On his impending visit to our shores TIM G discusses Andrew Bird’s latest recorded offering, Armchair Apocrypha, and talks to the artist about his song writing process and what to expect from his upcoming live shows.

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Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha

ANDREW BIRD is an artist whose popularity has been growing in recent times. A classically trained violinist and accomplished jazz musician, Bird has a rich pedigree and musical background. His latest album Armchair Apocrypha has been wowing audiences and critics alike. Recent appearances on Conan O’Brien, David Letterman and numerous festival appearances have catapulted Bird’s unique blend of classical/folk/pop tunes into the consciousness of a wider audience.

Armchair Apocrypha is a beautiful, enchanting journey through the mind of a man who creates something distinct and moving. They’re the kind of songs that hold you and wow you; that feel great whilst sending shivers down your spine. Every song is so well crafted, layered with elements that can only come from an inherent knowledge of musical arrangement. The album includes violins, guitar, glockenspiel, and percussion, along with a haunting use of whistling that chills. His voice has been likened to that of Thom York and Jeff Buckley, yet Bird’s voice is his own. Rare and swooning, it has the ability to melt hearts.

‘Imitosis’ is a persuasive song that is dark and instantly grips the listener, whilst ‘Dark Matter’, ‘Simple X’ and ‘Spare Oh’s’ give us Bird the songwriter. Guitar driven song ‘Heretics’ showcases the folk/pop leanings of Armchair Apocrypha. The use of classical arrangements with folk accessibility is truly outstanding. ‘The suphine’ and ‘Cataracts’ give us a glimpse of the orchestral ability and grand talent of this man and the music he grew up playing. ‘Scythian Empires’ marries bluegrass with jazz and a flourishing cuteness.

It is music that is also difficult to draw comparisons with. Here is an artist so adept with his craft that his works defy classification. There are slight elements of Arcade Fire, purely in the varied use of classical instruments in modern folk/pop songs; slight elements of the formidable Eels, with their quirky arrangements. Buckley is another artist who comes to mind, but Bird is something fresh, classic; unique yet familiar enough to feel warm.

The struggle to classify Bird’s music is something of an ambition for the songwriter. This became apparent when I spoke to him about the progression his musical life has taken and the production of his music: “I have always liked the musicians who have worked to transcend genre boundaries and challenge definition.”

He describes his journey as a songwriter as a “trajectory” that is preceded by his wealth of musical upbringing. Bird’s change in thought led him to challenge his initial desire to play as a virtuoso: “I stopped trying to imitate and playing like the virtuoso violinists, I realised that I didn’t want to demonstrate how good I was but create something that meant something.” This led to Bird taking his deep understanding of the dynamics of violin and turning it upside down. “Around about ten years ago I started playing the violin like a guitar, I stopped thinking like a violinist and wanted to create a rich, creamy fluid technique.” This also led Bird to move away from the violin as his primary instrument and explore the guitar and varying instruments.

Bird describes his 2003 album Weather Systems as the manifestation of his new approach to songwriting. Previously Bird played in the cult band Fire Bowl, which had been a fusion of 1920s, and 30s jazz, bluegrass and country. Weather Systems however marked a movement towards his internal inspiration. “I wanted to strip away the flashiness. At this point I made it my goal to sit down and write a song comprised of only two chords with a real simple melody.”

Music to Andrew Bird is almost like a sixth sense and with Weather Systems and proceeding albums he really started to call on this inner ability to create something unique that moved away from outward influences. “I think that when you’re a young songwriter you’re under a spell of your favorite records and the music that inspires you, but with this record (Weather Systems) I decided to start writing music that came from within myself. After a while the spell of these outward influences really started to loose their hold”. Bird also has an ingrained determination to use this natural understanding of music to create a compelling masterpiece. “I want to create music that gets under people’s skin... that is what gets me up in the morning.”

Such a passion for the unexplored and his prodigious talent makes the prospect of seeing Bird live a thrilling one. Bird will be performing his songs as a solo artist this visit, something he enthuses will be “really stripped back.” Along with his trusty loop pedal, Bird is able to single handedly re-create the lush arrangements that make his recorded work so fascinating. “The loop pedal creates something that is very organic, and also very elastic so it engages the sound as another instrument and allows me the space to perform along with it.” Bird will be showcasing his wide-ranging talent on a variety of instruments, including not only glockenspiel, guitar and of course violin, but also an instrumental form that is particularly intriguing: whistling. “I love the sound of whistling, with a little bit of reverb and through a PA it can sound amazing.”

Bird admits his solo shows are “not overly planned.” They will include songs from his last three albums, but divine inspiration sometimes plays a part in song choice for each show. “Sometimes even if I’m in a café or walking down the street, and I hear something and it reminds me of a song, I’ll think to myself I have to play that tonight.” Whether it is out of curiosity, excitement, imagination or simple wonder, this will be the chance to witness something truly enchanting.