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Andrew Bird, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Sunday, June 10
Recording his ninth album, Break It Yourself, was a bit of a happy accident for multi-instrumentalist and cult singer-songwriter Andrew Bird.
“I was showing the songs to the band,” says Bird from New York, on a beautiful spring morning.
“We were hanging out for a week in my barn, getting together and making music – we weren’t thinking, ‘Hey, let’s make a record.’”
Bird started recording the sessions on an eight-track tape recorder and the album began to come together.
“It captured more of how I make music with other people,” he says. “It has an alive looseness that you see onstage but you don’t always nail on record.
“There’s so much improvisation on the album, the songs sped up and slowed down. When I approached the microphone, there wasn’t that feeling of tension you get when you’re about to sing in the studio.
“There were almost no overdubs, no headphones – I was trying to sing over the drummer from just across the room so, as a consequence, I’m singing the way I would on stage, which is a lot louder and more forceful.”
He feels with the album he has captured the energy he and his band produce live – aided by a few elements outside his control.
“It was beautiful summertime in the rural Midwest. We were eating great food and knew that the record wasn’t going to come out for almost two years,” he remembers. “For the first time, there was very little pressure.”
The whole album was recorded in two live sessions recorded a year apart, with a little mixing in between.
As a songwriter, Bird is known for avoiding well-trodden subjects such as love and heartbreak, instead penning songs about the Scythian Empire, various animals and, on his latest album, an extended epic based on the legend of Orpheus.
That said, he describes this album as containing some of his most personal lyrics to date.
“There’s a reason why songs about love and heartbreak are so popular, because they are universal,” he says. “I do think there’s other stuff to talk about and a three-minute pop song is a good medium for that. For me it’s about whether you can get away with leaps of logic that you couldn’t in prose.
“Underneath all this I am talking about intensely personal things – they are not normally close to the surface but on this record there are a few that are getting closer.
“It feels right to me to feel a bit embarrassed about what I’m writing about. For this record I thought, ‘Screw it – I’m going to say it instead of finding some way of masking it.’ The lyrics are always the reflection of what is going on in my life.”
The album continues his explorations into the world of indie-rock, having started out in the late 1990s heavily influenced by 1920s jazz and folk, as captured on early albums Thrills and Oh The Grandeur. The big change came with his third album The Swimming Hour, which he describes as “my record collection on that album” and its rockier follow-up Weather Systems, which set the template for his future releases. It mixed in the violin, which he has played since he was four, with his characteristic whistling.
“People often get it wrong when they say I’m a classically trained violin virtuoso,” he says. “I grew up playing classical music but I was pretty much self-taught. I never practised my scales, I always learned by ear – through the traditions of folk and the spirit of jazz.”
Bird still happily experiments with music. He set up an installation called the Sonic Arboretum in Chicago’s Museum Of Contemporary Art with sculptor Ian Schneller last December, which features 50 horned speakers playing compositions Bird made live onsite.
“I would go into the museum space in the morning during museum hours and make long forms of three or four hours of music,” he says. “I’d love something to happen with it in the future. It felt like a natural way to make music, although it wasn’t very rock and roll.”
That experimental and slightly unusual edge can come across onstage too, with this latest tour featuring spots where the whole band clusters around one old-tyme microphone, as well as stripped-down versions of back catalogue favourites.
At other moments the band challenges each other onstage to build up textured loops of music.
“We send the loops to each other, adding extra elements so no one can tell where the sound is coming from,” says Bird, who has just added a new bassist to his touring band after the previous incumbent left to join Bon Iver.
“Stripping everything down and unplugging everything recalibrates everybody and helps the listeners’ ears.”
Support from Peter Wolf Crier.
* Doors 7pm, tickets £21.50/£23.50. Call 0844 8717650