Berlin based Irish musician Wallis Bird has a new album out and this time she’s happy to rock the boat taking on the injustices of the world. It’s all about love, respect and peace for her sixth album Woman. Her first single As the River Flows tells her heartbreak over Alan Kurdi the three year old Syrian refugee whose drowned body was photographed in 2015 on a Turkish beach while her second single Salve warns us about the effects of social media addiction.
Woman is an honest album from Bird giving the listener a sense of urgency about what is happening in today’s world. It’s a direct hit to the heart of us as human beings, “I want more empathy in the world around me,” Said Bird, “so I’ve started by writing it into my life. I want to fill rooms with these words. I want to hear these sentiments uttered out loud, and for people to get used to hearing themselves say them. Ultimately, I want these words written into their lives.”
Bird had a chat to the Hi-Fi Way about her new album and the meaning behind her lyrics as well as touring Australia next March.
I was listening to your new album Woman and I really like it.
Oh that’s cool! I appreciate that. I’m happy hearing that somebody’s actually hearing it for the first time because I can’t hear my music for the first time anymore, you know what I mean? It’s nice to hear a refreshing take on it to see where you’re at, to see what you can do better next time, you know.
You’re the artist so you should just do what you feel really. You shouldn’t make music to make us happy. You should just make the music and hopefully we are happy listening to it.
Well, a truer word has never been said. I think you need to say that to every artist out there. Every single one of them. That’s something that needs to be reminded. We’re supposed to be doing this for ourselves. That’s when the real stuff comes out.
How was writing and creating your new album different to your previous album?
My previous album was an absolute joy to write. I loved writing it. All I had to do was get up out of bed and write every single day. I loved the subject. I loved my partner and the record was about normalising a love between same-sex couples. So that was amazing so everyday at work was better. I felt like I had finally written the album of my fucking lifetime you know? Like I can sit back and rest on my laurels and I was going to take a break. I had all of these plans to just relax after that one but then it was like “ok so let’s start working on your next record.”
I was really not ready. I just emptied my well and I’d written the best record I’ve ever written and I don’t know how I’m going to follow up with this. So, I would sit down and I would just be a normal regular person every day. I became obsessed with what was going on in the news because as you can tell so much has changed in the last three years. We had Donald Trump come into power and just up end, up root politics and we had Brexit which is on the cusp of ruining Europe and many relations of many countries and the rise of far-right politics and racism. It’s been a very scary place in Europe and the last three years has been very, very worrisome.
So, I was paying attention to that and trying to do as much as I could in terms of informing myself and then you realise that you don’t know if the facts you’re receiving are informed or if they are fake. So basically, life has been uprooted and I’ve been taken out of that safe space of writing about love. I’ve been paying attention to the world around me and humanitarian rights and equality and I put pen to paper with that in mind. But I couldn’t. I didn’t even want to face it because its such dread I didn’t know where to fucking start.
There are various important themes for the songs on this album. Were all these issues the motivation to write these kinds of songs?
I would sit down every day and just write any piece of music on any instrument that I could find with my thought in me. No lyric just writing melodies all day and over the course of two years I began putting lyrics to the melodies. All the lyrics they were just bursting out of me or not at all and I had to sit down and kind of chip away of what I was wanting. But when the real lyrics came out such as As The River Flows or Grace that’s when I faced things I really didn’t want to talk about. I was kind of pointing the finger at the politicians and racists in particular and having conversations one on one with them in my lyrics. That’s something I’ve never faced before. Which I wasn’t entirely keen on because I don’t like vilifying people, but I realised towards the end of the last three years that if we don’t start holding ourselves to account then things can’t change and we can’t move on. You can’t change the course of what’s happening. We need to sit down and rectify conversations with ourselves and have the hard conversations.
Politically it’s not coming from a great place. I never wanted to be angry or be frightened but its sadly come to a point in my life where I actually have to stand up for people and have to speak out even in the smallest way possible. I have to be self-spoken rather. Now is the time you have to speak up!
I say speak up but the primary theme in this record is trying to listen and understand from our point of view that I can hold an informed opinion. So, by way of me getting to these lyrics I’ve had many conversations by getting out there and talking to people again and becoming informed by opinions that I’m not into and opinions that I would gladly listen to. There’s a lot of soul searching between my opinions and others for this record. It wasn’t easy conversations that I had to get to this point. I feel like I’ve come to the opinion that I want that I would feel comfortable talking about because I know that I can be told that I’m wrong and I’m ok with that.
The single As The River Flows has a sense of urgency about it. It’s a song about Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian refugee whose drowned body was photographed in 2015 on a Turkish beach. How did you write that song with it being such a heartbreaking situation?
Yeah oh God it’s heartbreaking. When the picture of that boy Alan Kurdi showed up that really made people kind of stop dead in their tracks and go “Jesus Christ that’s a child” I mean how can you feel bad about people taking this like…torturous journey, possibly drowning and knowing that all these people have lost their families or lost somebody in their family through fleeing war and fleeing torture. Just fleeing war. Anyone with a heart can understand that it’s gone too far when we’ve started calling refugees cockroaches or start using refugees as propaganda to keep your political power for example Brexit. That has been born from using refugees as a scape goat to feed nationalist pride and want just white people in the country basically.
Its trite, it’s disgusting. You can’t vilify humans like this. We’re talking about human people. We’re at a point now where we need to help each other. We need to pay attention to why these changes are happening in our world. That’s the point where I coming from. That’s the point where we have to open our mouths and fight racism and actively be active. Even if in a small way that I’m writing a song to say “lads I have no time for racism” and if you see it call it out and do it. That’s what this song about really.
How important is it to bring these kinds of issues to people’s attention through music?
I think it’s incredibly important. I think music is the mirror of the day. It’s the mirror of the ages. Art mirrors what’s going on in social circumstances. If the artists can’t express themselves or don’t express themselves, we’re in a very dangerous age. I also think that art has been dumbed down and, in a bid, to sell art we’ve had to keep our mouths fucking shut because you know activism doesn’t sell. Politics doesn’t sell because we needed to stick to a certain regime of what works and that’s very much wallpaper music. Not rocking the boat or not talking about social or political issues because nobody wants to hear that. They just want to go about their day, they have their 9 to 5 jobs and live their lives.
My music has always come from a point of positivity. My passionate agenda was to say “love each other, listen to each other and be there for each other.”
Salve is your latest single. What can you tell us about the song?
Salve is about going too far into social media and it started to take over my life and I began to get very dislocated from myself and everything I wanted to know, if someone asked me a question, I would go straight to my phone or I would be awake all night just swiping like a zombie or I would be awake all night reading about something that would stress me out that I couldn’t sleep you know? So basically, social media, the internet and news and being on my laptop being connected was slowly making me disconnect from myself. I was slowly overdosing so instead of reading a book and enjoying quite time I wanted to have my phone in my hand for example. I found that over time that this had become very dangerous for myself. It’s an addictive thing that I’m holding in my hands and I’ve had to ween myself off it so that’s what that song is about. It’s about saying “ok take small steps to stop doing the addictive thing.” Its primarily taking about detoxing.
Do you think it’s a double edge sword where you need Social Media to promote yourself as an artist but it can be very toxic as it can be enslaving as well?
Yeah, yeah. There’s that interesting thing that people say “people are never living their best life on the internet” which is very true because if your busy and you’re having a great time you tend to not take out your phone and make a video of that. You just live in the moment. Yes as an artist I absolutely have to be on the internet but I’ve decided not to be angry about that or feel like I couldn’t control it so I’ve looked at it in such a way as that any time I use the internet for my career I have to be happy about it. I have to show any side of it. I have to show the positive side or the not so positive side or I’m basically just showing them myself. I’m not trying to show an ego inflated version of myself. So, I enjoy doing it now and I use it correctly and I don’t overuse it. I just use it the right amount. Finding the happy medium. I’m not really interested in being an internet persona, I prefer it to be in real life so I try to incorporate that.
As a musician where you are right now, is this the most satisfied you’ve been?
Yeah. I feel like this probably could be the most satisfied I’m ever going to be. I always have to look at life right now and say “I’m lucky I have this life right now!” All I do all day is play music, all I have to do all day is play music and I travel the world and meet interesting people and chat to people. To have a nice chat with people like you and that’s my job! You know I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and this is about as good as I would hope it to get. I’m not extremely famous, thank God for that. I can walk out the door. I do get spotted but I don’t get annoyed. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be very, very famous. I’m able to make my own choices in my music, I have a nice apartment, I have a lovely girlfriend and I’m very lucky but I’ve worked really hard for it you know. Anything else that comes with it is just a bonus but I’m genuinely happy with what I have now because it could all go to dust you know.
Earlier this year you toured Australia for the third time. Australian audiences seem to like your music. Do you enjoy touring here and will you be touring here for this album in the near future?
Yeah, I’m coming back in March. I absolutely love touring Australia I have to say because it quite literally the other side of the world for me. The atmosphere is different, the people are different, their reaction is different and there’s some kind of a wildness to the Australian audience. There’s also a really down to earth kind of overall working class feeling to how people receive art. They receive it on a very basic level which is the non-pompous level.
Even the most highbrow art like say, MONA in Tasmania that is by far the best modern art museum I’ve ever been to and its based on human functionality. I found that even the most highbrow art in Australia is coming at from a basic angle of the necessity of it not the egotistical version of it and I fucking love that so I’m landing into a country where that’s how you receive art and like “ok let’s do this. We can go as high or low as we like.” It’s amazing.
You were here for the Adelaide Fringe weren’t you?
Yeah, I was over for Adelaide Fringe and I played in the Spiegeltent and the line up for that was unbelievable. It so varied and it pushed the envelope and it was crazy. I love the vibe in Adelaide. Everybody walks very slowly! It’s lovely.
Interview by Anastasia Lambis
Be sure to have a listen to Wallis Bird on Spotify