I kind of enjoy the fact that theres no formula that works, thats going to guarantee you a good song, says songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird. Though he cut his musical teeth as an auxiliary member of swing revivalists the Squirrel Nut Zippers, as well as in his catch-all rock group Andrew Birds Bowl of Fire, Birds solo work skews towards American indie pop and folk, albeit with a fair share of eccentricity. Its a style thats difficult to pin down, and even Bird has difficulty putting his finger on how his songwriting style provides success. You just go in flailing at it and hope for the best. Your songs kind of become your companions for awhile and you get very loyal to your own ideas. When youre recording, you need to be kind of ruthless and just say, sorry, this isnt working out, youre going to have to go.
Birds ruthlessness has paid off. Since striking out on his own, the idiosyncratic songwriter has whistled, fiddled, strummed and looped his way to the tops of critics year-end lists, most notably with 2005s Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs and 2007s Armchair Apocrypha. Despite his achievements, Bird hasnt grown comfortable with his songs. In fact, whether playing solo with an array of instruments and looping pedals or with his current quartet, Bird is known to willfully chop up his songs on the fly, often keeping few recognizable elements in place.
I dont like to just play the same 12 or 13 songs every day for two years, he says. Or if I do feel compelled to play those songs, Ill have to do my best to stay entertained, [which I do by] straying from the original. Its just a cycle that goes around with the songs. After awhile, suddenly playing the song like it is on the record is kind of novel and enjoyable, which has started happening with the Mysterious Production of Eggs now.
Birds willingness to experiment should come in handy when he comes to the Calgary Folk Music Festival. In addition to his mainstage performance, Bird will take part in two of the festivals more alluring workshops, which will see him collaborate with A Hack and a Hacksaw, the Master Musicians of Jajouka and more. Bird, however, isnt as keen on jamming as youd expect from a musician whos skilled in improvisation, though he is optimistic about his workshop appearances.
If I like what Im hearing, I like to participate and I want to get in there and play, but I dont often like forced situations, he notes. There were too many years in my early 20s of struggling as a musician, playing in jazz combos, Irish music, bluegrass and all that stuff. I would eventually get a sense of futility from all that jamming. The moments of real vitality had worn off, but people just kept playing anyway.
This one Im looking forward to, he says of the folk fest sets. I mean, how often do you get to play with the Master Musicians of Jajouka? Ive no idea what theyre expecting from the whole thing, but Im looking forward to this forced collaboration.
Folk fest audiences should look forward to Birds performance and collaborations, forced or not. At the very least, it will give them a chance to pin down Birds unique appeal.