In conversation with Birdy
English singer and songwriter Birdy released her new album ‘Portraits’ this August. ‘Portraits’ sees Birdy take a liberated leap into the unknown, her timeless songwriting style now infused with a fresh, exuberant rush of energy and inventive, off-kilter production flourishes.
Birdy, you just released your new album ‘Portraits’ this Summer. Tell us more about this new album.
‘Portraits’ is a very different sound to anything I’ve done before. It’s full of movement and quite dark and brooding at moments. After Covid and not being able to play live for so long, I wanted to make something for stage that felt theatrical and commanding, and music that people could dance to. The record is about fantasy, the inner child and a moment of truth. I was doing a lot of painting whilst making it and it made me think about how people can fall in love and become obsessed with an idea of something or someone rather than the reality. The songs are also portraits of different moments in my life and remembering back to a more carefree, lighthearted version of myself.
What inspired ‘Portraits’ and the songwriting of the tracks for it?
At first, I was really inspired by Portis Head and PJ Harvey. I loved the mix of acoustic and electronic sounds and how otherworldly yet classic that felt. I also, both sonically and visually, really liked the grunginess and soft punk feel of those artists, which is what then led me to that new wave era of the 80s . I moved away from the piano for most of this album when I was writing and wrote mainly on synth and to drum patterns. It allowed me to write more rhythmically.On the piano I was finding everything just became a ballad and experimenting with new instruments helped the music to go in a different direction, but in a way that still felt authentic.
How does this album differ from your previous music?
It’s more electronic and synth led, which isn’t something I’ve really ventured into before and it’s also very uptempo. My previous album ‘Young Heart’ was more of a folk record and it was very intimate and fragile in feel. It was about heartbreak and so I found the process to be very emotionally intense and quite draining. I was very critical of myself and my writing because the subject matter was so precious to me. When it came to ‘Portraits’, it felt like a bit of a reckoning and challenge within myself to emerge from that broken place and I also just wanted to enjoy making it.
The album is described as stepping into a new world and finding your true voice. Why does it represent you finding your true voice through it?
I think with ‘Portraits’ and with my last album I’ve felt that way. Not that my previous work wasn’t me, but I was just so young, I was still experimenting a lot. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to listen to myself more and come to know what I like and don’t like. There was a lot less pressure during making this record than the last. I guess because of it being more uptempo, naturally it’s more commercial sounding. Having that freedom meant my creativity wasn’t hindered and I found so much joy during the process.
You began writing music at a very early age. What does songwriting represent to you? Is it like an outlet where you just let everything go?
I think it’s definitely a form of expression and from when I was 7 years old, as soon as I learned I could compose something of my own, I would spend hours at the piano. I used to write songs about things I hadn’t experienced yet,but over the years my life has strangely followed those narratives, which suggests to me that we know who we are from a very young age and songwriting is our subconscious speaking.
You’ve collaborated with leading artists across different music genres in your career. Which collaboration left the biggest mark on you?
When I was 15 or 16, I collaborated with Mumford & Sons, singing the vocal on their beautiful song ‘Learn Me Right’ for the ending title of Disney Pixar’s ‘Brave’. It was such a special film to be a part of and I loved performing with them. Music for film is something I would love to do more of and that was one of my first experiences, so it’s always stayed with me.
How do you like to engage with your audiences and fans?
At bigger shows I find it difficult sometimes because you look into the crowd and you can’t really see anyone, it’s just a black void and that can be hard to connect with. I also find a room of strangers can be quite daunting and find myself forgetting that people have come there to see me. I’ve been really enjoying playing a few smaller shows recently and getting to meet and talk to people afterwards, which helps to visualise who’s in the audience and feels like I know everyone.
Who would you describe as your biggest musical influences ever?
My mother was one of my first influences. She’s a concert pianist and so I grew up listening to her practicing for hours on end. I think that’s why my music has a melancholy to it, the piano has a mournfulness and I think I absorbed that as a child and it really formed my sound. One of the first albums I discovered and would listen to over and over in my room was Tracy Chapman’s and I think the emotion in her vocal performance influenced me a lot. When I was making ‘Young Heart’, I discovered Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake for the first time and they became a huge influences for that album. But ‘Portraits’ has been inspired by so many different artists like David Bowie, Christine and the Queens, The Blue Nile , Kate Bush, Angel Olsen and Madonna.
What role does social media play in your professional career? Why do you believe it is such an important outlet to maintain a relationship with your fans?
Social media can be very unhealthy, it‘s addictive and stops us from being present in real life, which I think is why so many young people have depression. I try to use it in moderation, but that can be hard because it feels as if the world revolves around it. There are some great things about it too though. I love that people can be so creative and that any song has an opportunity to be shared and heard. I love being able to read messages from fans and see their reactions to new music and communicate with them directly. I love the visual aspect of being able share pictures and videos that can encompass the feeling of a body of work and help people to understand the music.
Birdy, with the exciting release of your new album, what are some of your other upcoming projects for this year?
I’m very excited to be heading to America with my band in October, to play shows in New York, San Francisco and LA. I haven’t played in the States for quite a few years, so it should be a lot of fun. I’m just really looking forward to bringing ‘Portraits’ to life on stage as it’s such a different mood to anything I’ve done before and an album people can hopefully dance to.
talent BIRDY @birdyinstagram
photographer MARK CANT @ Werth Represents @markcantdotcom @werthrepresents
stylist OLGA TIMOFEJEVA @ The Only Agency @olgatimofejeva @theonly.agency
styling assistant CAROLINA TAVIRO @carolinataviro
makeup KRISTINA THEODORIS @kristinatheo
hair LOUIS BYRNE @louisbyrneiciaiw
nail LUCY TUCKER @ One Represents using Kiss Nails @lucytuckernails @onerepresents
editor: TIMI LEJONTA @timiletonja
cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen