In March, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird released his 15th studio album, aptly titled My Finest Work Yet.
He’s known for his virtuoso violin playing and whistling, echoed through a loop machine until it sounds like the sonic version of an infinity mirror. But Bird simplified things on this album: Each song can be played acoustically on a guitar, “like a traditional troubadour.”
The Weekly caught up with Bird to discuss his festival intentions, how perfect isn’t perfect and more.
What can we expect from you at Emerge?[I’ll be] performing solo, so that involves a bit of a high-wire act. Given that the theme is “brave,” I might take that to more extremes.
What does “brave” mean for Andrew Bird? [The] balance between mastering your craft and taking risks. To me, when I’m onstage, if I’m not risking anything, then I kind of think, “What’s the point?” A big part of the appeal of performing to me is the chance that I could completely embarrass myself. But I can play that game because I know what I’m doing. I know my instrument. But it’s kind of fun when things do go wrong to have to figure out a way out of it. In a sense, I’m saying to my old teachers: “Look, I’m failing, and it’s beautiful.”
You’ve so mastered your craft, it must be hard to fail. How do you even find that risk?It’s not hard to fail. There’s so many things you’re dealing with, like your mental state at that time you’re onstage. It’s different all the time … so I try to write songs that have this elasticity. But, yeah, when a show goes perfectly according to plan, I’m kind of disappointed.
A lot of times, what I’ll do in a set is each song will become increasingly more technically absurd and harder to do with the looping and several plates being spun at once. Then, if I get through that, I’m like, “Well, let’s unplug everything. Maybe the real risky thing is to just play guitar and sing my lyrics and not have any of that impressive technical stuff to fall back on. That’s the real risk.” That’s the way I tend to structure my sets, to get to this absurdly tricky stuff and then unplug everything and play acoustically. Whether I can create an arc with that in 30 minutes, I’m not sure. But we’ll see.
Your new album is called My Finest Work Yet. Is it indeed your finest work yet? Absolutely. I can’t say I’ve not had that feeling before on other records. That’s sort of the joke. But there was a sense of urgency with this material I haven’t felt before—a need to communicate, hopefully, something that could succeed in getting beyond the choir.
What brought on that sense of urgency? I think being alive in these times. After the 2016 election, there was a panic in the streets, and people were saying, “Why aren’t you doing something? You have a voice.” It took six months to figure out what language to use. Once I figured out how to write that line between poetry and directness, it then came quickly. That’s when the urgency started to pick up.
Andrew Bird Brave showcase, June 1, 6:30 p.m.
EMERGE May 31 & June 1, times vary, $199/weekend, $130/day, $25-$55/show. Hard Rock Hotel, emergelv.com.