Andrew Bird is serious. And considering he is a man celebrated for his whistling capabilities, it’s a fairly surprising realization. Taking into account the 13 albums under his belt dating back to 1996, the latest of which was released just a few months ago, one believes she may be able to piece together a person, paint a portrait that closely resembles the man behind the microphone—but Bird isn’t quite so literal.
It seems, however, that the musician has begun to leave listeners more obvious signals on his recent effort, Are You Serious; it’s his most direct and, as far as we can tell, personal album to date. The record comes after a rather difficult period in Bird’s life with swings between joy and sorrow: he got married, had a child, his wife battled cancer, and the new family relocated from New York to Los Angeles. “It kind of brought about some revelations in songwriting, or my songwriting,” he says. “How much of it is intellectual and how much of it is emotional.”
“There was a desire to be useful as a songwriter, and that that might be a good thing to strive for.”
Classically trained in violin at Northwestern University, Bird has been acclaimed for his albums’ complexity, both lyrically and musically. His witty muses on life and melody bring his traditional education together with folksy charm. He certainly hasn’t left that recipe behind on Are You Serious, but this time there’s newfound clarity in the songs—perhaps a result of much of the record being written in just a few days. “This is the first time I ever had a concentrated period of time; usually it’s a really long process whittling away at a song for four or five years,” Bird says. “When we were leaving New York—and leaving all of these trials behind, hopefully—we stopped at my family farm, and I spent a good seven days working from nine to two, laying out all these lyrics for about six or seven songs. And that was unusual for me.”
From Bird’s more immediate style of writing, intimacy and bluntness arise in the work. Lyrics such as, “She was radioactive for seven days / how I wanted to be holding her anyways”, from the song “Puma”, are touching and honest. “New York is kind of distracting to begin with, and to kind of keep it together for everyone in my family I had to keep a lid on things,” Bird reflects. “Once I got to this safe place, it kind of all came rushing out,” He not only began writing songs differently, but consuming music in different capacities as well. “Before, I never experienced listening to songs in a way that was like, ‘Oh this songwriter is writing about my life,’ but then I started to hear some songs like this,” he recalls. “And I was like, ‘I get it. This is the way the majority of people in the world listen to songs.’ Then there was a desire to be useful as a songwriter, and that that might be a good thing to strive for.” Music, after all, is a mighty connector.
Bird’s revelation is particularly telling in his quest to write a love song. The album’s “Left Hand Kisses”, a duet with the incomparable Fiona Apple, chronicles his insecurity regarding the task. “It’s me trying my best to write a simple love song and then calling myself out on how backhanded and trite it seems,” he explains. Even so, there are no simple songs in Bird’s oeuvre. His work is complicated and intricate, and unsurprisingly, the artist is as well. No need to paint a picture—the music does that.
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