Andrew Bird had been awake for the better part of two days and was facing a five-hour layover at London’s Heathrow Airport when the multi-instrumentalist songwriter spoke recently with Discover SD. That alone should be enough to get you to the Music Box on May 13 to check out his live show.
But if it’s not, just ask anyone who’s seen the virtuoso perform. Bird’s eclectic, intricate shows are as enveloping as they are entertaining. And he’s likely to keep that word of mouth going, as his latest album, the April-released “Are You Serious,” delves deeper than ever before into his personal life.
Recorded over a week at his Illinois family farm during a cross-country move from New York to L.A., the new album not only puts Bird in new territory, it’s proving to translate on stage as well.
This is what he had to say when we asked him about it:
Q: How are these new songs fitting into the live show?
A: We’re playing almost the whole record. And that doesn’t usually happen. But they really sound good and they’re fun to play. And they seem to be going over quite well. It’s also a new band and a new approach. It might sound familiar to some folks, but it feels different to me. It’s much tighter and conceived.
Andrew Bird with John Grant
When: 7 p.m. May 13
Where: Music Box, 1337 India Street, Little Italy
Q: How many on stage?
A: Four. It’s Ted Poor on drums, Alan Hampton on bass, and Steve Elliot on guitar.
Q: I read you recorded this album in a week. Do you always work that fast?
A: I made note of that because it so rarely happens. It fell into the cliché of catharsis. And it all just came out in this kind of fever. We were changing environments. We were at this peaceful family farm after leaving New York City and there was a backlog of ideas that came rushing out in a coherent way that I’ve never experienced before.
Q: Is there a typical way that you work?
A: Every four or five years, I’ll accumulate all the best things I think I’ve written and go about trying to make some really great three-and-a-half-minute songs. I don’t tend to write things down or record things. I usually use the flow of what’s popping into my head, then disappears, and then resurfaces. It’s my own process for filtering what’s a good idea. There are so many that come and go. The good ones come back.
Q: This is your most personal album to date. After having some time with it, would you do something like this again?
A: It’s funny you ask that, because my experiences with this record would give me pause before doing it again. But now that the gate’s open, I don’t know if I can go back necessarily. And all my songs are personal. It just depends on how close to the surface that information is. It’s tricky. I’ve never been in this position before. It’s not weird on stage. That’s a sacred environment. And it’s not weird hearing it on the record. But it is weird talking about it in journalistic terms.
Q: Am I right in guessing that it can just be too much sometimes?
A: That’s why I called (the album) “Are You Serious.” I used to think that when I’d go out and see confessional, heart-on-sleeve performances: I could never do that. I can’t relate. I don’t know how you can do that night after night and not feel like a chump after a while or buy your own story anymore. It’s just such a strange forum. And now there’s this self-awareness of “look at me now.” But I still have to do things on my own terms. I’m not going to change the syntax or word choice. It’s being filtered through my sensibilities as it always has been. And there will always be plenty to dig for.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.