“I like broadening the conversations of narrow-minded people. But I also like to be taken down a peg or two – it’s only good for you, isn’t it?
As time came to leave secondary school, she recalls, she couldn’t think of anything else she wanted to do other than play music. “I didn’t think about money or where I was going to live, or anything like that. I just figured I’d get by, and I did.”
She undertook a course in music technology in Enniscorthy, and from there went to the music college in Ballyfermot. “I was biding my time until I knew I could travel. Once I knew that I could live and support myself, get myself through college by gigs and busking, I moved to Europe.”
There then followed much travelling, including Mannheim, Germany, for two years, where, influenced by the likes of Ani Difranco and Nina Simone (to name but two singular, barrier-breaking female performers), she developed and honed a confrontational, confessional style of songwriting and performance.
From Mannheim to – excuse me? – Malibu, where, through a music industry connection, she stayed for several weeks at the house of Lou Adler, much-noted US producer (his credits include Carole King’s multi-million selling Tapestry). “That was surreal,” understates Wallis, “hanging out with the likes of Dandy Warhols, Jack Nicholson . . . playing on Carole King’s piano . . . a very strange time.”
Moving swiftly on from this odd excerpt in Bird’s life (there’s a feeling hovering about that she’d rather not go into it in too much detail) brings us to her solo career proper, which was kick-started in 2007 by the release of her debut album, Spoons. From then to now (via 2009’s second album, New Boots, and what appears to be a vigorous pursuit of the Guinness World Record for Touring the Arse Out of Europe), she has been, she explains, assiduously feeding herself morsels of “weird situations” (hello, Malibu?) and enjoying life’s many contradictions.
“I try and put myself in situations where life gets interesting,” she says, looking at this particular point equal parts angelic and ever-so-slightly naughty. “Some of those choices are probably a bit stupid, naive, but it’s living my life by the principle of saying, ‘Why not?’ That’s really influenced my style, I’ve found that way works for me, and so I just let it happen. It’s often inspirational for me, too, as random as my life is. I can’t stand routine, to be honest, and habit gets me down.”
We’re guessing there’s something of the anarchistic in her? “I’d have to be told that as I don’t go around saying I’m one. I’m a bit rebellious, I suppose. I like broadening the conversations of narrow-minded people. But I also like to be taken down a peg or two – it’s only good for you, isn’t it? It’s only fair to get as good as you give.”
Bird admits that she is now far more comfortable in her own skin than she has ever been. Her forthcoming self-titled record still shakes things up, but is, she claims, her least “me-me-me album” to date. “It’s just as chaotic as the other records, but I can feel a red line going through it that is taking it in a more relaxed direction. It’s definitely more clear-headed and sober, with some very straight, simplistic choices of lyrics and chord progressions. It’s got a modern social outlook, open-minded, fresh-eyed . . .”
Before the album is released and her own headline Irish dates (kicking off on Friday, March 9th), however, there is the not-so-small matter of this Bird flying into the Woman’s Heart 20th Anniversary shows at Dublin’s Olympia next week. Beg pardon? Wallis the anarchist and A Woman’s Heart? On the face of it, it doesn’t seem the most ideal fit.
“It seemed to go down a harmless route,” she accepts, “but there was a point when it was quite bad ass – Irish women singing about proper emotions, proper heartache in a very poetic way. I remember thinking later on – not at the time, because I was about nine – that it put Irish women on the map. Bringing women to the forefront was important, because even at the young age I was, it was fairly obvious that the industry was very much male dominated. It was, I reckon, quite revolutionary, but as I say, maybe it went down a different route for a while.
“Why did I join for the gigs? I reckon it’s a good place for me to be, for starters, but I also want to go in there and tear the fucking house down. I’m not planning to be the nice little girl, you know? I want it to be anything but harmless.”
And with that, Wallis Bird is off to the airport. Carrying a big guitar case without any problem whatsoever. We feel sorry for airport security already.