With the recent release of her album, Architect, Irish artist Wallis Bird has etched another milestone in her career – a career that has been fought step by step; a career that has been built slowly but solidly, as her growing legions of fans will testify; and a career with as many ups as downs, but very few compromises. To build a house, you have to put the foundations in place first, and Architect represents the culmination of a long journey of self-discovery and reinvention.
It may sound like something from Spinal Tap that Bird lost all the fingers on one hand in a lawnmower accident as a baby, but it’s no exaggeration, and it didn’t stop her picking up a guitar as a child, flipping it upside down, and carrying on as if nothing had ever happened. Today she’s a veritable virtuoso on the instrument, and with a chuckle, she describes that fateful “lawnmower incident” as having given her “her mojo”. That mojo carried her to record deals with Island and Columbia Records, several high profile awards and nominations, and tours across the world with the likes of the Gossip, ZAZ, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Billy Bragg and Emiliana Torrini.
But we should go back a bit. Before her first major label signing, Bird self-released the single Blossoms in the Street. The track spent twenty weeks in the airplay charts in Germany, and grabbed the attention of Island Records who signed her almost on the spot. Through Island, she released her debut album Spoons in 2008, which hit the Top 5 digital album charts in the UK and led to her receiving the Irish Meteor Award (equivalent to a Brit Award) for Hope for 2009.
Her follow-up album, New Boots came in 2010. In Ireland it made the Top 15 in the Official Album Chart, and Bird found herself personally invited to tour all over Europe with Rodrigo y Gabriela. She also earned another Irish Meteor Award – this time for Best Irish Artist.
The self-titled third album came in 2012, and Wallis toured extensively, reaching over 30,000 people across 80 dates. International praise rolled in, culminating in a nomination for the prestigious Choice Music Prize in her native Ireland (the equivalent to the UK’s Mercury Prize) and album chart entries around the continent.
Perhaps the greatest jewel in Wallis Bird’s crown, though, is her live performance. Most artists can’t sustain the kind of energy levels that Bird exhibits on stage. Every performance is characterized by an almost startling passion, one that frequently leaves Bird breathless and her guitar strings shredded to pieces. Her refreshingly honest, self-effacing manner has endeared her to audiences of every kind, whether her own fans or someone else’s. Audiences will likely be invited to “show me your sweat patches!” when a grinning Bird wants them to throw their hands in the air and dance unabashedly, or be told with a wink before a ballad “this is the one where you’re all going to take a toilet break, isn’t it?” Few can enrapture an audience the way Wallis Bird can, going from delicate whispers to explosive cries in a heartbeat, and inciting rousing sing-a-longs or spellbound silences.
The new album Architect brings with it new influences. Having lived in London for seven years, Bird moved to Berlin to write the new album and quickly became inspired by its vibrant culture, and from dancing all night long in clubs and bars as she immersed herself in the city’s pulsating rhythms. These influences can be heard all over Architect. Collaborating once again with producer Marcus Wust, it’s an album about becoming the architect of one’s own life; it’s about reclaiming control, shaking off the cobwebs, finding new freedom of movement and expression, and casting off the long shadows of failed relationships. Never better is this exemplified than on the album’s opening track and forthcoming single Hardly Hardly, a clubby, euphoria-fuelled anthem that encourages the listener to abandon their cares and head to the dance-floor instead. As Bird says, “when I moved to Berlin, that’s pretty much all I did, often with my eyes tightly shut for hours on end. I was shaking off London and the feeling that I could hardly, hardly move”.
The dance continues with I Can Be Your Man, albeit with a slower, sexier and more provocative groove, as Wallis examines sexuality and gender roles. Written in the light of what Bird considers to be Russia’s stone-age approach to sex, it teases and seduces with it’s whispering, layered vocals, before giving way to Daze, an all-out romp of a song that encapsulates the sheer frustration of suffering from romantic obsession. More reflective songs like The Cards or River of Paper give the album breathing space, contrasting with the exuberant disco of Gloria or the ‘70’s tinged rock of Communion.
Wallis Bird has always defied being pigeon-holed, and with this album she soaks up the influences that have surrounded her in Berlin and London before putting them through the Bird-blender and serving up an innovative dish of an album. Architect represents the madness of change, of leaving one life behind and starting another. As Bird puts it, “I needed to find a home; I needed to build a home. That’s what Architect is about”.
‘Architect’ is available in all good record stores and available for download on iTunes.
Tickets for Wallis’ headline Dublin show in The Academy are priced at €23 inclusive of booking fee and are on sale now.
Tour dates are as follows:
19th November, Cork Opera house
20th November, Dolans, Limerick
21st November, Monroes, Galway
22nd November, The Academy, Dublin
For more information please see: www.wallisbird.com