A few weeks before this interview, on the day of her editorial shoot with the talented ARCADIA team, Birdy’s grandfather, sadly passed away. Ever the professional, Birdy turned up without a fuss and got the job done. Perhaps this is the work ethic of someone who has been in the industry for over 13 years – you learn that the show must go on.
Like most interviews nowadays, this one was also conducted over Zoom. Birdy appeared after a few moments, fresh faced in front of a rustic floral tapestry above the bed in her childhood bedroom. Her long wavy brown hair loosely tied up, with a couple of tendrils tucked back behind her ear. She smiled at me warmly and asked me how I was in her serene, soft spoken voice and we began our discussion of Birdy’s evolution from child star born from acoustic covers to adult artist, cementing her right as one of this generation’s greatest songwriters.
While everyone else would have been settling into their secondary schools at 12-years-old, Birdy entered a talent competition and won both the under-18s and the Grand Prize, beating out over 10,000 competitors with a performance in front of 2,000 people, a number that, without a doubt, would have had me frozen on the spot.
Birdy giggled and said, “I know what you mean, it’s weird… It’s only now when I look back, I think, ‘How did I do that at 12-years-old?’ As you get older, you start overthinking and things get harder than they should be but you also don’t really know what you’re going into when you’re that young. You don’t really know what to expect, you just get on with it. It’s still strange to me when I think back to it.”
She continued, “I was definitely really nervous, I do get stage fright but once I’m up there, I really love it and I remember that feeling – it was probably the first time that I had felt that. Doing that competition and having such a big audience and just having that rush that you get from performing live and realising that I really enjoyed it and really want to do more of it.”
Birdy continued to make her mark. At 15, her debut album went to Number 1 in Australia, Belgium and Netherlands, with her leading cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ that propelled her into the charts as the UK’s third best-selling rock single in 2011. I was amazed to see the girl looking back at me had managed to remain humble and down to earth.
She recalled, “It was a similar thing. Everything was happening so fast or for the first time, it was very surreal and a bit of a whirlwind – going from one thing to the next. I didn’t really have time to take it in or even realise what was happening. It feels like a dream, I don’t remember a lot of the places I went to because it was all so packed into this one time. I was still at school so it was strange but exciting for all and everyone I was at school with. We kind of felt like we were going through it together.”
Despite her huge success, Birdy has still managed to remain under the radar. Birdy herself is understated – at a glance, you could miss the vocal powerhouse, it’s not until you look closer that you’d notice the striking features of Jasmine van den Bogaerde. Her music is similar, you won’t hear Birdy in clubs, instead you’ll find yourself clinging on to her powerful lyrics during the witching hour.
It is this exact reason that Birdy hadn’t quite captured my attention until her third album, ‘Beautiful Lies’, a melodramatic and ethereal record and a classic in my books. Birdy wrote Beautiful Lies at just 18-years-old with more authority than her previous albums.
She stated, “That was the first album where I knew how I wanted it to be and could take control. It’s hard when you’re really young and you don’t know exactly what your sound is or vision should be – you’re still sort of finding yourself. I had an overall idea of how it should feel and look and that was really exciting to bring that together. It was very influenced by Japanese culture and so some of the melodies have a sort of Asian feel to them which I really loved but it’s very different from the new record. It’s much more dramatic and ethereal but I quite like that they’re different in that way.”
Her latest record, Young Heart, had been five years in the making, with Birdy finally taking some well deserved time for herself.
Reminiscing, she said, “I finished touring in 2017 and started to write for the next album but I just didn’t feel like it. I’d gone through a breakup and it was all a bit too raw at that time to write about. I just felt like I needed some space so I went away to India for three months with my sister and a friend, which was amazing – I was able to stop thinking about trying to write. I was driving myself mad, just trying to come up with stuff. I also absorbed a lot of the feeling and scenery there. I feel like you can feel a little bit of that on the album.
“After that it was just finding the right people to work with that understood the project. I went to LA for a bit – a lot of the stuff that I was writing had that Laurel Canyon feel and then ended up in Nashville where I met Ian and Daniel who are amazing and produced the record.”
She added, “The writing was quite difficult for this record. Just emotionally, I found it quite a struggle and I’d not felt that before in other records. I think that’s also why it took such a long time. It was being ready to write the songs.”
Young Heart is an ode to Birdy’s spiritual side which is evident in a few of the song titles such as ‘Celestial Dancers’, ‘New Moon’ and ‘The Witching Hour’.
Birdy revealed, “A lot of the album is kind of about fate and if you’re in the right place at the right time and where you need to be. I’ve always felt quite spiritual, even since I was very little, and especially when I’m writing and playing music, when you get lost whilst you’re playing, it’s that kind of feeling – being connected to something.
She continued, “Growing up in nature and being in tune with nature. I find it quite hard to be in the city for too long, I feel quite suffocated and I need to come back to nature.”
In comparison to ‘Beautiful Lies’, ‘Young Heart’ shows the evolution of Birdy’s artistry, becoming bold enough to strip everything back to bare her soul.
Birdy affirmed, “It’s a bit more folky, the new record, ‘Beautiful Lies’ was more in your face, theatrical. I wanted ‘Young Heart’ to feel like when I’m by myself and I play at home, it’s actually very quiet and quite fragile and I wanted to capture that feeling, when no one is listening.”
The album captures the delicate fragility and aftermath of a relationship, with songs like ‘Little Blue’ a particular favourite of Birdy’s. She revealed, “It’s about grief or heartbreak, more heartbreak but it can feel like grief and sometimes it’s quite comforting, I think, to hold on to that feeling because it reminds you of what you’ve lost. Once you’re over feeling sad, you’re kind of letting go of that person and sometimes we cling on to those feelings a little bit longer than we should”
For the creative process, Birdy came full circle with her writing. She stated, “I felt like I was going back to the very beginning on how I first wrote when I was like seven or eight. I just wanted to tune into that way of thinking and writing where I’m not overthinking. I didn’t want there to be a formula to the writing and think ‘is this good or is this bad?’ It was quite hard to go back to that state and to shut off your brain.”
With the uncertainty of the world at the moment, Birdy has only one show confirmed for this year. She revealed, “I’m doing a show in November in London which is exciting. I think it’ll probably be next year when I’m properly touring. It’s just so hard to know if things are going to go ahead right now. But I’m so desperate to start playing and play the new stuff – I just really want to be out there as soon as possible.”
The energy at a live show is like no other and was one of the many industries that were put on pause during the pandemic. There is nothing like singing one of your favourite songs along with the artist and I can only imagine what it must feel like on the other side.
Birdy beamed excitedly, “That is one of the best feelings ever – it’s amazing! I hate that we have to use ‘in-ears’ when we’re on stage and it’s so annoying when you can’t hear it – you don’t really get the same feedback. I always pull them out so I can hear because that feeling is so amazing, hearing it in the room.”
She added, “I think that’s why I’m so desperate to be playing this album live because it is the most personal and most raw for me and so to hear people knowing the lyrics and singing them back would just be… I think it would feel quite different. I think it would be even more special with this record.”
I will see you all at Kentish Town in November, smiling ear-to-ear and singing my heart out.
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