After his bewitching show at the Roundhouse earlier this month, polymath musician Andrew Bird took some time out of his packed out UK tour to chat to us a bit about his new album Are You Serious, embracing unmitigated neurosis, and being a non-conformist 6th grader.
Are You Serious is being touted as your most personal and confessional album yet. After avoiding it for 13 albums, what made you decide it was time for something like this?
I never thought of myself as that sort of writer. The memoir in song form. That being said, all my songs are personal. This record is just more plain spoken.
Was it an active decision or was it an organic by-product of your life being where it is now?
A bit of both. I'm wired to think of risk as a good thing. When I think, "I can't say this," then I must say it. It gets at whether I have a choice or not, and of course I do, but songwriting is not so deliberate as other mediums. I used to think, "Why am I expected to share my personal story just because I'm a songwriter?" Then life got so real it became conspicuous to avoid it. And the act of finding clever ways to disguise how I feel has worn thin.
How do you find LA creatively, as opposed to New York?
In LA it's easier to turn inward and have some sanctuary if that's what you need. I happily trade cafes and neon lights for my avocado tree.
Do you ever have plans on returning to Chicago?
We still spend part of summer and fall on the family farm west of Chicago, but no I don't think I'll return there to live.
What do you think about the Genius.com analyses of some of your songs? Have you seen them? Spot on or way off?
Not bad. The new record is all in my words but what I saw of older tunes like “Fake Palindromes" and “Armchairs" misses the humor somewhat. There's not always such grave intention in every word. This gets at that deliberate thing again. “Fake Palindromes" imagines a singles ad seeking someone who is up for trepanation. It begins innocuously with "I like long walks and sci-fi movies, you're 6 ft tall and east-coast bred." But ends with drilling a hole into a willing person’s head.
Why can't you write simple love songs?
Maybe I can but one thing I have learned about myself is I can't force myself to write something that isn't 100% my way of thinking. I tried it once and I broke into a cold sweat on stage. The song couldn't be finished soon enough. It's more honest and interesting to include my doubts and neurosis in the song. I think folks can handle a little complexity in their love songs.
What do you think is the most heartbreaking love song ever written?
"Love Letters" sung by Ketty Lester or “Souvenirs" by John Prine.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished the The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon and now will try to finish Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles.
What were you like as a child? Were you very precocious?
Not exceptional by most standards. Quietly rebellious I suppose. I refused to say swear words and got beat up by groups of kids almost daily in 6th grade. I didn't like being part of the group.
Is there anything you're excited about right now?
I'm in a different city every night living for the show. Talking about these songs every day, very much in my head and not the body. I just want to go mountain biking in the Rockies.
You can find Andrew Bird on tour here. His thirteenth studio album, Are You Serious is out now.
Photos by Laura McCluskey