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Andrew Bird: Introverted Yet Making Noise For Two Decades 17

Fans of the whistling violinist know just how exceptional Bird’s career has been. His music traverses genres like hot jazz and indie rock, instruments like phonographs and glockenspiels — a diverse musical canon, infused with layers of whistling, strings and heavenly loops.

Now, with his latest release “Are You Serious,” Bird offers listeners a personal album. Unlike some of the more ambiguous narratives of albums past, “Are You Serious” dives into — well — serious topics the artist has faced in the past several years: fatherhood, falling in love, even his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Ahead of KXT 91.7 Andrew Bird at the Majestic Theatre next Wednesday, KXT’s Lauren Menking spoke with the artist about this new album and more:

Your new album “Are You Serious” is quite personal — straying away from the more cryptic, third person lyrics you have used in the past. You’ve been making music since 1996 — why now?

AB You know….I really don’t know. I guess I’ve never really thought about myself as a kind of songwriter. Whenever I would go to a show and see a singer/songwriter open a vein on stage and sing about very painful things, I’d be a little incredulous at first. I knew that they were going to do the same thing the next night and the next night, and how can you be in a perpetual stage of sharing that? And I thought, “Well, we could talk about some other things, too,” you know?

But, I don’t know. I think when things in my life got so visceral and very much real it would be impossible for it to not come out in my writing. But, you know, I have a certain self-awareness about it. But I think also I’m on a trajectory towards appreciating more — still poetic — but more plainspoken writing. I think John Prine and Townes Van Zandt are good examples of that. And that’s more what I aspire to, I think. In my twenties and thirties I was into more…taking kind of an internal trip, you know? Not so much anymore.

Does the intimacy of these songs affect how you’re performing them?

ABUm…no. It doesn’t. There’s something about that sort of sacred space of the concert hall or wherever I’m playing — there’s an unwritten pact with the audience. It’s a safe space. What I’ve learned is that outside the concert hall is where it gets really tricky — in journalistic forms, for instance. Now I understand why some songwriters don’t want to talk about their songs. But, in the past I’ve been like, “Sure, just ask me what the song’s about. I’m happy to tell you about it.” Now I hesitate a little more.

But yeah it’s a funny thing, because if you’re concerned with your privacy, why would you project it out there to strangers. I don’t know — I can’t explain it. But there was an urgency with this record. I felt compelled to talk about it — in song form, at least. 

Well, kind of on that note, you are — and correct me if I’m wrong — a self-proclaimed introvert?

AB (Laughs) I…just am. I don’t know if it’s self-proclaimed. I guess that’s almost an oxymoron in some ways. 

(Laughs) Do you find it challenging being an introvert in the music industry, which sort of values and caters towards extroversion?

AB Yeah, I don’t know. That’s been an interesting thing…I’ve heard that recently people are finally discussing “the quiet child.” The line I’ve heard that’s pretty poignant, I thought, is “I’m not shy, I’m quiet.” And just because I’m not saying anything doesn’t mean I don’t probably have more to say about it than anybody.

I was definitely that kind of kid. The telling thing is that I was painfully quiet — put into remedial special-ED, just because they thought there was something wrong with me. But as soon as I would have to give, like, a book report or stand up in front of an audience and put in front of the class, I was completely articulate, confident and poised. But once I went back into the group I was uncomfortable — just on a different wavelength in a group situation. And that would alarm the teachers, too. My mom would get calls — “There’s something wrong with your child.”

But I still feel that way. I’m more comfortable in front of a couple thousand people than I am with friends and family sometimes. 

Well, just as you’re the introvert’s musician, you’re also — I think — an English major’s musician. Your wordplay and diction and strategy — which is to say a lot with a little — is all very literary. Are you a big reader? And does that influence your work at all?

AB I am. A big reader? I’m a consistent reader. I’m looking for certain things [in reading]. For a long time I liked books that had dialogue of ways that people spoke in different eras. You know, like different colloquial expressions, and that would be really inspiring for me to hear — folk expressions that were really wise and just in people’s day-to-day. For example, a lot of Saul Bellow novels — the way people spoke in Chicago in the twenties and thirties. But yeah, for a long time that was really interesting to me.

Some of my favorite books are somewhat obvious in that I like to use scientific terminology — like Primo Levi. I got really into him for a while. I used to read more poetry than I do now. But I still get into that, too.

To read the rest of Menking’s interview with Andrew Bird head over to KXT Music Blog. Find out about Bird’s “Live from the Great Room” series, his childhood and even more about the newest album.