Andrew Bird, Margaret Glaspy, KXCI Presents!
June 28 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
“I set out to make a record that’s diferent than any I’ve made before,” he explains. “I wanted to make an album musically crafed like a Wrecking Crew session, where you have to be good. There’s less wordplay and more intention to process some brutal times that I went through. What happens when real ordeals befall someone who has always been happy writing from their imagination and the distance of the third person? Who has time for poetics while grappling with birth and death? What’s the role of sincerity for a songwriter who doesn’t really go in for the confessional thing? This is what I struggled with for this record. I suppose the title could be poking fun at my own foray into the confessional realm.”
Are You Serious is the second record Bird has made with producer Tony Berg, following 2005’s breakthroughThe Mysterious Production of Eggs. “Tony and I spent months preparing for Sound City,” says Bird, referring to the legendary Los Angeles studio where Nirvana recorded Nevermind and Neil Young made After The Gold Rush. “We went through every part of every song, every note, scrutinizing the voicing of the chords, fnding melodically interesting ways to move from one chord to the next. I decided to work with a producer because I wanted the recording process to be more rigorous. Novelists have editors and playwrights workshop their drama. Tony really played that role for me on this album.”
An up-tempo blitz addressing personal chemistry as a rearrangement of molecules, “Roma Fade” may be the album’s centerpiece. Its sense of longing – “from the tips of your fngers, every strand of hair …you may not know me but you feel my stare” – is based in part on how Bird met his wife, or rather, the times he saw her before they met. “It always seemed to be at a party, from ffeen or twenty feet away,” he explains. “‘Roma Fade’ and ‘Truth Lies Low’ present both sides of the phenomenon of observing and being observed. Desire draws a fne line between what’s romantic and what’s creepy.”
The album’s surprise revelation is “Lef Handed Kisses,” a duet with the singular Fiona Apple. With Bird playing the skeptic and Apple the romantic, the stop-start ballad portrays two lovers who are philosophically opposed but inevitably drawn together. It feels like it could be a lost Johnny Cash/June Carter classic.
“The song began as an internal dialogue,” Bird says. “At frst it was just my voice. Then this other voice came creeping in and I thought ‘this should be a duet if I can fnd the right person.’ I needed to find someone really indicting. And Fiona does the pissed of thing really well! She was totally committed. The session was a long whiskey-fueled night. We were unhinged, for sure. All worth it, of course… I can’t write simple love songs. People are complex. My inclination was to write a song about why I can’t write a simple love song.”
“My favorite songs I write are the ones that change and adapt according to my mood,” says Bird. Album opener “Capsized” is a prime example, having been in his live repertoire for close to a decade under various titles and guises. In the album’s recorded incarnation, “Capsized” is a propulsive gem evoking both the chamber-soul of Bill Withers and the backbeat of The Meters. Bird’s vocals are driven onward by drummer Ted Poor and bassist Alan Hampton. The musically expansive nature of Are You Serious is due in part to ace ensemble players like Poor and Hampton, and the guitar playing of Blake Mills. “Blake raises the bar and gets where I’m coming from like few musicians I’ve met. He’s as restless as I am and gets the odd accents and microtonal stuf that’s outside western music.”
The album closer “Valleys of the Young” encapsulates the album’s themes. This is what Andrew means of when he uses the word “brutal.” “For years now, the code I’ve been trying to crack is how to translate plainspoken real life into song and have it meet my melodic, syntactic standards. There are no riddles here. No encryption. I’ve lef the valley of the young, the small-seeming dramas, the brunch and misery, for a far more perilous place where your heart breaks from cradle to grave. The musical setting for this had to ensure that both young and old listeners can relate. Tony kept making us look at photos of the dust bowl storms raging across the prairie, the ones that made Woody Guthrie sing ‘So long it’s been good to know ya.'”
Jettisoning established methods begets reinvention. This is part of the great success of Are You Serious. See how it plays out in person on Bird’s 17-date Spring 2016 tour, kicking of March 30 at The Ryman in Nashville. “I never walk onstage knowing what I’m doing,” says the artist. “It’s a shrug-of-the-shoulders approach and people like it, it seems human to them. I began playing with the idea of reinvention, so that onstage a wild untamed thing can happen. I wanted to make a record that lets me subvert or expand my onstage personality.”A personality now ready to answer the question, Are You Serious.
On its surface, the title track talks about being a touring musician and figuring out how to see your partner, looking at the calendar and calculating how you’re going to spend time together. But “Emotions and Math,” which ATO Records will release on June 17, also sums up an epiphany she had while making the record.
“In a lot of ways, it’s kind of how I operate,” says Glaspy. “I’ve always considered myself a free spirit, someone who goes with the flow, but actually I’m not exactly like that. This record really taught me that I’m super analytical and process-driven. I think they really do go together, emotions and math. Nobody is just one thing.”
As introductions go, these 12 songs waste no time in cutting close to the bone. This is a young artist with something to say, one who has found her voice, as both singer and songwriter, after years venturing down a crooked path.
After cutting her teeth in New York and Boston, where she was a touring musician and played in other people’s bands, “Emotions and Math” signals an assured new direction for Glaspy.
Glaspy, who’s 27 and grew up in Red Bluff, California, self-produced the album, which frames her revealing ruminations in shards of jagged guitar rock. Building on its early buzz – Rolling Stone hailed first single “You and I” for its “hot barbs of electric guitar,” and BrooklynVegan declared it a “stomping rocker with a DGAF attitude” – Glaspy prepares for a big year in 2016.
She’s a fierce believer in the power of specifics to tell universal truths, to capture emotions we’ve all felt but don’t necessarily hear reflected in pop music. Some truths are uglier than others, but Glaspy never backs down.
Take “You and I,” which opens with a sentiment so gripping that Glaspy initially worried it would send the wrong message. “Tonight I’m too turned on to talk about us/ And tomorrow I’ll be too turned off/ And won’t give a fuck/ About you and I,” she sings with a punk sneer that turns up often throughout her debut.
“A lot of the songs are so specific but also feel like they apply to so much of my life,” says Glaspy. “I realize more and more on a daily basis that if you’re given a microphone to share what you have to say, then I hope to God that I don’t encourage some fantasy of what we’re supposed to be or how we should live our lives.”
Glaspy would rather tell you the truth of the matter. On “Memory Street,” she envisions her past as a small town dotted with old relationships and memories both fond and painful: “Why remember all the times I took forever to forget?” She salutes her self-reliance on “Somebody to Anybody,” reminding both the listener and herself that, “I don’t want to be somebody to anybody// No, I’m good at no one.”
The album also showcases Glaspy’s finely tuned ear for production. Throughout “Emotions and Math,” she keeps the recordings clean and urgent, without an ounce of fat on them. She had plenty of practice; having recorded demos of the album twice at home before eventually ironing out the wrinkles at Sear Sound studios in New York. Glaspy auditioned her players and kept the sessions brisk and loose, running through songs a few times with musicians still reading the charts she had written out. “Everyone was on their toes, waiting for the right moment,” she says.
That freewheeling vibe ended up imbuing the songs with the same brittle energy and warm intimacy Glaspy brings to her live performances. In a bit of comic relief, “You Don’t Want Me” is a duet with herself, an imagined conversation between an insecure woman and a man who has to reassure her. “You don’t want me,” Glaspy sings dismissively, countered by her own voice, slightly distorted and pitched lower: “I do/ You are on my mind/ Every night of the week/ Stop being so nave,” Glaspy sings.
Told from the perspective of a parent to a child, “Parental Guidance” plumbs the fragile psyche of adolescents. “I think a lot of times kids are pigeonholed as being kids, but at the same time it’s the most important years of their lives,” Glaspy says. “Our view of ourselves is so paramount, and when it gets messed with at a young age, it’s lethal.”
The closing “Black Is Blue” is a poetic ode to accepting a reality you never knew. The least autobiographical song on the record, it’s the story of a couple who were in love, had a kid, and then broke up. “But from far away, Black Is Blue’ is about things you thought were one way but aren’t really like that at all,” Glaspy says.
“It’s taken a minute,” she admits, “but I’m so glad that I waited to record my debut. I went through so many different phases before I got to where I am now. It feels like it took 26 years to make this album.”