Whistling, the Muppets, and his favourite compositions...
Andrew BIrd

The unmistakable whistle of multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird is with us again.

New album 'Are You Serious' earlier this year and he's just embarked on a European tour, which included a spell-binding two hour show at London's Roundhouse. It's a record and show to mark the end of a turbulent few years - the birth of a son, a seriously ill wife, and the escape from the hectic-life of New York to the sunshine and space of California to get bearings, quiet and perspective... with a stop off on the family farm where the album was born.

But forget the metaphorical and physical journey Bird has been on...we really want to know what it's like to work with the Muppets. Andrew Bird chats to Gemma Hampson.

- - -

- - -

Where did the whistling come from? Was it something you stumbled on as a child or a technique you perfected? Do you find people who can't whistle an inferior race?
It's a stumbling affair for sure. I spent 20 years mastering the violin and the real money is in whistling so it seems. I whistle constantly and thoughtlessly, perhaps that's why it works. My approach is not so much the whimsically sitting on the dock whistle, but intense full body whistling that cuts through the fog. I don't pity non-whistlers, but it does immediately reveal whether you have a tin ear or not.

You're a pretty prolific artist nearing 20 releases in 20 years - what was going on in your life and mind when 'Are You Serious' happened? Are you constantly writing and recording?
I'm down to about 15 original songs every four years, which doesn't seem all that prolific to me considering I spend almost every waking hour and some non-waking hours with something brewing melodically. A few of these songs took as many as ten years to come together while two thirds of the lyrics were written in four to five days at my farm.

There was a move from the city, an ill wife and a young child, which sounds really hard and traumatic. How did this affect your music and would you say this is your 'release' album - the end of an era or the start of a new one? Is the record a healer for you?
I've been on a trajectory toward more plainspoken and less whimsical writing for a while now, but what happened to us was too real to suppress and demands a certain frankness. These are not musings and machinations. There's a need to tell. I can't say what I'll do next, I've got a lot of side projects brewing. I think I'll need a break from myself after this.

- - -

I think I'll need a break from myself after this.

- - -

What song on the album is your personal favourite, or maybe resonates with you most, and why?
Musically, it's 'Truth Lies Low'. It's a slinky, sexy song about humiliation and I'm proud of how we pulled it off live in the studio. Lyrically, it's 'Valleys Of The Young' because it speaks to what I was talking about earlier with the painful honest truth. Everyone should know what I'm talking about there.

There are elements of a rockier sound on this album - The Shins or Muse even came to mind at your London show the other night. What influenced this?
The Shins are melodically brilliant. I can’t get with Muse. I've never been a subdued or reflective performer whatever the perception may be. You think violin and whistling? How quaint. I sing to the rafters. Rock ‘n roll isn't just electric guitars. It's possession and exorcism. I feel that.

If you could only ever play one instrument again, what would you choose?
Something I don't know how to play yet. Life is long. Drums?

- - -

Well your island isn't going to float away...

- - -

I imagine Dr Stringz and Professor Socks would be mates - or maybe I'm wrong? What's a day like for them? (Editor's note: Dt Stringz is a character Bird played on children's TV, while Prof Socks is a magical character that appears in a Bird song)
They stumble around muttering crackpot theories. Occasionally brilliant, but often nonsensical ones. Lots of corduroy. Professor Socks is the deeper of the two.

I'm a huge Muppets fan and only found out the other day that you're Walter's whistle! You're basically a Muppet now. How does this feel, but, more importantly, what's Kermit like?
It feels furry and a bit musty. Kermit’s a stand up guy. A bit glum.

You've just finished a European tour. Should the UK stay or go and do you think Americans should be allowed a view on this stuff (considering we're all obsessed with Trump-mageddon!)
I assume you mean stay with the EU? Well your island isn't going to float away. You're always going to be part of Europe yet slightly removed. Maybe, I don't know exactly what's at stake. As far as Trump goes, it’s an embarrassment, but I'm holding out that it only makes it that much easier for us to get our first female president.

- - -

- - -

Stay in touch with Andrew Bird HERE.

Buy Clash Magazine


Follow Clash: