Andrew Bird on "My Finest Work Yet" An Act of Optimism | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Andrew Bird on “My Finest Work Yet”

An Act of Optimism

Apr 03, 2019
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"All of this is an act of optimism."

At the tail end of a long conversation about his music, Andrew Bird offers up the ideal summation of his artistic approach. The work is always and forever wrapped in optimism. If at some point the optimism is not present, it's likely that the music will cease to exist as well.

Bird's optimism is what drives him, a hope that a song like his latest album's lead single "Bloodless" will meaningfully connect in very real, very personal ways with an audience well beyond his most loyal listeners. These are divisive times, but true art has the power to mend us back together. Optimism.

"The thing that gets me up to write a song in the morning is this idealistic notion that maybe I could get America to sing the same tune, that you can unite a community through a song," says Bird.

Bird's newest release, My Finest Work Yet, lives up to its audacious name, a master songsmith's response to the perils of not only the Trump administration but the predictable swing of a cultural pendulum that only emboldens the current cultural stances. It's a siren song to and for our better selves and a musical reminder of the bigger picture lost in our warring factions. 

"[My Finest Work Yet] was written between the 2016 election and then the rest was written right after [the Unite the Right rally in] Charlottesville, so it's very much responding to current events. But I want to do that in a way that's going to get past the choir. I don't know if I can change minds, but at least I can hopefully get people talking about it in a different way."

There's the optimism, a belief in the listener to take in Bird's historical and mythological melodies. Perhaps other artists fail to pursue their craft with the same excellence as Bird because they lack his hopefulness for the exchange between artist and audience.

"We're just not speaking the same language, but I have faith in the intelligence of most of the populace, more than a lot of people do. I think people are smarter than we give them credit for. I think they can handle these ideas in song form," he says.

Bird works hard at his craft and demands nothing of himself that he would not from others. While he laments the state of current pop songwriting to a large degree, he's willing to criticize by creating. "It boggles my mind why we don't expect more from our songwriters. Some people who otherwise appreciate good writing and filmmaking are fine with total drivel in a pop song."

The recording process for Finest was captured in full band live takes, but Bird says his team worked for half a week before a single note was played, making sure the sound captured would be well-suited for the specific sonic vision he was chasing.

"From a production point of view and a musical point of view, I was really obsessed with trying to get this jazz room sound, this sort of early '60s jazz to gospel thing that was going on back then. I think it's so extraordinary. That was my reference point.

"When you go in to make a record, it's not a retro thing, but you need to have some things you're fetishizing or focusing on. Otherwise, you'll lose your map. So that's something I've always loved, the recordings from that period, so I wanted to get that. It involved capturing this ensemble, this living, breathing performance in a room together. That takes a lot more work on the front end. It's not just setting up some microphones and letting it rip. So when I heard 'Bloodless' come back after we recorded it, I was like, 'We've got it!'"

The beauty of songwriting, according to Bird, is that it creates a portal into places that other mediums have a more difficult time reaching, "No one says, 'This painting or film got me through cancer.' But they do say, 'This song got me through a really rough time,'" he says.

"I still feel like writing a pop song is just incredibly challenging but there's also a freedom to do whatever you want in those four minutes. Just keep my attention, you know? Don't lose it. It's a total playground for ideas. You're off the hook from being expected to make total sense like a storyteller, filmmaker, or novelist."

Don't be mistaken. My Finest Work Yet is not a preacher banging his musical pulpit. Instead, Bird stands in the uncomfortable tension, asking important questions of us all, himself included. It's territory he's inhabited before, even on his last studio album, 2016's Are You Serious, but never to this degree.

"With all of the talking heads out there and the 24-hour newsfeed, we're still not talking about the truly bigger picture or ideas that we're dealing with," says Bird. "I felt that with my songwriting for years. It's like, 'Here's some stuff that we're not really talking about as a people.' Maybe in the past it was driven by curiosity and borders on esoteric sometimes, but in this case, this is what's happening as we focused that tendency towards what the hell is going on.

"I've always found music is a great medium to raise some interesting questions but there's not always enough time to create a beginning, middle, and end narrative," he continues. "I think it's, 'Well, here's some stuff we're not talking about as a people, so let's talk about it.' But something happened with this album. I'm not just kind of musing in my head based on a particular subject. There's a real desire to project something outward; it's as close as I'll get to a message."

www.andrewbird.net

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