It is fitting that Andrew Bird’s last name should share the name of a flighty creature, many breeds of which migrate to follow the seasons. Previously, the violinist, guitarist and whistler (among other multi-instrumentalist personas) has revealed a preference to write music and unwind while touring, resulting in lengthy adventures intertwined with reputable music performances.
Ever the nomad, Andrew explains, “When I do retreat [home] for a while, I quickly forget who I am and what I’ve found, in not having a show. When I sit on the couch and strum my guitar or play violin my voice starts to sink inside myself. I’m very introverted and the stage is an inversion of that. I kind of NEED it! It’s like I need it to know how to write the songs. So I’ve never really been one to retreat, disappear for three years and come out with the next twelve songs. It’s an ever-evolving thing. That’s why you hear themes across albums.”
Each album is indeed more distinct than the last, gradually drawing out not just the development of his music but of Andrew himself. His nomadic movements led to the song Not a Robot, But a Ghost, which Andrew has described as the way he feels when he returns to his hometown Chicago.
Andrew tells me that he’s been moving around in this way, “for the last twelve years, almost. And it seems I just embraced that transient nomadic existence. But I think it’s time to try something else. It’s just consumed me… And I like it, I’ve learnt to adapt to it. But adapting can also warp you if you do it for too long. But I’ve found ways to really enjoy and embrace it, like bringing my bike on tour. Whenever I’m in a different place I pay attention, I learn something.”
It certainly seems like he’s of two minds when it comes to this mobile lifestyle. Perhaps what best provides some grounding for Andrew is his band, who play with him on tour from time to time.
“My band have families so they’ll only come out for two weeks or so [of a tour]. So the contrast is nice,” Andrew elaborates, mulling over the experiences. “The first show I play after the band goes home, I have a crisis. And I think ‘Oh crap! How can I keep everyone’s attention with just myself?’ and it ends up being liberating! I can hear my own instruments more, I can improvise more, I can tell stories… It’s a totally different thing.”
Though there is clearly an emerging preference to perform solo, it’s easy to see that each time Andrew switches between performing alone and with his band it’s a completely different experience, as he deliberates, “If I play at a nice church or theatre like the Sydney Opera House, I tend to create a more dynamic, more patient show; a place where the audience is comfortable and able to zone out to your music. And of course festivals are about figuring out how to channel and concentrate nervous energy into an affecting show. But they tend to be a little faster and somewhat less self-indulgent.”
You can never really say that Andrew is self indulgent, even when he’s teasing out instrumental songs. And while he may intone that the bonus disc to his last album, Noble Beast, was a self indulgent addition, it exploits the talent he humbly displays piece by piece. It may stem from his awareness of other musicians’ successes and misgivings. Andrew reflects, “We’ve played a lot of festivals in the last couple of years, and you start to believe that people are writing music for the festivals; broad gestures like it’s the end of the world! I can see how that might be effective: brute force, you hit the audience back with epic epicness. But where is the dynamic? Where’s the contrast? Even when we’re approaching a video we don’t try to make it larger than life, we do the opposite. And I’d feel dishonest to do otherwise.” This may explain why the special edition cover of Noble Best, by Diana Sudyka, shows not a magnificent “beast,” but an insect.
Whatever animal Andrew may consider himself he reflects the quiet humility of a small creature traversing the Earth, never settling for fear of stunting the development of his music. This certainly pays off for those wishing to see him live.
Andrew Bird is touring our shores soon to perform his “nervous energy show” at the Falls festival over the New Year and spectacular “more patient” show at the Sydney Opera House 3 January. Tickets for the Opera House show available at Ticketek.