AT the tail-end of last year, south-London based Bird…
gave the music world Figments of Our Imagination. Restless beats and imaginative electronics: vocals that are at once warm and tender but have rouse and defiance underneath. So much life and energy went into that album and that reflected in the opinions and reviews of fans and the media – regarded as a triumph for Bird. Beat is her latest album and remixes the songs found on Figments of Our Imagination. Bringing a host of producing/D.J. talent to the album: the individual takes show the original material had plenty of flexibility, potential for new life and emotion – wonderful to see each interpretation. After such a busy year – and more to come as 2016 ends – I was keen to chat with Bird as she reflects on the past few months and what it has brought.
Hey Bird. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi! I’m great. It’s been an exciting week. We have signed a deal to release the Beat album through the Lifted House label for Scandinavia
For those new to your music can you introduce yourself please? How did you decide upon the moniker of ‘Bird’?
I’m an Alt./Pop singer-songwriter. I am called Bird because I love the word! For me, it’s synonymous with freedom and flight. Birdsong is (apart from magpies) beautiful, so for me, it works as a musician’s artist name. It’s also a very familiar word to me. Coming from South London, it’s a term we often used – it wasn’t at all derogatory. It was important for me to have a name other than my own: my artist persona is separate to me. As Bird, I feel more able to express myself.
You are based in south London. Is London a city that suits your creative drive and are there opportunities enough to perform?
South London is in my blood. My grandfather’s family grew up in Battersea. I think a place that feels homely and so familiar is always a good place to work.
Of course, it’s good to be challenged and to feel uncomfortable sometimes as an artist so I love to travel and feel out of my comfort zone – but I also love working back in London in my little studio putting the ideas together. I think there are fewer opportunities to perform here live, though. Sadly, so many of the more intimate venues have closed down over the past two decades.
One of the things that always strikes me about you is your style and unique fashion. How important is imagery in terms of your career and how influential has London been with regards that side of things?
I think image is important as an artist. Bird is a character of her own so it’s important Bird has her own style; her own world to be entered and discovered. I have a degree in design too so I’m sensitive to imagery. I love to style Bird in response to the music I am making at that time.
You seem like someone in love with retro. and ‘traditional’ music (cassettes and vinyl). Your fashion has that vintage chic and ‘60s touches. Do you feel connected to another time and how do you feel about the digitalisation of music?
I don’t feel particularly retro. at all. What I am in love with is honesty and quality.
I think we live in a world now where we produce to consume: we are driven by a need to have more with little regard for the degradation of quality that might occur as a result.
That being said, there are a lot of positives to the digitalisation of music. We are able to explore and push ideas further with modern technology and people have more access to music than ever before. That’s a good thing.
Do you think social media and the Internet has taken some of music’s physicality and honesty or has it made it more accessible for people?
See above! Definitely, yes. I think social media and the Internet has stolen a lot from us; particularly with regards to allowing our imagination do some of the work. I think we are at risk of becoming an information overloaded and addicted society now: we know too much and yet so much less than before.
It has been over a decade since you released your debut album. How do you think you’ve developed since that release and do you look back fondly at that time?
I am currently in the process of remaking the first album – it is an artistic challenge I have given myself. As a writer, it’s easy to listen to everyone telling you to “write a bit more commercial“; “speed up the songs” in pursuit of the “golden ticket” that is national radio-play. I’m not totally adverse to writing music in order for it to be played but I also have to be an artist sometimes! That means more than just writing a song: it means challenging myself as a creative person, finding ways to be uncomfortable; interested, curious, brave. So, I’m actually really looking back to that time right now: revisiting all the old files and seeing how the artist I have become in the last decade responds and creates as a result of contemplating this old album. I’m hoping this process will help me answer exactly your question. It is the one I am currently asking myself and the reason I am revisiting The Insides.
I noticed from a recent Tweet you were listening to Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. He is a particular music hero of mine. How did you get into Wonder’s music?
There is no one defining moment: I’ve just always loved him. I remember hearing Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of Higher Ground in 1989 and had no idea it was a cover. Then I heard Stevie Wonder’s version and was totally blown away – then I had to hear all his stuff! Now he’s one of my favourites to play because his music sounds so good on vinyl. You have to genuinely be a good musician to play well on vinyl – it’s unforgiving which is what I love about the format.
Which other artists were important to you growing up and helped define your musical direction?
So so many – I also find it difficult to make a list!
My dad played a lot of music at home so I grew up surrounded by The Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens and Supertramp. I trained classically on the cello so I listened to lots of Jacqueline du Pré recordings.
She was a real heroine for me growing up. Then, as a teenager, I was listening to a pretty eclectic (and for the time, weird) assortment of music: from the stuff on the radio; Tone Loc, Level 42; Spandau Ballet to stuff I was discovering: The Police, Suzanne Vega; later on, Radiohead, Beck – lots of mainstream stuff but what I call ‘proper Pop’ – people who made music for masses but with intent and some integrity.
Figments of Our Imagination was released last year and gained great critical feedback. Were you surprised by the reaction and did you receive any messages from fans after the album was released?
Acclaim is always nice as an artist. I would love to be one of those really cool, aloof artists who says they don’t care at all what people think of their art/music once it has been made. I try not to let other people’s views affect how I continue to create but I also do care how people receive what I have released. I did receive quite a few messages and they were so positive: it’s like a little care package of energy for me as an artist every time I hear someone has enjoyed what I’ve made – it gives me a little bit more fuel to continue my artistic journey.
The songs look at love and relationships but do so in a very new and original way. Were there any particular times and relationships that influenced the album’s song or do you draw from imagination quite a lot?
I do draw from my imagination a lot when I write because I think it is often more honest. It’s easy to twist things to suit when you consciously think but much more difficult when it comes from your subconscious. I thought that the overwhelming theme of Figments’ was one of social commentary and isolation yet a lot of people see it’s central theme as love – so I must have been subconsciously thinking about it the whole time!
I notice – hope you take it as a compliment – some parallels between yourself and Roisin Murphy. In terms of compositional talent and style, there are some parallels. Is she someone you admire and what do you think of her current work?
She looks a bit like me doesn’t she?! Going to be honest: I only know her name from Moloko. I had no idea she had this cool Electro. solo career. Just been having a listen and see where you’re coming from. I think I’ll have to listen to her for a few weeks to give a meaningful opinion. We do share some genes. I’m half-Irish. 🙂
Talk to me about the concept behind Beat. How did you come to the decision to release an album containing remixes of Figments of Our Imagination’s songs?
I have never been precious as a songwriter. Some writers won’t let you change a single thing about a song once they’ve written it. I am the opposite.
I love the excitement I feel when I’ve finished a song: not just for what it is but also for what it could potentially become.
For me, historically that would be more to do with how I would orchestrate and interpret it for live shows/acoustic versions. So, remixing for me is simply another way to explore the possibilities a song may have for reinterpretation. My press agent Dave Woolf played one of the tracks from Figments’ to a remixer’s manager he knows who offered to get his team to remix the track. I immediately said yes and we decided to release it. It went top-ten in the commercial club charts and other remixers approached me so I thought: well why not try and remix the whole album – one project creating and informing the next.
The album sees you collaborating with Seamus Haji, DEVolution and Full Inten1on (among others). How did you come to meet and work with so many different talents?
Some approached me and some I approached because I’m really interested in what they do.
What was it like listening to your songs reworked by other people? What was your first reaction upon hearing them all played back?
It felt refreshing! I know the album so well. It’s so familiar that it was such a great feeling to have the songs feel unfamiliar to me – to be a listener, not just a creator
Wideboys’ remix of Think So is the last single to be released from Beat. Is it your favourite from the album or does another remix hold that honour?
Never a good thing to have favourites 🙂 If you twist my arm, I’d have to say Lee Groves’ version of Small Town is stand out: it reminds me of Fourtet (who I asked to remix a track but couldn’t get hold of). I also love DEVolution’s version of Thrill Me.
Looking back at all the gigs you’ve performed and people you have met: what have been the fondest memories from 2016 so far?
Supporting Hooverphonic on-tour was pretty special. I also co-wrote and sang two tracks on their album which went to #1 in Belgium earlier this year; so I played with my band supporting then changed outfit and went back out to sing the first two songs with them every night. That was a lot of fun!
After Beat’s final single is out, what plans have you for the future? Can we expect any new material next year?
See above! First, we’re releasing another single from the Figments’ album (Small Town) which will be part of a single package to include a live acoustic version of the track and the Lee Groves remix.
(Then) I’ll be in my studio working on the new version of The Insides as well as writing material for a completely new album.
I’m hosting a writing camp through Pop Fiction Records with some very dear friends and amazingly talented writers next month – so hoping we’ll pen a song or two together then!
There are a lot of singer-songwriters and Alterative-Pop artists on the scene. Many will not remain for years whereas you have been performing music for over a decade. What is the secret of your longevity?
I can’t stop! That simple: music is me. I can’t quit; I can’t change career. When I don’t work on music, I feel a bit lost.
Are there any current artists in the mainstream you are impressed by and recommend we follow closely?
Tough. Sadly not as many as I’d like. I find the mainstream charts fairly depressing these days. Curious to hear Emeli Sande’s new album but mainly because I worked with her in the early days. She’s a wonderful lady and much more talented than her last album shows her to be in my opinion. I’m also interested to see what Lorde will do next. Everything Everything are refreshingly different – I enjoyed watching them play live earlier this summer.
Away from the hurly-burly of music, how do you spend your downtime? Do you get any chances to relax and are you able to travel and get away from London?
I like spending time with my family. I love art and I seem to be constantly travelling due to the fact I live about a third of the year in Italy.
If you could perform with anyone dead or alive (cliché question, I know) who would you dream of sharing the stage with?
David Bowie. He looks like the twin of my mum and they grew up at the same time really close to each other.
When I was growing up, me and my cousin used to call him ‘Uncle David’. He felt so familiar to me. I always thought I’d bump into him one day at a gig and we’d laugh at the fact I thought we were related; then we’d write an amazing track together then play it live. Obviously that’s never going to happen.
What advice would you give to any musicians coming through inspired by what you do?
Make what you really love – not what someone else tells you will be popular. Don’t let anyone rush you but know when to stop and finish a body of work.
Finally, and for being a good egg, you can name any song you like (not one of yours as I’ll do that); I’ll play it here – why is it important to you?
Toughest question yet! So many and my answer would change I’m sure depending on the day. So today it’s Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt because it’s so brave, raw and minimal – it does everything a cover should do. It makes you consider the original in a way you never otherwise would have, and when you watch the video (with it), it becomes so personal to Johnny Cash. It’s also the perfect example of how a song can have many lives and mean different things to many different people.
Beat is available at: