Andrew Bird flocking to Kent

Andrew Gaug

COURTESY Nasty little man

Credit: DKS Editors

Violin, guitar, piano, glockenspiel. At any given concert of his, singer-songwriter Andrew Bird can be seen playing any one of these instruments. But he doesn’t consider himself a multi-instrumentalist.

As a graduate of Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in violin performance, Bird said he’s only concentrated on that instrument.

“I really don’t play that many instruments,” he said, “After spending a lifetime playing violin, which is a tough instrument to master, it’s more about whether or not an instrument will fit into a song.”

Bird’s music, which has been compared to the folksy, orchestral nature of Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom, comes from a stranger place than most people would expect.

“My friends were into goth music or pop music,” he said, “I would go one week into being into gypsy music to Egyptian music to early jazz.”

Although the music was of great interest to Bird, he said he doesn’t draw from any specific genre or artist for inspiration.

Though he has had his hand in bands such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers during the swing revival of the mid-’90s as well as started his own band, Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, which broke up in 2003, he’s been enjoying his solo as well as collaborating with others.

“It is somewhat easier to work with yourself. But when you work on a record, you have several nervous breakdowns throughout the process,” he said, “You need someone to bounce ideas off of.”

As far as touring, he said he’s content working both by himself and with a band.

“I’ll do a little bit of both. One week I’ll do solo shows … then the band will play with me for a week. I’ve got it pretty good,” he said.

Bird noted that he thinks his band will be joining him for the Homecoming concert in Kent.

“I assume it will be in a big auditorium, so I want that full sound,” he said.

The sound of Bird’s music, he said, was rough for people to pin down when he was first getting started.

“It was really hard because I wasn’t associated with any scene,” he said, “Only recently have I been mentioned with artists like Sufjan and [Joanna] Newsom.”

The exposure has lead Bird to perform on both “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” which he said were both enjoyable and traumatic.

“‘The Late Show’ was really stressful because you had three minutes to set up all of your equipment up to perform. It was treated almost like it was live,” he said, “‘Conan’ was fun, we would sit in the green room and watch him rehearse and practice his lines.”

Bird’s live shows are known to be different from most other artists.

Instead of playing straight-forward performances, Bird and his band use stompboxes to loop noises and instruments to create a full, multi-layered sound.

“I can create six or seven layers with my violin, which allows me to create phrases and polyrhythms,” he said.

The whole process of setting up each sound when he began was tough as each loop had to blend with the others to get the intended sound.

“I would get up in the morning, have my coffee and eggs and work until the sun went down,” he said, “Now it’s just like another instrument.”

Even if he screws up a loop, he said he enjoys the spontaneity and nuances of the machines.

“There’s definitely opportunity for errors. But when they happen it’s kind of fun just to roll with it,” he said.

Bird’s stop in Kent will be part of his Fall tour that will go into December. In the meantime, Bird said he’ll still be trying to figure out a new sound for his follow-up to 2006’s Armchair Apocrypha.

“Touring has become pretty absorbent.” he said, “We’ll mess around during sound check and, if you’re lucky, a melody will pop in your head. But the process continues. I haven’t found a new sound yet. But I want it to be different.”

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Andrew Gaug at [email protected]