Andrew Bird with violin, 2009 Photo: Dani Cantó
|Born||July 11, 1973
|Genres||Indie rock, folk rock, baroque pop|
|Instruments||Voice, violin, guitar, glockenspiel|
|Labels||Rykodisc, Righteous Babe, Fat Possum, RCRD LBL, Bella Union, Earwig, Waterbug, Carrot Top, Delmark|
|Associated acts||Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Kevin O'Donnells Quality Six|
Andrew Bird (born July 11, 1973) is an American musician, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. He was born in Chicago and currently spends his time between Chicago and a farm near the town of Elizabeth in northwest Illinois. He has mastered several instruments and is musically proficient on others. They include the violin, guitar, mandolin, whistling, and glockenspiel.
Trained in the Suzuki method from the age of four, Bird graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in violin performance in 1996. That same year he self-released his first solo album, Music of Hair. Vastly different from his later work, this album showcased his violin skills and paid tribute to his fascination with both American and European folk traditions, as well as jazz and blues. Following this, his initial commercial exposure came through collaborative work with the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, appearing on three of their albums (Hot, Sold Out, and Perennial Favorites) between 1996 and 1998.
Taking on the role of bandleader, Bird released Thrills on Rykodisc in 1997 with his group Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, shortly followed by second album Oh! The Grandeur in 1998. Both albums were heavily influenced by traditional folk, pre-war jazz, and swing, with Bird relying on the violin as his primary musical instrument, as well as providing vocals along with his trademark verbose lyrics. The Bowl of Fire featured musicians from Bird's home town of Chicago, including Kevin O'Donnell, Nora O'Connor, Andy Hopkins, Jimmy Sutton, Colin Bunn, and Ryan Hembrey. During this period Andrew Bird was a member of the jazz group Kevin O'Donnells Quality Six, for which he was the lead singer and violinist and contributed to arrangements and songwriting for the albums Heretic Blues (Delmark 1999) and Control Freak (Delmark 2000) (both Delmark albums were produced by Raymond Salvatore Harmon).
In 2001, the Bowl of Fire released their third album, The Swimming Hour, a dramatic departure from their previous recordings. It featured a mixture of styles, from the zydeco-influenced "Core and Rind" to more straightforward rock songs such as "11:11". Due to this eclectic nature, Bird has often referred to it as his "jukebox album". Although gaining critical praise (The Swimming Hour received a 9.0 from indie music website Pitchfork), the band failed to attain commercial success or recognition, playing to audiences as small as 40 people. In 2002, Bird was asked to open for a band in his hometown of Chicago, but fellow Bowl of Fire members were unavailable for the date. The reluctant Bird performed the gig alone, and the surprising success of this solo show suggested potential new directions for his music..
The Bowl of Fire unofficially disbanded in 2003, and Bird went on to radically re-invent himself as a solo artist. His two subsequent albums were released on Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe Records label. 2003's Weather Systems (originally released on Grimsey Records) was a sparse record with a dramatic change in musical direction. It featured the tracks "Skin" and "I", proto-versions of songs that would later become "Skin Is, My" (The Mysterious Production of Eggs) and "Imitosis" (Armchair Apocrypha).
2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs continued a progression towards an eclectic indie–folk sound, and both records formed a stark stylistic break with Bird's earlier work, swapping the lush backing of a full band for carefully layered samples of sound constructed using multitrack recorders and loop pedals. As his sound changed, Bird made increasing use of guitar, glockenspiel, and whistling in his songwriting, in addition to his traditional violin and vocals.
Bird is noted for improvising and reworking his songs during live performance, as can be seen in his series of self-released live compilations entitled Fingerlings, Fingerlings 2, and Fingerlings 3, the first of which was released in 2002. Each Fingerlings EP was released prior to a studio album, and presented a mixture of live performances from different shows, including old tracks, covers, and previously unreleased songs, some of which have since appeared on studio albums. Fingerlings 3, released in October 2006, also featured studio outtakes. Fingerlings 2 provided Bird with an unexpected boost in recognition in 2004 when it was named album of the month by Mojo.
In September 2006, Bird signed to Fat Possum Records, and in March 2007 he released his third post-Bowl of Fire album, Armchair Apocrypha. The album was recorded in collaboration with electronic musician Martin Dosh, and includes a track composed by Dosh (with lyrics by Bird) entitled "Simple X". This song first appeared without Bird's lyrics as "Simple Exercises" on Dosh's 2004 release Pure Trash. The album was produced by Ben Durrant (who had worked on Dosh's The Lost Take), and also featured Haley Bonar and Chris Morrissey. In advance of the March release date, Armchair Apocrypha was leaked to the Internet in January 2007. The album went on to sell over 100,000 copies.
As publicity for Armchair Apocrypha, Bird made his network television debut on April 10, 2007, performing "Plasticities" (from the new album) on the Late Show with David Letterman. He also appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on June 14, 2007, performing "Imitosis" from the same album. In April 2007, he did a Take-Away Show acoustic video session shot by Vincent Moon. These appearances were accompanied by an extensive tour, which ended with sell-out performances at the Beacon Theater, New York and the Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles.
In January 2007, Andrew Bird made an appearance on the Noggin television network's Jack's Big Music Show, playing the part of Dr. Stringz and appearing in order to mend a character's broken dulcimer. Bird sang a brief song called "Dr. Stringz", written specially for the show. He now often plays it live as an introduction to the song "Fake Palindromes".
On May 20, 2007, National Public Radio aired a live concert by Bird from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club He also worked with Reverb, a non-profit environmental organization, for his 2007 spring tour.
Five of his songs — "Banking on a Myth" from The Mysterious Production of Eggs, a medley of "I" from Weather Systems and "Imitosis" from Armchair Apocrypha, and "Skin" and "Weather Systems" from Weather Systems — have been licensed for use by Marriott Residence Inn.
Since March 2008, Bird has contributed to Measure for Measure, a New York Times blog in which musicians write about their songwriting process. In it, he has charted the development of the song "Oh No", previewing samples at various stages of development through to the finished album recording. He also discussed the conception of the song "Natural Disaster", the recording of instrumental piece "Hot Math", and previewed "Master Sigh". The first two songs were later released on Bird's 2009 album Noble Beast, whilst the latter two appeared on its bonus disc Useless Creatures.
In December 2008, Bird appeared in the second series of Nigel Godrich's From the Basement alongside Radiohead and Fleet Foxes. His performance included a preview of new song "Section 8 City", a ten minute re-imagining of "Sectionate City", which originally appeared on the Soldier On EP.
Bird's fifth solo album, Noble Beast, was released on January 20, 2009, and contained fourteen new songs, with bonus tracks available for download from iTunes and eMusic. "The Privateers" is a re-imagining of a very early song entitled "The Confession" from 1999's Oh! The Grandeur. A limited deluxe edition of the album included alternate packaging and artwork, as well as an all-instrumental companion disc entitled Useless Creatures. The entirety of Useless Creatures was made available via Bird's website during the run-up to the release. Noble Beast has been met with generally favourable reviews, receiving a score of 79 out of 100 from review collation site Metacritic.
On May 11, 2009, Bird released the EP Fitz and the Dizzy Spells. It contains "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" from Noble Beast, as well as other songs from that album's recording sessions. Some of the songs on the EP were previously available for download from iTunes and eMusic as bonus tracks to Noble Beast.
In 2010, Bird recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, contributing vocals and violin on a cover of "Shake It and Break It" on Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program.
Growing up, Bird was surrounded by classical music. As a child, he was interested in Irish tunes and bluegrass. He also cites English and Scottish folk music as an early influence. His early jazz influences were Johnny Hodges, Lester Young, and Fats Waller. He has also had a number of classical influences such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Bela Bartok. Other influences included jazz, swing, calypso, and folk. Bird has stated that, at 22, he found a lot of indie rock and pop music repetitive and boring, but now understands it better.
See also: Squirrel Nut Zippers' discography.