Whether Andrew Bird is making poetry based on how a word sounds or rhyming everything possible with “formaldehyde,” it becomes clear that music like this is almost foreign to the ear. One aspect where Bird has no peers is musicianship. Combining a childhood of formal training with an endless imagination yields albums that sound as lush as a string ensemble, while never retracing steps of past musicians. Thanks to looping technology, Bird can play back his synchronized lines of guitar and violin to accompany a glockenspiel and his trademark whistle to push his music to the limit.
Bird’s one-of-a-kind spectacle is back in full force on his 2007 release with a new addition – a bass player. This added bottom end of Armchair Apocrypha gives the album intensity that contrasts his last album, the more subdued The Mysterious Production of Eggs.
“The new disc was intended to be a gentle, pastoral work, but a lot of that got thrown out. I wanted to work on some more energetic music,” Bird said. “You can go one of two ways with an album. Make a carefully crafted bedroom album, like Eggs, or make a balls-out alive album full of energy, like this one.”
Bird has been touring as a solo act for the previous two records, taking on the many responsibilities usually delegated to entire bands. Before going solo, he was the obvious lead member of Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. Now that Bird is flying apart from the flock, he is free to make the music that he desires.
“It is less demanding, in that you don’t have to worry about others, but it is more demanding because I put all pressure on myself,” said Bird. “Being a solo artist is like being a decathlon athlete.”
He has been playing anywhere and everywhere over the past couple of years. His recent chaotic European tour saw Bird endure a high fever in Dublin and absentminded baggage handlers in Brussels who misplaced important equipment. Despite the struggles of this tour, it kept everything interesting for Bird, who never likes to be repetitive – even when it comes to choosing a venue.
“I like to mix it up. I do like what large rooms do to my voice. Even Canopy Club does that,” remarked Bird. “I’m going for a beam of sound that fills the area. I sense the open space and the energy that comes out is amazing. It’s more than what one violin or one voice can do.”
From the perspective of his music, Andrew Bird is a technical mastermind. This is a direct product of the Suzuki method, a form of music instruction he began studying at the age of five that believes children have infinitely greater learning capacities than adults. Clearly, this method proved fruitful for Bird, as he went on to get his bachelor’s degree in violin performance from Northwestern University. He now masters other instrumentations.
“Whistling is the most direct, casual way to make music,” declared Bird. “The sound combines well; it’s a pure tone. It makes a new instrument.” Bird’s virtuosity allows him to whistle and play the same pitch on the glockenspiel – something that is truly amazing.
From the first rough draft of a song, there is much revision that Bird does to perfect its sound.
“There are certain questions I ask myself: ‘Does the universe really need to hear this part?'” Bird said. “But, at the same time, I don’t want the music to become more redundant.”
If you ran into Bird on the street, you wouldn’t recognize him – he’s just a normal guy from northern Illinois. His music and even his words speak otherwise.
“What I write is just the music I hear when I wake up in the morning,” Bird declared.
The gravity of his statement proves that Andrew Bird not only writes superlative music but also thinks about music every waking moment.
Come see Andrew Bird play at the Canopy Club on Wednesday, April 18. Courtney Tidwell will also be playing, whose music is described by Bird as “spacey, dreamy pop with sharp melodies.” Tickets are $17.50 in advance, and doors open at 8:30 p.m. for the 9:30 p.m. show.