Interview: Bird

Bird lead singer Adele Emmas chats to Richard Lewis

Posted on Aug 9th, 2012 in Features and Interviews, Bird
Interview: Bird Following the release of acclaimed debut EP Phantoms, a brilliantly realised collection of haunting, atmospheric folk tracks and a well-received set at Sound City in May, Liverpool band Bird momentarily vanished.

Re-emerging armed with magnificent new EP Shadows, the disc sees the band moving away from the intricate acoustic instrumentation of their debut and forging a sparser, looser sound reminiscent at times of Mazzy Star and Low.

Despite the changes the band have been through, certain elements remain constant however, namely lead singer Adele Emmas’ imagistic, otherworldly songs led by her startling voice, which takes centre stage in all their material.

Formerly a quintet, the group are now a trio comprising Adele, drummer Alexis and multi-instrumentalist Sian. With all of their material possessing a dark edge, Bird’s output could almost be described as gothic, in the older, literary sense of the term, rather than the musical.

Encompassing the motherlode of Victorian gothic literature, Charlotte, Emily, Jane along with The Innocents and the dark Americana of The Night of the Hunter, Bird’s crepuscular songs present an alternate vision of dream pop.

‘I’m probably quite a goth at heart’ Adele laughs, sat in a Liverpool City Centre cafe. ‘I don’t dress like a goth but I do love the darker side to things. I went to Yorkshire on my birthday because I’m a big fan of the Bronte sisters and went to the Bronte’s house. It was amazing, just walking on the moors.’

The time spent in the South Pennines appears to have imbued Adele’s songs as Shadows’ opening track ‘Intro (Willow Waly)’ crackling into life like an ancient 78 record of nursery rhymes retrieved from an attic, followed by the bucolic ‘I Am the Mountain’ both demonstrate an author-like skill at creating an atmosphere.

‘Shadows’, the EP title track comprising of a slowly unwinding acoustic guitar arpeggio and tribal drums, led by Adele’s sky-scraping voice is stunning in its simplicity. The similarly excellent ‘Monsters’ achieves the same elegant directness, largely consisting of a nylon strung guitar figure backlit with reverb and swirling white noise, with Adele and Sian’s harmony vocals well to the fore.

‘All my music’s ever needed is for the vocals to come through really strongly, so you can hear the lyrics and have carefully selected instrumentation where it’s needed’ Adele says. With Adele and Sian presently alternating between electric, acoustic and bass guitars between them onstage, the pair’s seamless harmony vocals work almost as an instrument in themselves. ‘I find it difficult to pick out harmonies sometimes but Sian finds it really easy’ the singer adds.

In keeping with the band’s strongly imagistic lyrics, the songwriter’s recent listening material includes a wealth of soundtracks. Naming The Fountain by former Pop Will Eat Itself turned film composer Clint Mansell, Nick Cave’s work on Wings of Desire and The Proposition, modern classical composer John Tavener is also cited as an influence. ‘He’s got a piece called ‘Funeral Canticle’ and I was listening to it like ‘This is amazing!’ How morbid is that?’ Adele laughs.

On the subject of matching images and music, the band’s videos aside from live performance clips are painstakingly constructed from hours of scenes sourced from vintage horror and mystery films. Check out the teaser trailer to the new EP here.

‘I really like making my own videos’ Adele says. ‘I downloaded an old uncopyrighted film, picked out the best bits and put them together. It took days to do, trailing through scenes and editing.’ The visuals coupled with the band’s lyrics hark back to a very British strain of mystery and suspense, glimpsed in films like Don’t Look Now and The Company of Wolves.

Horror of a non-cinematic kind via unwanted exposure to commercial radio meanwhile spurred Adele’s songwriting on. ‘At a shop I used to work in I was forced to listen to the radio and it would be standard daytime stuff and my brain would just be fried’ she says shaking her head. ‘I’m being really prolific at the moment, I’m feeling quite inspired.’

‘A lot of the EP I wrote subconsciously without even realising what it was about. It was only when I could physically listen to it from CD I’ve gone, ‘Ah, OK.’ I always thought I wrote about other people, or being in other people’s shoes. When I wrote the EP to be honest I was going through a bit of a dark period in my life. When I listened back to it and heard my lyrics I actually understood what I meant’ Adele says.

‘It’s silly really because I wrote them, but looking back, I know why I’ve written that now. It was a realisation after I’d written the EP, that this is my creative outlet, this is how I get feelings out’ the singer explains.

Utilising a bricolage approach, the majority of the song lyrics are pieced together from several sources. ‘I’ve got a box full of scrapbooks that over the years I’ve filled up’ Adele explains. ‘I probably go through a notebook every month or two and it gets full of random words, phrases I might hear, things from poetry and film, then I pick up my guitar and start playing a melody and take it from there. I pick out words and see how they mesh together’

‘Sometimes it can be quite random, sometimes quite thought out. Sometimes they don’t even have to make sense, as long as they resonate, the feeling and the imagery comes across.’

As the songs showcase Adele’s voice to dazzling effect, lyrics are hugely important to the singer. ‘The things that are most important to me are the lyrics, creating the imagery and the vocals’ Adele nods. ‘I always want to do that with every song that I write, to take the listener to somewhere in their mind, away from their current reality. That’s one thing I can say I’m proud of, my lyrics. I don’t look back and think ‘That’s corny’. I can spend a whole week, two weeks on one line, it has to be right. If it’s not I won’t put it out, I’m a bit of a perfectionist like that.’

In keeping with the assemblage of footage to create videos, the EP concludes with ‘Outro’, a resume of the tracks on the disc assembled by Sian. Spliced together with other snippets of music, the fragmentary piece adds another ethereal layer to the band’s music. ‘I like the fact it’s not pristine and it’s not been mixed to perfection’ Adele says of the track. ‘You can hear the ‘record’ being pressed. I like hearing little imperfections in music, it makes it more real.’

Beyond the release of Shadows and a clutch of local live dates and radio sessions the band hit the road proper in Autumn. ‘We’re booking a tour for September and October. I’m so bad onstage with stage fright’ Adele says of playing live, not that her performances betray any trace of nervousness. ‘I’m trying to do a lot of open mikes, things to build confidence, especially with laying low for a bit.’

Such measures seem expedient, as following the release of the EP, scores of new converts will surely want to see the creators of such beguiling music live.

Bird play at Leaf Café, Liverpool with Damien Jurado & Megafaun on 18th August

Shadows EP is released through Jack to Phono Records on 27th August

EP launch gig at The Kazimier, Liverpool on 21st September with The Sand Band