Bird dishes on what compelled her to name new album after a gender
Wallis Bird is the personification of the “Fighting Irish.”
The Berlin-based Irish singer-songwriter has battled her way to performing 800-plus shows in the last decade, including two concerts that were each 12 hours.
Bird recently dropped her sixth and newest album, “Woman.”
She won Meteor Awards, Ireland’s annual music prize – for Best Female Artist – and a prestigious 2017 German “Musikautorenpreis” (Music Author Prize).
You can catch Bird rocking the stage when she graces the stage at the 58th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival on Friday, Aug. 16.
What are a couple of ways you've pushed the creative limits on "Woman?" And why did that album title grab you?
Every time I create something new I use it as an opportunity to improve my ability somewhere, so I went back to boring and frustrating basics and chose to work on all my weaknesses. I did it because I was so spent from my previous record, “Home,” that I had to refill my well. So I worked on the parts of me that needed strengthening, mentally and physically.
I practiced, because I don't like practicing. I sang all day, even when I was in a bad mood. I would only sing in the tonal ranges that I normally avoid, and I practiced atonal and out of tune scales on my instruments to make myself laugh out loud.
It was at times frustrating and made me also feel extremely vulnerable, but at such an exhausted time in my life when I needed core strengthening. I've also been teaching songwriting over the last two years, so I use my exercises as well as invent new techniques to be a more fluid and consequent writer. So based solely on those particular changes, this album was written in my strongest skill set.
The album title “Woman” simply wouldn't leave the table. I found it at the very beginning of the writing process, but I kept holding it aside because it was almost too simplified, too boisterous, too pushy a title, so I labored over that for about a year before finally I decided “look, my subconscious is telling me something and I must listen.” So I followed through and found that this record wants me to celebrate women's rights, matriarchy, mother nature, human rights and human worth in 2019.
With gender identity being a popular topic, can you explain your definition of what a woman is to you?
A woman is one who feels that is what she is, and one who is anatomically defined as one. I'm very happy when someone identifies as a woman; I see it in the very least as flattering. It's not easy being a woman, so if you are proud to be one, welcome to the crew! Women gave birth to the world. A woman is mother nature, queen and king. A woman holds a physical and mental power beyond measure and has fought long and hard to hold court. A woman is to be revered.
After you performed a benefit for 12 hours in 2016, has that experience somehow had a lasting effect on you?
Absolutely. I've done two 12-hour concerts because they change my perspective on my ability, what people like to hear and how to connect with people, which is really what I live for.
I do those shows to keep myself in check, because if you offer people a free ticket, they arrive with a critical kind of “entertain me” viewpoint, and I love the danger of falling flat on my face while experimenting. I can't just expect people to pay good money and not bother developing my work; so the 12-hour concerts are a great way to flesh out and work hard, feel pure in the moment and loose myself completely in front of people; it's like jumping from a cliff.
What are a few things outside of music that inspires your art?
I love being around kids and families and friends – that keeps me sane and gives me reason. Crosswords, they've opened up a whole shelf of expression for me 'cause I love learning new words and thinking about their etymology; then that leads me to imagine the history of the people who invented the word, what they might have been wearing, how they looked, what surroundings they were in, how their mouths shaped the word, how their environmental development shaped the sound of the word.My mind goes wild with images down that road. I'm also crazy about meeting strangers way too late at night over drinks and listening to their life story and how they romanticize or predict things.
If given the opportunity, who are a few artists you'd love to tour with (and why)?
Björk, because I think that would just be out of this world in terms of what you'd learn and experience in her universe. Also, I hear she's such a gorgeous person and really, really good craic. Other than that, Elvis would have been probably outrageous. Festival express times with The Gratefull Dead, Janis Joplin and The Band. My head can't cope with how brilliant that must have been.
What are 2-3 essentials you need to have on tour?
Fun, sleep, tact.