Interview: Birdy on leaving the nest, inspiration from Kate Bush, and the search for instant macaroni and cheese
A few quick things to note about British singer and songwriter Birdy: She loves The Hunger Games; one of her favorite films when she was little was The Rescuers (yes, the cartoon); and she and her family believe that her “great granny” was reincarnated as a robin. Why? “A robin always appears randomly at family occasions, which is really special,” she says.
Despite her strong connection to birds, the performer born Jasmine Lucilla Elizabeth Jennifer van den Bogaerde is not to be taken lightly.
Birdy won the live music competition Open Mic UK at the young age of 12. Then, at 15, she broke through with a cover of the very emotional “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver. Three albums later, including March’s Beautiful Lies, it’s clear that Birdy doesn’t need to rely on others’ material to soar. Beautiful Lies’ lead single “Keeping Your Head Up” is this summer’s alterna-pop banger, while others, including “Wild Horses,” is her rock solid attempt to capture the greatness of Adele and Lorde in the same song. She succeeded.
This Wednesday (June 8), Birdy plays a sold-out Paradise Rock Club in Boston with Bahari. Before she came across the Atlantic to begin her international tour, we spoke with her about how difficult it was for her to leave the nest and move to London, how she wants to channel Kate Bush on tour, and her search for instant macaroni and cheese.
Cory Lamz: In the last year or so, you’ve been pretty busy. What’s that been like?
Birdy: It’s been really crazy, actually. I had like a year off, making the album, so that was quite weird getting back to normality. The album’s come out, and I’ve been touring already, and just having so much [going on] already. After a year, I’ve got this tour coming up in America and then after that going to all over Asia. I’m really excited to be going to Asia because the album was pretty influenced by Asia. It’s been a really weird start to the year; it’s been hectic but amazing.
You go from having this really private studio time — this time where you can be really creative — to time to be creative in an entirely different way, which takes a whole different energy.
Yeah, it’s weird. I’m just getting used to doing promo and that sort of stuff. I’ve been in a creative space for so long.
When you’re creating, what are you inspired by? Who inspires you?
My family inspires me a lot. My closest friends — some of the album is definitely written about them and what they’ve been doing and going through. A lot of it on this is also about change. I moved to London at the beginning of making this album, and that was definitely interesting… being independent for the first time and having to look after myself. It was really scary. For a moment it was really weird just living by myself, after being so used to a full house of people and my brothers and my sister. The album is about that and just finding my feet really.
When you had moved to London, what was that one moment where you’re like, “Wow, this is it. I’ve done it.”[laughs] I think I had a few days there in my new flat, and that was really weird. I probably locked myself in there because I was so scared of the outside world, like a country bumpkin from the middle of nowhere. Being in London I was so scared. But once I’d gotten over that and ventured out for the first time by myself, I think it just hit me walking down the street — you know, where I live is so beautiful, in West London — and just thinking, “I can do anything. I can be free and make my own choices, and that’s so cool.”
On a side note, I’m going to be in London for the very first time soon. What are some of the things that you would recommend I should do?
Oh cool! Oh, god. I feel so bad. I love it there, but I don’t do anything. Um… well… in West London, it’s really nice. There’s Portobello Road. That’s really beautiful. It’s a little bit touristy, but it’s really nice — amazing market, lots of little shops, including vintage shops. Obviously all of the parks are really lovely. Piccadilly Circus, the Public Garden.
When you’re creating or you’re not prepping for the tour, what are some things that you like to do?
I love London, but it gets a little bit hectic for me sometimes. So I like to be at home where I grew up. It’s called the New Forest. It’s really wild, and it’s got wild horses running about… It’s right by the sea. I just love being there really, and walking. I love being with my friends. Painting. Umm… yeah.
I do want to talk about the tour and your music a little bit. “Keeping Your Head Up” is probably your biggest song that you’re known for here in the States, at least as the momentum builds for a little bit. I was curious, what inspired you to write that song?
That song really started as a ballad, just at the piano, very much what’s really natural to me. That sound — I love it. And that’s how that one started as well. I remember just getting really stuck with it because I only had the verse, and I didn’t know why I couldn’t finish it. I ended up writing the rest of it with Steve Mac and Wayne Hector in London. Then we put drums to it, and it became this really uplifting anthem. It helped me finish the song.
It’s just about when you’re feeling sad and you’re looking for things in the future that will make you happy, like good things coming. For me, that was probably the first week in London, feeling completely lost and weirded out, thinking, “Oh, this is the most exciting time in my life. I’m enjoying making my album, and I’ve got my family around me.”
I like that you describe it in that way and that you used the word, “anthem.” There have been times where I’ll be walking around Boston or what have you, and the weather is not so great, and I’m listening to this song, and I’m like, “I feel so empowered.”
Oh, that’s so cool. That’s so nice.
Have you ever exercised to this song? It’s a good song to work out to!
People always say that! Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s on a lot of sports channels. They play it a lot [laughs]. That’s really good that it’s motivating people.
So let’s talk about the tour for a little bit. What can people expect from the tour and the experience of seeing you perform live?
If anyone has seen me perform before, I think I’ve grown a lot since then. I feel really comfortable on stage, which is nice now. I’m not just at the piano. I’m standing at the front, with my guitar, which is nice. I play different instruments. I’ve got my whole band. There’s six of us altogether. I’ve got a drummer, a violinist, a keyboard player, a guitarist, and bassist. And they’re like my family. We’ve really connected.
I’m hoping to bring a bit of theater to it. I went to see Kate Bush play not too long ago. She did a show in London, and I was lucky enough to go. It was like a theater production, it was so dramatic. I’d like to tell you I could channel Kate in some way — we’re still trying to figure it out.
That’d be really cool. You’ve got quite a few songs that would lend themselves to the Kate Bush kind of vibe and experience.
Yeah, definitely inspired by Kate Bush on this album. The whole style as well. I’ll also be wearing my kimono on stage, which is cool.
What’s your least favorite thing about touring?
I don’t like being away from home for too long, and sometimes it can be… Yeah, the longest I’ve been away is two months. That was quite hard for me. I was touring in America, supporting Christina Perri. But yeah, I miss my family a lot. What else? It’s quite hard to sleep on the bus, but I’ve gotten used to that by now. [Laughs] People find that quite hard.
Does your family come see your shows? Maybe not in the States, but when you’re playing elsewhere?
Yeah, I recently finished my European tour in London, and they all came up. I had all my aunties and my cousins, all my brothers and sister. It was so nice.
I know that you’ve prepped for the tour in terms of rehearsing, but have you done any preparation for coming to the States otherwise? Like one or two things you have to pack or have to do while you’re here?
I like bringing my pillow when I go on tour. Hopefully it’s not going to be too hard to bring it all of the way over. I don’t know! When I get there, I want to get some macaroni and cheese, some instant macaroni and cheese. I’ve heard there’s a really good one in a packet. It’s like instant macaroni. I don’t know what it’s called.
There’s that one, and then there’s another one that comes in a bowl, and you can just add water and microwave it in the bowl.
Ugh, that sounds really good. Okay. I’m going to stock up with loads of those.
Do you not have instant macaroni and cheese over in London?
Not really any good ones. I just think it’s going to be really good over there [in the States]. We have really weird noodle things, and super noodles and pot noodles. I just love pasta so much. It’s one of my favorite things.
BIRDY + BAHARI :: Wednesday, June 8 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., all ages, sold out