5 Questions with Andrew Bird

Krista Connor

The multi-instrumentalist comes to The Grand on Feb. 23

Los Angeles-based film score composer, multi-instrumentalist and lyricist Andrew Bird picked up a violin for the first time at age 4. As he grew up, he pursued a variety of styles, including early jazz, country blues and gypsy music, melding them into his own brand of pop.  Since beginning his recording career in 1997, he has released more than a dozen albums, including his most recent full-length Are You Serious (2016) and the instrumental Echolocations: River (2017), which is second in a series of short films and recordings documenting site-specific compositions. River was recorded while Bird stood ankle-deep in the Los Angeles River under The Hyperion Bridge. The first installment, Echolocations: Canyon, was released in 2015 after Bird played violin in a canyon in Utah.

Equally creative and candid, Bird hosts a Facebook Live series “Live from the Great Room” which streams from his living room, putting the creative process on display for fans as he performs and converses with friends and collaborators. Previous guests have included Zach Galifianakis, The Lumineers, Fiona Apple, The National, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

Out & About caught up with Bird by phone as he prepared for his winter tour, which will hit Wilmington on Friday, Feb. 23, at The Grand at 8 p.m.

O&A: Can you talk about how you choose recording locations for your Echolocations albums like Canyon and Rivers?

Bird: The idea is to go into the spaces and try to be a blank slate and listen to the feedback I’m getting off the surfaces – whatever brings in all the reverberations of the instruments. I take the songs home and create a record around them, reacting to what I hear and remember. It gives me an excuse to improvise and to exercise other ideas. Then, at shows, I basically do what I did when building the record: I react to the film recording and improvise while watching the film.

O&A: Will there be more Echolocations installments?

Bird: These are part of a series of four albums I’m making. The next one is going to be in bunkers built into a coastal hillside during the ‘30s. And the one after that is in an aqueduct in Lisbon, Portugal; the reverberation of that one is insane. They’re all distinct environments.

O&A: Echolocations recordings differ in style from your other albums, which feature vocals and a full band – like 2016’s Are You Serious, which falls between these two instrumental albums. Instead, you approach Echolocations with a minimalist slant with just one instrument – the violin – and one musician – you. What made you take this approach, and did it present any new artistic challenges for you?

Bird: Between records I put out every three or four years, I do these projects that keep me able to exercise other things. A lot of stuff ends up on the cutting room floor when you’re making a pop album, so this just kind of gives me life and the ability to stretch out and play long-form pieces and explore textures and sounds. And to just be a player again. I think otherwise I would be withering creatively.

O&A: What inspired your collaborative Facebook Live series “Live from the Great Room”? What artists are you planning on working with in the future?

Bird: It relates to Echolocations in a sense that it began with the emphasis on being raw. I wanted to bring it back to music and collaboration and invite people into my house and play in my living room and fill that room with sound and have it be raw and live and messy. A lot of people tried to convince me to pre-record it and I thought, ‘I can’t do that, it has to be scrappy and live and reactive.’ It turned out to be more successful and gratifying than I imagined.

I’ve got a list of folks that want to do it, we just gotta find the time. I’m hoping to get back into it in the summer or fall. I’ve been trying to get Randy Newman for a while.

O&A: What’s next for you?

Bird: I’ll be finishing a new record that’s going to come out early next year. It’s on my mind ‘cause I just finished tracking it. It’s gonna sound different than the last one. I’ve been basing the sound off early ‘60s jazz and gospel records that were all recorded in one room. The subject matter is a bit more political, I guess you could say, rather than personal, though it’s never entirely one or the other. I guess the overarching theme is talking about how we need our enemies or how we seem to thrive off of conflict.

I’m also doing a run of symphonic shows in the fall, where I’ll be playing with the National Symphony Orchestra – that’s a totally new venture.

Don’t miss Andrew Bird at The Grand on Friday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m. For tickets, go to thegrandwilmington.org.

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