Are You Serious takes flight in a welcome new direction
Andrew Bird is trying something he has never done before on his new record Are You Serious. With hopes of breaking out of his seemingly whimsical and unrelatable sound, the album is a visceral exploration of human nature.
I phoned Bird on a sleepy, rainy Sunday afternoon to talk about his new record, and what it means for him as a musician.
Are You Serious tells a story about human relationships and experiences. Starting with its emotional opening track “Capsized” detailing a break up, the album then moves through songs of love and the broad complexity of human relationships. The idea behind these major themes of existence was conceived more as a sequence of scenes in a play than a narrative of personal stories, Bird explained. “I do scenes like bits in the play, where the verses all point to the same topic,” he said.
The record aims to be more accessible and visceral to a wide range of audiences and venues than Bird’s 2015 album Echolocations: Canyon. Released in tandem with a short film, the album was more about location and sound than the lyrical mastery of his newest record. Are You Serious reaches past the scene of indie rock ghetto to a place where Bird can be infiltrating the mainstream.
“It was a reaction to the old stuff,” said Bird. “I wanted it to be top of the line this time.” A perfectionist, the multi-instrumentalist described how producing the album posed an unfamiliar challenge, trying to decide how far he wants to push himself.
Bird has achieved an untamable genre with his classic style of vibrant instrumentation, but the album shows something new with a more alternative rock and roll vibe. “Roma Fade,” a creepy, eerie love song punctuated by bouncing guitar, proved to be the most personally challenging and important track for Bird on the new record. “The record is more about the songwriting craft and restraint. In Are You Serious I’m [resisting] the urge to play the violin, and saving that for other projects,” he said. Bird’s earlier work is known for his mastery of the violin and other instruments. “In that sense, it satisfies,” he said.
Bird hopes to close the gap between performance and studio with Are You Serious, and to join in the discussion he hopes his songs are facilitating when dealing with heavy topics. “’Here’s an interesting idea: discuss amongst yourselves,’” said Bird about the carefully chosen lyrics and themes on the record.
“Valleys Of The Young,” a thoughtful discussion between two lovers about bringing a son into the world, is reflective of Bird and wife Katherine Tsina’s experiences raising their son. “I had something I really wanted to say,” he said. With songs such as “Left Handed Kisses,” a powerful and emotional duet with Fiona Apple, Bird describes them as internal dialogue songs, in which he attempts to ascribe lyrics to heavy emotion.
Though he’s been in the music scene for years, Bird described this album as distinctly set apart from the “scrappy” means of production that he has so far experienced. The 42-year-old teamed up with artists like Fiona Apple and Blake Mills and took inspiration from the city instead of the quiet opposite barn-atmosphere he’s used to back in his home state of Illinois.
A portion of the Are You Serious tour ticket sales is being donated to Everytown For Gun Safety, an organization dedicated to the education and promotion of gun safety. Bird comes from Lake Forest, Illinois located in Northern Chicago. “Chicago is a frightening place in that realm,” said Bird. “[Every town] is a smart organization and they have a chance to really make a difference.” He said the issue lies in the symbolism behind guns in America, and the effect a lack of common sense can have when using a “destructive machine.” Chicago violence and gun control has been a subject of intense discussion in North America recently.
In addition to contributing to political discourse through charities such as Everytown, Bird also aims to be involved with others in more than just a musical way. “I enjoy being part of the dialogue between me and the audience,” said Bird. “When you’re a musician, you’re not simply a musician. I like talking to other artists.”
In 2010, Bird was featured in a TED talk that doubled as an intimate commentary and music performance. Since then he’s been working on short films including an upcoming collaboration with Everytown to put on a Chicago-themed music video to Bird’s popular “Pulaski at Night,” as well as his ongoing Echolocation series. He has explored the world of sound and film while figuring out what the room wants to hear in the Coyote Gulch canyons of Utah, and hopes to continue that series. “There are four more coming up,” Bird said.
Are You Serious is available now on Loma Vista Recordings.