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Gimme Noise spoke with the violinist before his Minneapolis show and just days after his album release, which coincided with his Late Show With David Letterman performance that took place during Hurricane Sandy, on the new music and his Minneapolis connections.
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Gimme Noise: You recently released a new album. Do you ever pay attention to sales and how your albums do? Andrew Bird: Not really. I don't lose sleep over it. GN: Along with this album, did you release a reinterpretation of Break It Yourself? AB: Yes, the album has one song that's reimagined, which is "Orpheo Looks Back." Every time I make a record, the version on the record is only one way of how things could have gone. The version on the record is vastly different in character.GN: Did you record at your farm in Illinois?
AB: We did half of it there at the end of the tour in August, and we did the other half in Louisville in a church in July.
GN: Do you record as a live band, or is each instrument recorded separately?
AB: It's definitely a live band sound. That's what we did for Break It Yourself. We use as few microphones as possible -- sometimes it's just one microphone.
GN: Why did you want to use that method for recording?
AB: One of my first records was recorded like that. We started doing it live onstage where we just used one microphone. There's something about it that makes a lot of sense musically, because you're all having to tune into the way you sound because of where you're standing and not so much by the multiple sounds. I think you sing better with no monitors. I like to force limitations on us -- at least our music.
GN: Can you elaborate a little more on how you force these limitations?
AB: With a full band, the setup gets quite complex. There's probably over twenty different channels. There's a microphone or a direct line. The music that you're making is being translated into an electronic signal that goes through a PA that goes through a monitor back at you. It leaves you with a disconnect musically. When you go on one microphone, there's one field of range with that microphone, and it translates back the sound in the air right in the microphone into a single line into the audience. There's no monitors; there's no disconnect. You can't hear yourself very well because there are no monitors, but that causes us to sing better, sing stronger, and to play better. It's a very unforgiving way to do it, but it also has a campfire feel to it where you're really close to each other. We're connected.
GN: In writing for this album, do you keep your audience in mind, or do you write whatever comes to you?
AB: Mainly the latter. Mostly what bubbles up from my cumulative experiences, but when certain current events force me to think about it, I keep that in mind. Like we just did Letterman on Tuesday night in New York, and you have to think about all of those people there that have no power. If they're watching this, if they're freaked out, what they might take away from the song, so I definitely chose a song that was comforting. I had another song chosen that was talking about droughts and floods, and people can take that the wrong way. They can take it as negative or being insensitive, so in terms like that, you definitely think about your audience. Not when I'm writing, though. I write whatever I feel like writing, then I can decide what to play.
GN: Would you say you write without limitations?
AB: I don't even like to think of myself as a writer. It's like people who call themselves artists all of the time. To be so self-aware in that way, it's not a good thing. I like to think that writing is just a part of being alive. It's just something that happens when you get up in the morning. It's not a big deal.
GN: What was it like playing for an empty theater on Letterman?
AB: It was fine because the Paul Schaffer band was paying attention to what we were doing, and they were all very supportive. There was at least 25 people there listening.