation in the sky. It’s almost like an optimist rebellion against the normal narrative melody. There’s not one melody. It’s like five melodies. I really loved that.
The narrative on Vulnicura was so heavy, the story was so important and prominent, and the instruments and beats served that story. When we did the concerts, that became even more exaggerated. We did Carnegie Hall, and the whole room was sobbing. When we did the last gig, me and Alejandro went in the dressing room and had a few glasses of champagne. We were just like, “Oh my God, we’ve earned the lightness!” When I was writing Utopia and still singing the Vulnicura songs, I felt like I was having an affair from my own grief. Maybe that even exaggerated the contrast: You sing a really, really tragic song and you go home and you stand on your head and make a beat out of a ping-pong machine. Just go slapstick.
After finishing this album, do you feel you’re closer to the places you wanted to go when you first set out to make it?
Absolutely. Heartbreak is so weird—I wonder if physics can ever measure it, take a picture of it. I don’t know when humans first started writing stories, but they all talk about their heart being broken. Spiritually, it’s like daggers in your chest. It’s extreme. And I just stroke my chest now and it’s fine. It’s like I’m me again. It’s a really extreme, physical difference. And that was a big surprise to me.