Wallis Bird has been scorned. The Irish singer-songwriter has been traversing the English countryside, trying to elicit the attention of a figure who has been actively spurning her efforts. But those who love Bird’s dreamy and esoteric tunes don’t need to worry that the musician is up to anything banal, or chasing the attention of some lowly human: the figure in question is the moon itself. “We drove and we drove to check out the supermoon,” Bird sighs. “But the supermoon didn’t happen because it was too cloudy.”
Not that the musician is brooding over her unfair refusal mind you. Indeed, Bird has an unflappably cheery manner, and over the course of a conversation that makes repeated reference to the end of the world (more on that later), she stays nothing but upbeat, perhaps thanks in no small part to her picturesque surrounds. “I’m travelling around at the moment, so today we’re in Stoke-On-Trent and we’re on a day off,” she chirps. “We’re just having a wee drink and taking our time slowly.”
In that way, the performer is being afforded the rare gift of free time, something many touring musicians don’t get to experience. She’s not having to rush from one gig to the next in order to fulfil some gruelling tour schedule dictated by others, and better still, this, apparently, is her normal: she often gets the chance to truly soak up the pleasures of the country she finds herself in. “When we’re on tour we’re play up to eight days and then that’s it – that’s the extremity of it,” she says. “So we’ve had a couple of days off on this tour actually.”
Bird is ostensibly hitting the road to promote her gorgeous, lusty new record Home, a collection of electro-folk songs that calls to mind the work of Beth Orton, Kate Bush and even Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, all without ever sounding derivative or ripped-off. Indeed, a song like lead single Change could have only ever been written by someone like Bird, full as it is of strange, murky beauty and a deep sense of defiance.
As it happens, that’s the key word when it comes to both Bird’s work and her manner – defiance. As dark as the world seems to have become recently, Bird has always remained hopeful, offering up resistance and refusal in the face of the international resurrection of fascism and fear. “They say that we have 50 to 80 years before we go through periods of upheaval again and we become more destructive because we don’t like things too nice,” muses Bird.
“I don’t know. I think it’s a generational thing. I think we go through three generations and then we’re like, ‘Shit needs to change’. And then the right-wingers become more prevalent and they go, ‘No, shit doesn’t need to change, shit needs to go back to the way it was.’”
And yet as one could expect from Bird, given the deep secular spirituality that runs throughout all five of her records, she views such problems from a cosmic perspective as much as from a personal, politics-based one. “I read an article – I mean, I’m obsessed about it all now – that says we’re just residual energy,” she says. “We keep rebuilding and using our energy. So, we’re so fucking predictable. And they say when the world ends, we regenerate and start using our energy again.
“But thankfully I feel like, we are who we are when we are, so I feel like we have to be ourselves completely. I think a lot of great things have come over time.” She laughs. “I mean, I don’t know what they all are. I only know my experience from the 33 years that I’ve been here.”
For Bird, most of that experience is centred around the making of music, and songwriting is her key to understanding the world at large. She has been surrounded by tunes since she was six months old – her father gave her a guitar before she’d even been kicking around the planet for a full rotation of the sun – and even an early accident with a lawnmower that resulted in the partial loss of five fingers wasn’t enough to slow her down.
“Music is the voice,” she says, firmly. “It’s the true voice, especially when it’s dark. I mean even with pop and pop lyrics becoming about lesser things, that’s where folk comes in. I mean folk music generally speaks about local issues and the world arrival rather than sex and money and drugs and shit.”
Not that Bird wants to imply she’s precious enough about folk music as to be unhappy to see the genre be picked up by the pop world, mind you. Indeed, quite the reverse is true: she actively welcomes the mainstream crossover of the music that has given her so much life over the years. “I’m really glad even to see someone like Mumford And Sons become as popular as they are,” she says. “They’re taking a folk sensibility and permeating it into the pop world which I think is a great thing, rather than just building on electronic instruments.”
Nor is she a Luddite: after all, her own sound is far from completely organic, and she fully embraces the new possibilities afforded by technological developments. “Everyone’s on a computer these days – even in the farthest reaches of the world, everyone’s got a mobile now,” she says. “So information is much easier found now. So we’re talking a lot more, I think: as a world. As a planet.
“When Myspace came in, that was the fucking beginning of it,” she continues. “I was like, ‘Wow, I can hear any band’s music in any part of the world at the click of a mouse.’ Even my parents were like, ‘Wow what is this?’ you know? Even they have broadened their musical horizons and they’re not just accepting what was given to them from popular culture. It’s wonderful. Then you’re not relying on certain platforms, you’re just doing art for expression’s sake. It’s really, really great.”
Ultimately, that’s the way Wallis Bird has always chosen to create: naturally, without ever feeling pressured by the industry or the concerns of her audience. Though she cares about those who come to see her perform – deeply, in fact – she’s always keen to take her own path.
“It’s always been art for art’s sake for me,” she says. “I mean, there was a period between my second and third album where I was tied to trying to develop and earn money. There was a certain point when I was definitely doing that. But with the last record it was more like, ‘Ah, fuck it.’” She laughs, deeply. “If somebody wants to listen, they’ll catch it’.”
‘Home’ is out now. Wallis Bird will tour Australia later this month. See dates below.
Wallis Bird Home Tour Dates
Thursday, 15th December
Pelican Playhouse Theatre, Grafton NSW
Friday, 16th December
The Bellingen Brewery, Bellingen NSW
Saturday, 17th December
Wauchope Arts Concert, Wauchope NSW
Sunday, 18th December
The Metropole, Katoomba NSW
Wednesday, 21st December
The Phoenix, Canberra ACT
Tuesday, 27th December – Sun 1st January
Woodford Folk Festival, Woodford QLD
Tuesday, 3rd January
Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane QLD
Thursday, 5th January
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
Friday, 6th January – 8th January
Cygnet Folk Festival TAS
Wednesday 11th January
Small Ballroom, Newcastle NSW
Thursday, 12th January
Newtown Social Club, Sydney NSW
Friday 13th & Saturday 14th January
Illawarra Folk Festival NSW