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Posted June 2, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Birdy: Being True To Who She Is

Birdy photo by Olivia Bee
Birdy photo by Olivia Bee

Thanks to the success of the anthemic first single, “Keeping Your Head Up,” from her new album, Beautiful Lies, Birdy has generated a fair amount of buzz this year. Not that that’s anything new for the 20-year-old; her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” which she recorded when she was only 14, made her a sensation at an early age. The singer-songwriter co-produced 6 of the 14 tracks on her new album with other producing credits going to Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys/Adele) and MyRiot (London Grammar), while mixing duties were taken on by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire/Florence and the Machine). Birdy recently phoned us from her London home to talk about the album.

Your mother was a concert pianist. What kind of influence did that have on you while you were growing up?
That’s the reason why I was drawn to the piano to begin with. I was surrounded by music. I always loved the piano based on what she played and what she taught me.  She would give me lessons. I’d be recording songs and my parents loved it. I worked on chords on the piano.

Are there any songs from that time period that you retained?
My dad made me record the first songs when I was eight so it was an album of like six songs and I’m so glad he got them. I’m so glad he made me record them.

Then you ended up winning an open mic competition when you were 12. What was that like?
It was really exciting for me it was the first time I played for people. I was playing for a new audience. I got my own songs on YouTube and I did a video thanking the fans for liking the song so much. Someone from a record company saw the video and got in touch with me.

What made you want to cover “Skinny Love”?
I always loved the song and I’d never done covers before that and I thought it could be really fun to do.

Were you surprised at how popular it became?
It was really weird. I remember I was still in school; I was 14 when it came out and it was on the radio and I couldn’t even listen to it. It was a crazy surreal time.

Talk about writing these new songs. When did you start writing this new album and did you find that they were taking you in a particular direction?
It’s been really nice I’ve had a vision for the new album, which has never happened before.

The songs are about change—part of me not wanting to be a grown-up but wanting to be free and to do my own thing. 

The “coming of age” sort of fits with change on this album.
This album feels so true to who I am. I’ve grown up with it.  I could speak my mind on it, which was so nice.

Where did you end up recording it?
I recorded it in London and it took months. I recorded in LA as well. It was so nice. It’s got lots of melodies and instruments in it. It’s quite unusual. There was a lot more production with the album than with my first two albums. I had the Theremin on the third album, which is a beautiful wailing instrument.

What was co-producing your own music like?
It was quite natural for me and I think I’ve always had it in me. Getting more confident and becoming more and more of a part of it which has been really nice. It just feels natural. It has gotten more natural on each album. It feels really comfortable

Do you still play a lot of piano on the album?
There’s mostly me playing the piano and the guitar with four strings — it’s really sweet and beautiful.

Your vocals seemed to have evolved. The music seems more soulful on your third album. Can you talk about how your approach to singing has changed over the years?
I’ve been experimenting with my voice. I discovered this whistle-y high voice actually. I love singing and had the soulful voice since I was little. It’s really nice for me to be soulful.

Talk a little about “Keeping Your Head Up” and if it was inspired by a particular theme or incident.
It’s kind of looking to the future and remembering that if you are sad or alone there are really good things coming. I think a lot of that was from me moving to London and feeling quite lost without family or friends. I was living alone and had to meet new people and look after myself.

What about the video? What inspired that particular approach?
The music video is about making yourself think positive things. It’s a battle between dark and light.

I like the way the record expresses so many different emotions. Some songs seem really uplifting and others seem very pensive. How did you balance everything out so the songs worked together?
I was excited to be writing more uplifting songs, but I feel they are in a dreamy way.  I wanted them to sound quite peaceful—about finding peace and being happy. The first two albums had to be more restrained but I feel like they were dreamy. I wanted the next songs and new album to be peaceful and happy and upbeat.

Are you taking a band with you on the road?
Yes and the people in the band are really brilliant and have become my best friends. It’s a drummer, a bassist, a violinist, a guitarist and me on the piano. I went to see Kate Bush play in London a month ago it felt like stage production. I would love to bring some of that to the show as soon as possible.

 


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.