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Q&A: Andrew Bird offers thoughts behind new album

Andrew Bird performing at Coachella in 2007. Photo by Paul Familetti, used under the Creative Commons License.
Andrew Bird performs in 2007. Photo used under the Creative Commons License.

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Everly Jazi.

Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird released his latest album, “Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…,” on Tuesday.

The tracks are all covers of Handsome Family’s alternative-country songs. Before he performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 8 and 9, Bird chatted about making the album, his musical inspirations and what fans can expect from him in the future. This interview was edited for length.

Hatchet: What inspired you to record a collection of cover songs?

Bird: Well, I have been doing their songs for the last 15 years. And then it’s kind of a part of my own writing process and my own performing. I feel like I inhabit their songs as much as I do my own, and so it was just a matter of time before I made a whole record. I really like taking their songs and reimagining them. Sometimes from scratch, or take from the lyrics and working with those. I just think they’re so good, and I kind of want to show everybody what really great writing does.

Hatchet: How do you put a spin on the songs? Do you rewrite the instrumentals and everything?

Bird: Yeah, I may start off doing it the way they do it then over time it just warps into something else. I pretty much write them the way I write my own songs, just coming from somewhere else. To be honest, it’s the same process that I use in my own but there’s a freedom of it not being really mine, coming from my brain. So it’s not all coming out of you out of thin air. At the time it becomes something we call a song, it can come with a lot of baggage, and it’s nice, it’s liberating to not have that.

Hatchet: Why is it important for you to change old songs? 

Bird: Well, it helps you to feel not too precious about something you’ve created, which is never good in my experience for anything that’s supposed to live. Songs are so malleable, but what’s the line between when it doesn’t exist and then suddenly exists? It’s just waving a wand and saying, “Now it’s a song.” Before it was just a collection of thoughts and ideas, or hardly anything at all. So that kind of shaking ground that the song’s already on, I like to embrace that. I don’t feel imprisoned. That’s dramatic, but I don’t feel beholden to them. It’s a constant struggle to remind yourself.

Hatchet: On tour, will you play songs both from the new album and “Break It Yourself,” which was released in 2012?

Bird: I’ll be doing a lot from “Things Are Really Great Here” and then a whole range from almost all my records that lend themselves to this lineup, which is more intrinsic and more, what we describe as “old-timey” sounding, which I don’t know if that’s totally accurate. But it’s less of electric, rock-n-roll band and more of a old-timey or bluegrass set up. So I’ve taken old songs of mine and in a sense covered them and changed them the same way I do the Handsome Family songs.

Hatchet: What attracts you to the old-timey sounds and images? 

Bird: You know, I started off with Bowl of Fire doing the same kind of thing, but it was different back then. It was driven more by nostalgia like, “I love this old music, so I want to make music like that.” Now it’s not so much that. I’m doing it because it brings something out in me that I like, and it just ends up being old-timey sounding perhaps because I’m just unplugging from all the looping stuff that I got into. And that’s the music I’ve always come back to for inspiration: old country blues stuff, gospel stuff, old American music.

Hatchet: Are you coming out with a new album after this collection?

Bird: It’ll be a while before I come out with another collection of my own songs. It’s going to be a pretty long haul to get that one out. But in the meantime I’ve been putting something out every 10 months or so. I do these projects in between to teach myself how to make the new record. Usually, I learn by reacting to what I just did. It’ll satisfy all the itches I have that don’t get satisfied with it.

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