Photo by Jens Oellermann
After three successful albums written and produced at home in Ireland, Bird decided to seek influence from elsewhere, writing and recording Architect in its entirety after making a “lifestyle change” and relocating to Berlin.
Jenny Ní Ruiséíl probed deeper to discover what factors influenced the change and ultimately the inspiration for the album.
Jenny Ní Ruiséil: What prompted you to move to Berlin?
Wallis Bird: I was getting sick of this migrating, up-in-the-air lifestyle...living out of a suitcase for a couple of years and not really having a proper home.
JNR: This is the kind of insight I’m guessing would influence the lives of many travelling musicians in Europe. I know Berlin was a large influence, but did you take much other inspiration for the album from your experiences travelling around?
WB: Absolutely. I eventually went to Vermont and visited a friend of mine who was after building his house from scratch. He had kids born in the corner of the house and I looked at that and thought just how beautiful that was and I thought I needed that kind of solidarity and security in my life. We were listening to this musician called Sun Ra who’s got a record called Archistra, and everything just started to click in with me. The “Arch” idea, you know, how the simplest form of a house is a pyramid, and it needs three points of the ground and two points that connect in the middle, and it just made a lot of sense in my life at the time. Then this symbol of the pyramid came in, and I found out that’s the symbol for change, and all of these things just started to play in to it and made me go “okay, change of life”; you need to get your life together; you need some shelter and you need some change.
JNR: Given the graduate/college student audience of the readers on campus.ie, I feel this theme may resonate with many of them in their desire to travel and broaden their minds. Would you agree?
WB: Yes.The good thing about travel now is that you can do it, there are so many possibilities out there, and especially when it comes to recording, recording anywhere – it’s all very mobile now. All you need is a phone – there’s a track on the record that I recorded the vocals for on my phone. Life is very immediate nowadays, it’s very accessible, and people are used to hearing that kind of quality.
JNR: Tell us about the influence from Berlin.
WB: I wouldn’t have written the album if I wasn’t in Berlin. It would’ve been something different. I’ve no idea what it would have been, but it would have been completely different.
JNR: It is very different from your earlier stuff, isn’t it?
WB: It’s a bit different, yes. There are some tracks that are a kind of a nod towards my previous records, but it’s just about trying new things, and moving on. Showing a bit of a progression.
JNR: Will the change in sound affect the live shows, do you think?
WB: No, I don’t think so. I mean, we pretty much always just go out there and spend all our energy in one night; it’s an explosive kind of gig! Regarding the recording itself, it’s cool because when you’re recording everything is kind of open to manipulation. So that’s the cool thing about recording a record in that you can spend the time f**king with the sound afterwards. But there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do in studio that I’m not able to do live, see that’s always the thing, everything always has to be able to translate into live performance, otherwise you’re just kind of separating yourself from the record.
JNR: What would your favourite track be on the new album, and why?
WB: I’m kind of flitting between it now because I’m still getting used to it, to be honest;it was such a quick turnover. It was such a subconscious turnover as well. I kind of had to take a step back from it and listen again and be like “Oh, okay, I see”. So right now, I think my favourite track on it would be a track called ‘Gloria’. It’s just a mental, teenage dance tune. It’s really frantic and I think it’s the track I spent the most time on, so there’s such a labour of love there, and there’s a bit of a sense of change in there too? Because I would be up all night and all day and all night again, and it was just such a pleasure to open up the track (when recording), but to hear it…to hear it once is fine, twice is a bit much, because it’s so f**king mental, but for me- I was listening to it 16 to 18 hours a day just being like, okay, tripping out on it and listening to all the patterns that I could. So I guess it’s just interesting that to work on it was such a joy, and then once it’s finished, to listen to it was like ‘Oh Jesus, once is enough!’ Once I finished it, I was like okay cool, now I’ll take a listen to it and was like “Oh God!”…So there’s something quite interesting about that I think!
JNR: What kind of writing process do you have? Would you think “I’m going to write something now” or would something just come? (Or both?)
WB: Yes, there’s elements of that, there are different processes. Since the second last record, I thought right, If it doesn’t come to me I have to kind of just sit down and just write, write any old sh*t until something good comes. Like, literally just write. Do something, rather than nothing. Flush a load of sh*te out of you until you feel like you’re actually getting somewhere.
JNR: Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with at all?
WB: Yeah. There’s a musician that’s doing her best work really right now, her name’s St Vincent, she’s from Dallas, Texas, based in Brooklyn. She’s very experimental, very, very intelligent avant-garde, modern pop. She’s just setting the standard for what pop music really is, in my eyes anyway. She’s mainstream but she’s still underground but she’s an extremely talented, very intelligent, clever, and simplistic kind of writer. She’s going to change a lot.
JNR: Other than Berlin is there anywhere you’ve been that has influenced you and your music?
WB: I spent most of Christmas in Greece a couple of years ago, in Athens, and at Christmas time, so there was little or no tourism, and people were kind of in hiding because the weather was a bit cooler, so we had free run of the streets nearly and we really felt the history of the town. Every step is thousands and thousands of years of philosophy and history, and thinking and modern culture and back to thousands of years ago before civilization knew what it was. So, that was highly highly influential, when you get to consider what we’ve come from as humans, and what we’ve done.
JNR: Would you consider going abroad again to record?
WB: I definitely would. There’s so much to learn from the cultures of different places and the languages!
JNR: Yes, you did a song as Gaeilge for the Ceol CD a few years ago – how did that come about? Would you do it again?
WB: Oh absolutely. I know one of the women that was organising it, and she just asked me would I do a track and I thought of course! I grew up listening to sean nós and going to trad sessions, so that has also been a huge influence on my music. The language itself is beautiful, it almost sounds Balkan, or Polish…it’s a whole other side of the culture that I don’t think you see too often? Such a shame that it’s not more wide spoken… but I think it’s kind of becoming cool again because individualism has become cool.
JNR: Would you like to go the US? The upcoming tour is all venues around Europe, but is it something you would consider?
WB: I travel over as much as I can, it’s just a matter of…there’s so many places I want to play in Europe and then there’s places that keep asking you back and it’s hard to say no! So I suppose I should really stop playing in Europe but I don’t know, I just really enjoy it, at the moment - I’m just really enjoying it!’Wallis Bird’s fourth studio album Architect is released tomorrow, April 11. You can catch her live in the Academy on Abbey Street on the April 25. Tickets available from ticketmaster.ie.