Wallis Bird on her new album Woman and imminent Irish shows
Co Wexford singer songwriter Wallis Bird released her sixth album Woman earlier this year to critical acclaim. David Roy quizzed the Berlin-based musician about the politically aware Zeitgeist-grabbing record and her ongoing New Moon Tour, which arrives in Ireland this weekend
CONGRATULATIONS on the success of Woman. What’s it been like touring these new songs over the past few weeks?
Thanks a million! Yes, it's been really fulfilling. The album is only a few weeks old and people were singing every word back, that was really powerful. The songs are intended for hope and positivity, so to hear people push them out of their body with all their might was life affirming for me.
Are you looking forward to your Irish tour and playing in Belfast again?
Oh yeah! There's so much I'm looking forward to. I heard so many great reports from fellow musicians about The Duncairn, so I'm curious to finally be there and play to the acoustic, see where we can make it sing.
I love Belfast audiences, there's always a real strong celebratory spirit, up out the seat dancing and singing – god, I've had some cracking gigs in Belfast!
How are you enjoying performing without a band on this tour? Is it more challenging to create the sound you want?
I'm loving every minute of it, though I knew I would. I've put a lot of time and effort into the show to make it as full and as interesting and as challenging as possible for myself so that I could move to the next level as a performer, and the work is all coming back for me – so I feel very strong at the moment.
Because I played about 70 per cent of the instruments on the record, I simply bring out as much of those instruments as possible; the beat, the bass, the harmonic spine, space, improvisation, fun – all the things that give the listener enough to take in and hopefully not miss anything... but it's not all myself. I have two sound engineers on board, one for effects, one for the overall sound, and these two people act as an additional band member so to speak.
It's a big sound – there's nothing really 'singer songwritery' about the show.
Is it fair to say that Woman marks the beginning of a new chapter for your songwriting?
Absolutely. It feels too selfish and too lazy now to simply sing about my love-life anymore. I've already done my job of normalising my love, that job is done, now I'm free and what is important is everything else, human rights.
I wrote this album as a Zeitgeist for 2019 to say "this is where we are, we must progress in equitable ways for everyone." I recognise that modern art is craving this, it is our duty now to protect, project and reflect society across all genres of art. Truth and reflection are the key now.
Now that the album has been out for just over a month, have listeners been engaging with/responding to you in terms of the some of the themes and issues in the songs?
Yes, particularly for a song like As the River Flows – I see a need for 'revolution' songs. Even though this album is more quietly defiant or revolutionary, mostly songs of hope as I've mentioned, the reaction of the audience to that song was like a cage unlocking, absolutely unprecedented.
How much of a learning curve has the recording process been for you across your six albums?
Lovely question! Since the beginning I've been lucky enough to record with Marcus Wüst. Over the years he has been an incredible Mentor. Since Architect (my third record), I've taken a bigger roll in engineering, and over the last two years I've simply built up a recording studio in my home and a proficiency through his guidance to a point where I produce the records in private until the last 30 per cent.
That's when Marcus really brings everything together – it's a kind of magic what he brings. My process now is to record as I'm writing. I find the best ideas are often the earliest utterance.
You’ve been teaching songwriting recently – what’s the most important advice you give to your students, and do you get anything out of the experience yourself in terms of inspiration?
Wow, you've really done your homework! I adore the classes. They have given me so much to live for. The immediacy of the inspiration and seeing how deep a connection we can feel by expressing our art is absolutely incredible to me. I act as a mediator and draw the student to express themselves in a safe space in a way which surprises them.
I'm a very strict teacher, as in there is no time to be wasted: Not on lyrics, not on expression, not on being lazy or scared. If you have made it to my class, you are looking to dive ever more into your craft and I'm going to fill you with ways to do that.
There is a 'click' that happens where pure inspirational light will come across their eyes – they are aching to advance and I'm aching to help in any way. Because of this, we are both learning.
Who are your musical idols and have you ever met/worked with any of them?
Ani Difranco was a life changer for me and for countless others. She's a prophetic writer with over 20 albums at only 49-years-old. She was eloquently outspoken about human rights – in particular queer rights – when it wasn't 'cool'. She walks the talk.
Ani has a punk attitude and set up her own label and publishing and venue, rejecting every label offer along the way. She did it as an alternative, defiant way and has had an extremely successful and game-changing effect. Her humanitarian work is also vast, she's an incredible person.
I have met Ani, which was an honour: we shared a lovely couple of days with her, singing songs and clinking drinks. I'd love to work with her, but so far I've never asked, but because I've been talking about her so much lately I should take it as a sign and just write her a letter.
Finally, who is your favourite Woman in the world right now?
Hmmmmmmmm... there's so many! For everyone, probably Greta Thunberg. For myself, my girlfriend, Tracey!
:: Wallis Bird plays The Duncairn in Belfast (Nov 16), Dundalk Spirit Store (Nov 17), Dolan's in Limerick (Nov 20), Dublin Vicar Street (Nov 21), Wexford's National Opera Theatre (Nov 22), The Black Box in Galway (Nov 23) and Cork's Everyman Theatre (Nov 24). Tickets via Wallisbird.com/live.
Woman is out now.