Wal­lis Bird on how a move to Berlin helped lay the foun­da­tions for her new al­bum,

Es­cap­ing Lon­don for Berlin had a dras­tic ef­fect on Wal­lis Bird’s sonic pal­ette. The Wex­ford woman talks about her new­found em­pow­er­ment (and club beats) with Lauren Mur­phy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

We are all, to some de­gree, a prod­uct of our en­vi­ron­ment. Wal­lis Bird has per­son­i­fied that maxim more lit­er­ally than most through­out her life. Grow­ing up in Wex­ford as the youngest of seven kids, Wal­lis soaked up the mu­sic of her sib­lings’ record col­lec­tions from an early age – “ev­ery­thing from metal to dance”. Her dad was a DJ, her ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther a singer of po­lit­i­cal songs, and her first stint in a record­ing stu­dio was at the age of 12, when she and a friend recorded a four-track EP of songs they had writ­ten.

With so much mu­sic flood­ing Bird’s up­bring­ing, it was in­evitable that she would find her way into a mu­si­cal ca­reer.

“I re­mem­ber writ­ing a song for my par­ents when I was about three or four, and I in­sisted that my mam sit down and lis­tened to it,” chuck­les Bird, who is cur­rently on a brief so­journ at the fam­ily home in En­nis­cor­thy. “When I started ac­tu­ally putting a song to­gether I was about 12, and I re­mem­ber re­al­is­ing what a cho­rus was. That was re­ally how it started.”

Af­ter a post-Leav­ing Cert stint on Bal­lyfer­mot Col­lege of Fur­ther Ed­u­ca­tion’s fa­mous “Rock School” de­gree pro­gramme, Bird found her mu­si­cal feet, ini­tially in Ger­many and then Lon­don. She lived in the lat­ter for seven years, writ­ing, gig­ging and de­vel­op­ing her feisty folk-pop sound.

Cre­ative sponge that she is, Bird’s fourth al­bum, Ar­chi­tect, is in­formed by Berlin, her most re­cent liv­ing and work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. It’s been quite a jour­ney to pro­duce what may be her most am­bi­tious and di­verse work to date, as ex­em­pli­fied by its dance-ori­ented lead sin­gle, Hardly Hardly.

In 2007, at the age of 23, fresh-faced and wide-eyed, Bird scored a deal with Is­land Records for the re­lease of her de­but al­bum. Spoons sold rea­son­ably well, but she ad­mits that the re­al­ity of a ma­jor-la­bel con­tract is a dif­fer­ent prospect from the dream.

“I got a big kick in the teeth shortly af­ter my first record came out, be­cause yeah – you do think that it’s all go­ing to hap­pen for you,” she says. “I signed a big world­wide record deal and I just went ‘Je­sus, I’m fa­mous’ be­fore I’d even played my first gig with them. Not even my team – who were ab­so­lutely be­yond amaz­ing and have to­tally routed my path through­out my ca­reer – could take the ego out of where I was at that time. I be­came this re­ally ob­nox­ious young girl, but I learned a lot about the amount of work it takes, and how you can fall flat on your face.

“Suc­cess is just a mir­ror that you put in front of your face, re­ally, isn’t it? Af­ter de­vel­op­ing such an ego and my whole team and my band re­ally dis­lik­ing who I’d turned into, I had to change. I wouldn’t have had a friend left in the world if I hadn’t.”

Change was cru­cial when Bird was first gath­er­ing the build­ing blocks for Ar­chi­tect – so much so that she has de­scribed the al­bum as “the cul­mi­na­tion of a long jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery and rein­ven­tion”.

“I just felt like I was float­ing through life for a long time, that I hadn’t re­ally touched adult­hood, or some­thing,” she says, shrug­ging. “I was float­ing around in Lon­don, a city that I wasn’t re­ally happy with at all. I wasn’t do­ing any­thing cre­ative, I wasn’t writ­ing. I said to my­self, Okay, I guess I bet­ter start think­ing about a new al­bum, but I re­alised that I had noth­ing de­moed, writ­ten or sketched – noth­ing.

“That’s when I went right, okay, I have to wake up now. I just looked at my life, and I re­alised I wasn’t happy where I was: I wasn’t happy in the re­la­tion­ship that I was in, I wasn’t happy in the house that I was liv­ing in, and I hadn’t been for a good while. So I just said I need to get up, get out of here and do some­thing dif­fer­ent and just shake my­self up and be my­self again.”

The shake-up en­tailed up­ping sticks and mov­ing to Berlin, where she had spent time tour­ing and record­ing in the past.

“It was kind of spon­ta­neous; I de­cided to do it, and then three months later, I was gone. I took ev­ery­thing with me and no­body had a chance to ask, are you sure? You know when you have this feel­ing of be­ing a teenager again? You go out ev­ery night and you do ev­ery­thing on your own terms and you go quite wild; that was the rein­ven­tion, I sup­pose.

“The first six months was just par­ty­ing, and af­ter that, I was like, Shit! I have an al­bum to write!” She laughs. “I thought, okay, well I’ve had a great time and I’ve got plenty to write about now, so I just opened up a project [on her lap­top record­ing sys­tem], pressed record and just lit­er­ally lashed out what­ever came out.”

The “par­ty­ing” el­e­ment un­doubt­edly in­forms the clubby beat of the afore­men­tioned Hardly Hardly, but vague traces of Berlin’s

vi­brant dance and elec­tron­ica scene can also be heard on I Can Be Your Man and Glo­ria.

“Sub­con­sciously, all of the dancing and the life­style that I was leading was leak­ing into what I was play­ing,” Bird says. “And I re­alised a lot about car­diac ex­er­cise, too – that it made me much fit­ter and my mind much brighter, so I didn’t re­ally want to write any­thing that was slow-paced. At the very most, I wanted to write a very phys­i­cal waltz. I re­alised that I still loved some things that I loved when I was a teenager, like dance mu­sic, so I opened that can of worms up again.”

Ar­chi­tect isn’t all clubby floor­fillers. While some of the songs are about em­pow­er­ment

“I think Ire­land’s be­come very young again. There’s kind of this in­vin­ci­bil­ity about us, in that we’ve had ev­ery shit in the world thrown at us”

and tak­ing con­trol of your life, oth­ers, such as

Hold­ing a Light and The Cards, are es­pe­cially in­ti­mate, “like hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with my­self.

“I couldn’t to­tally go down the dance route com­pletely, it wouldn’t be me,” she smiles, shrug­ging. “I come from a sto­ry­telling back­ground, and I re­ally adore long, fleet­ing melodies and find­ing my way around a chord struc­ture on an in­stru­ment; stick­ing with four to the four or a back­beat serves a cer­tain pur­pose, but not a ‘think­ing’ pur­pose.

“But I had a lot of search­ing to do with this al­bum. A song like Glo­ria feels like it wasn’t writ­ten by me – it was like my con­science was telling me that I needed to do a run­ner from this use­less, de­mean­ing re­la­tion­ship that I was in, al­though I didn’t see it at the time. A song al­most be­comes a tarot card of your life; you turn it and it tells you what you’re like.

“So there’s a sense of me search­ing out what I should be or could be do­ing, and putting a mir­ror up to my en­vi­ron­ment, and then the song will ei­ther tell me much later or im­me­di­ately, ‘This is ac­tu­ally what you’re do­ing right now’. And I’m like, Oh, right! Thank you!

“So they’re friends, al­most. They’re spir­its guid­ing me along the path.”

Hav­ing spent so much time out­side Ire­land over the past decade, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Bird has cre­ated a de­cent fan­base on the con­ti­nent, the re­sult of hav­ing “played nearly ev­ery shitty ash­tray to ev­ery beau­ti­ful venue in ev­ery small town in Europe”. Does that mean that it’s hard to iden­tify with the Ir­ish scene and what’s hap­pen­ing at home? Could Bird’s wan­der­ing spirit pos­si­bly set­tle back in Ire­land some day?

“Of course I can see my­self com­ing back to Ire­land. I’m here so of­ten that I feel like I could never not be Ir­ish. I can’t leave my roots be­hind me at all. I think Ire­land’s be­come very young again. There’s kind of this in­vin­ci­bil­ity about us, in that we’ve had ev­ery shit in the world thrown at us. I think there’s this real

make it hap­pen, we’re gonna do it at­ti­tude right now, and I’m en­joy­ing that, even from afar. I ac­tu­ally think I’ve brought some of that at­ti­tude into this al­bum.”

As for where Wal­lis Bird goes next, cre­atively and ge­o­graph­i­cally – who knows? She will, as birds are wont to do, “go where the wind takes me.

“It could be death metal next,” she says, laugh­ing. “I’m af­ter get­ting through this, and I did r’n’b on this record, which I re­ally can’t stand – so I don’t know what’s next. Hospi­tal muzak, maybe?! We’ll see. I have no idea. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it?”

Ar­chi­tect is out now. Wal­lis Bird plays Dublin’s Academy on April 25th; Mon­roe’s Live, Galway on April 26th; and Cork’s Half Moon Theatre on April 27th

Wal­lis Bird: her new al­bum is the cul­mi­na­tion of “a long jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery and rein­ven­tion”. Pho­to­graph: Jens Oellermann

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