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Interviews, Music

Honesty is important in a transparency-daft society

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Andrew Bird – Photo by: Cameron Wittig

In an industry where perception is everything and there are more commercial pop stars than needed, folk-rock darling Andrew Bird maintains an open and honest image that is refreshing in a transparency-daft society.

Bird rejects the idea of having a “persona,” and instead maintains a forthcoming personality, even more so than in personal relationships.

During a recent show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, someone yelled, “don’t let them know it.” Bird refutes “the theory of show biz where you’re supposed to be stoic, it’s an old school attitude. Honesty is the number one thing.”

Bird places a huge importance on the social value of music and believes that people should “connect through music in-person rather than in the comfort of your own home.”

“There’s always going to be a propose for music in the world for people to connect with each other and you can’t substitute that with digital entirely,” said Bird in a phone interview.

Bird admits that many of his performances are improvised, much like his albums, which leads to a lot of his songs going into uncharted territory.

“You know how the song will start and you have a vague idea of how it’s going to end, but what happens in the middle is left to your whims,” said Bird.

“There’s something about looping that we’re doing which lends itself to that where you can create different types of layers and textures depending on your mood.”

“There’s always going to be a propose for music in the world for people to connect with each other and you can’t substitute that with digital entirely.”

Bird was approached earlier this year to write an album for friend and former Chicago neighbor, Kelly Hogan, but since he was still writing “Break It Yourself,” he instead polished Jack Pendarvis’ lyrics to We Cant Have Nice Things and put words to a melody for her then-upcoming album “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain.”

“I’ve known Kelly for years so I know what kind of voice she has and her sensibilities and it helped that I was working with a lyricist and all I had to do was set it to music,” said Bird. “I like that division of labour because it’s kind of refreshing because I don’t have it in my own music.”

Through his years of touring, Bird has discovered several key differences between North American and European audiences, like the way they approach music, lyrics and foreign artists.

“Southern Europe seems more interested in the lyrics than English-speaking countries and they have a curiosity and a refreshing naïveté in their approach to the music,” said Bird.

“There’s no longer that dynamic of Europe discovering the unappreciated American artist because those days have come and gone. People are more open now to unusual music and Europe is a little more staunchy,” he said.

Bird insists that he “doesn’t have people who demand a particular song but instead come for the experience,” and that “it doesn’t always matter what song you choose to play, it’s the way they are played and the palate that I’m working with.”

Bird cites “Plasticities,” “Tables and Chairs,” and “Why,” as songs with “incredible elasticity.” He figures that he has the type of audience that appreciates the spontaneity of his set and he notes that he “could do the same set in two nights in one city and they can be seriously different and people enjoy that.”

Bird claims he “never loses sleep [over pirating],” because he “never really supported himself on record sales anyway.”

“No one has ever looked at me and my music and saw dollar signs and so I’ve always avoided that whole headache,” said Bird.

“I’ve had just as much of a chance as that major label band who’s having money thrown at them. We’ve seen the playing field get leveled and you see people get more access to music and maybe tastes have expanded as well,” he said.

Every year Bird plays only a handful of festivals because of the way they change his way of thinking about music and a crowd’s inability to actively listen to songs other than entirely anthemic ones.

“You try to do a dynamically subtler song and you hear the dim of conversation in the audience go up considerably,” said Bird.

“No one has ever looked at me and my music and saw dollar signs and so I’ve always avoided that whole headache.”

“I just don’t like those purely anthemic, sing-a-long tunes and I could, I’m tempted to, but I don’t want the festival phenomenon to change the way I think about music,” he said.

Bird breaks his career into two parts over the course of nine albums. The first of which began at the age of 26 where he was still in a “student frame of mind” and was still more of a music fan than a musician.

The second part was a beginning of a period where he became comfortable in pushing his musical boundaries and stretching himself in different directions.

“Every record I make, I’m trying to do something different and I always feel like I can do something better, I can sing better, I can stretch myself in this direction, and I always like to do something that I find a little embarrassing on every record,” said Bird.

Eventually, Bird learned what he could from his music collection. “I allowed music to completely consume me where I became what I do and I let the songs bubble up from my collective experiences rather than grabbing them from the external universe.

He cites the debut single from “Break It Yourself,” titled “Eyeoneye,” “where it pushes what I’m comfortable with writing about and things that are more confessional and more closer to the bone,” said Bird.

“The world doesn’t need me to write songs that talk about heartbreak in a direct way,” he said.

There’s a major generational gap where young musicians are doing the same thing as the generation before them and, according to Bird, the Irish music and British folk music scenes have become too institutionalized, and in order to keep scenes alive, they must evolve.

“Some people think that you keep things alive by preserving it but instead you got to keep it alive by keeping it on the street with all of its misunderstandings and misinterpretations,” said Bird.

“That’s what I love about folk music … What I don’t get right that’s awesome because what I misunderstood might be even more interesting than the original,” he said.

With the crowdfunding method of recording and touring becoming more popular, Bird has never fully discounted that option.

“It depends on what the project is because I am working on stuff that is hard to figure out where the revenue will come from, like the Sonic Arboretum project. That could be a cool way of presenting it,” said Bird.

“The world doesn’t need me to write songs that talk about heartbreak in a direct way.”

“It’s good because your audience is your most important investor and if you can engage them and make them feel invested that’s awesome,” he said.

Bird will begin his tour in support of “Break It Yourself” on July 8th in Geneva, IL, and will record a new album that will consist of mainly “old-timey” music. He plans to release it in mid-October or early-November.

“[The record will be] of the acoustic, old-timey stuff we’ve been doing in our sets which is a newer thing where we unplug and don’t make any loops and go over to one microphone and play either original songs in that style or some older pre-war old-timey tunes,” Bird said.

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