Woman of the world
Ahead of her National Opera House gig in November, Wallis Bird talks about her live show, the new album and the issues of the day. Interview by Brendan Keane
County Wexford songwriter, Wallis Bird, will be stopping off at the National Opera House in November to showcase material from her new album, 'Woman'.
Ahead of the gig this newspaper caught up with the Enniscorthy songsmith to chat about the show, the album, and life in general.
The Opera House gig will be a solo performance but as she pointed out it won't be a stereotypical singer-songwriter event.
'It's a one-woman, interactive solo show and it involves a lot of movement,' said Wallis.
'It definitely doesn't involve me standing around; it's actually very energetic,' she added.
With the new album she was conscious of how the songs will be performed live and she admitted spending a lot of time rehearsing for her new show to ensure that every nuance of what was captured live could be transferred to a solo live performance.
'I play 80 per cent of the instruments on the album and I can portray them [live] using my body,' she said.
'I strum underneath and I can sing counter to what I play on the guitar,' she added.
'The way I perform is really percussive and I spent a lot of time in pre-production to perfect it [the show].'
On this recording she also explored many new instruments that brought her into unfamiliar territory.
'When I was recording the instruments became very close to me and I consider them as friends.'
However, she admitted that her faithful guitar is her 'go to' instrument.
There are tracks on the album that mark a departure, to some degree, for the extremely donw-to-earth singer and multi-instrumentalist.
'As The River Flows' has a slight Celtic feel and wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to something like the Outlander series.
Upon hearing the track, 'Grace', which sits comfortably in Kate Bush territory, it's no surprise to hear that the new show is very theatrical.
'The show is very theatrical in nature,' said Wallis.
'There is a lot of movement and it's also very visual and I think that's very important, especially in the context of a solo performance,' she added.
'There is a lot going on in the show.'
'Woman Oh Woman' has a slight jazz feel and it also tips a hat towards the classic crooner era and that's something that the artist said was deliberate.
'That was my own personal Tony Bennett moment,' she said, while commenting that the likes of Willie Nelson's performance on 'September Song' would also have been an influence.
For many songwriters transferring initial ideas in their head onto record can be a labour of love and getting it right can be a challenge.
The end result can sometimes be very different to what the artist envisaged in the first place.
However, there are also times when the final product is exactly as it was planned and for Wallis Bird that happened on the track, 'Grace' which 'pretty much sounds exactly how it should'.
'Woman' took three years to write, however, a couple of the songs happened quite quickly with the track 'I Know What I'm Offering' being a case in point: 'That song just fell out of me.'
The song offers a very diverse vocal delivery between the verses - where the vocals offer a soft, gentle melody - to the chorus, which is fully of anger.
'There is pain and desperation in that song alright,' said Wallis.
'I tried so hard to make everything right in a relationship but still you don't do the right thing.'
'I was putting me energy into the wrong place,' she added.
'You work so hard at something but it's not right and you get very frustrated with yourself.'
On the song 'That's What Life Is For', Bird sings lines like 'I am an angry pacifist' and while the vocals display an angst filled message they are set to a very upbeat and positive musical accompaniment and tempo.
'I've always tried to be positive and give a positive message but it's very hard to be positive all the time,' said Wallis.
'I think it's about you doing your thing and I'll do mine, and it will be alright.'
On 'Love Respect Peace', Bird sets an offbeat vocal melody to a slow percussive backbeat.
Lines like 'till the end of my days I will praise, I am evolving' could be applied to humanity in general and the overall theme of the song is certainly applicable to the world of President Donald Trump.
Never one to shy away from social commentary in her work Wallis expressed hope that the world will soon get fed up of what she refers to as the 'Trump-Johnson' love-in.
'I hope people soon move away from that,' she said.
Bird has called Berlin her home for the last seven years but she lived in London when Boris Johnson was mayor and she is definitely not a fan.
'I would hope that people will eventually look at them [Trump and Johnson] and see that they are not good for people or for the environment.'
Wallis also agreed that there has never been a more important time for songwriters, especially established international acts, to take a responsible role in addressing some of the social problems facing society.
'We have an absolute duty and anyone that has a platform or voice has to stand up for the rights of people and point out what is wrong and how things should change,' she said.
'I am teaching songwriting at the moment and I teach kids not to waste a single word,' she added.
She is of the opinion that society needs to go back to basics: 'You should be taught basic manners because I think that's disappearing.'
She also questions why people have more freedom to make racist or sexist comments: 'Why do we allow that to happen?'
'With social media people [seem to have] free reign to say whatever they want and there is definitely a need for the internet to be regulated,' she said.
For this year's Culture Night event Bird was to perform with the RTE Concert Orchestra in Collins Barrack in Dublin.
It was something she was very excited about.
'It will be fantastic and a great experience,' she said.
However, the homecoming gig in the National Opera House is something that she is really looking forward to and she admitted it will be a special gig.
It will be one date on an extensive Irish tour that is part of a much larger international jaunt that will see her on the road for 40 gigs in seven weeks between now and December.
The new album is an eclectic mix of work from the haunting Celtic feel of 'Brutal Honesty' to the sublime balladry of 'Time Is Not Waiting' and the gig in Wexford could well be one of the standout music events of the year. The album is 'Woman' and Wallis Bird is a woman on a mission.