Andrew Bird Turns Low-Pressure Barn Recording Into New Album 'Break It Yourself'
For his entire career, Andrew Bird has been an enigma -- a round piece unable to fit into any square genre, his music a gentle swirl of folk, pop and even classical, all of it sounding unlike most everything else.
And that's why he's succeeded, says Thaddeus Rudd, GM of Bird's label, Mom + Pop. Bird's ninth album, "Break It Yourself," due March 6, is primed to open more doors for him. "Wilco, the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket -- these are artists that occupy a place where no one sounds like them and they have fully formed identities. It didn't happen overnight or on the first or second record," Rudd says. "And Andrew completely fits that bill."
Chicago-born Bird was releasing music for nearly a decade before his first breakthrough, 2003's "Weather Systems," kicked off his incremental climb up the indie rock ladder. In 2008, a homecoming show drew 13,000 fans to Chicago's Millennium Park. After a dip into soundtrack work last year for "The Muppets" and "Norman," "Break It Yourself" marks the longest between-album gap of Bird's career.
Listen: Lead single "Eyeoneye"
Mom + Pop is working to supply Bird's fan base -- which has grown in terms of album sales with each new release -- with a vast selection of extras, including a behind-the-scenes DVD, a stationery and stamp set, and a reproduction of the album's 1915 cover shot. TV and radio spots include "NPR Weekend Edition" (March 11), "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (March 27) and an upcoming appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
It's a lot of fanfare for the famously soft-spoken and articulate singer/violinist. The album, after all, was just a casual recording session in his West Illinois barn that happened to go exceedingly well.
"It was about as low pressure a recording situation as I've ever experienced," Bird says of the August 2011 sessions. "It was the band in the barn, just playing live to an 8-track tape. That's exactly what you hear. There are no studio checks, no overdubbing. The album is the sound of the room."
With Bird writing, arranging and producing the record, the setting helped smooth away any remaining stress: "There's something about the barn in the summertime, the peacefulness," he says. "We were never playing and thinking, 'This is the version going down for the ages.'"
As a result, "Break It Yourself" breathes freely, allowing for a beautiful acoustic and organic sound. Bird's violin flutters wildly through songs like "Desperation Breeds" and sounds almost cutting on first single "Eyeoneye." His signature whistle meanders throughout the album. The polyrhythmic "Orpheo Looks Back" is a bustling violin workout that could spark a gypsy dance party. The 14 tracks are spacious and ethereal while maintaining the warmth that Bird's perfected over nine albums.
"A lot of bands lose the juice recording in the studio, one layer at a time, where every measure is accounted for," Bird says. "Here, each song leans from left to the right, the tempos fluctuate. It's an appealing sound. Symmetry is generally kind of ugly in nature."
The live recording matched Bird's naturalist approach to songwriting -- instead of pumping out songs, he lets them accumulate, with "the best ideas, the absurd ones, coming when you're relaxed, like doing the dishes."
"It's like there's a river of ideas every day flowing past you," Bird says. "You can't worry about losing them. But you'll get one that's really strong -it's a rock in the middle of this river. Over the years, other ideas get stuck on that rock and they build up into a dam. And that's your song."