Noble Beast

Posted by Abby Lavin on 19. Jan 2010

SHANGHAI, Jan 19 - Andrew Bird went from a four-year-old violin prodigy to indie-folk icon. In the intervening 30 years, the Chicago native graduated from Northwestern University's prestigious music conservatory and played weddings, Irish pubs, and even a Renaissance fair in Wisconsin to make ends meet.

Along the way, he developed that trademark Andrew Bird sound: a one-man orchestral-freak-folk band incorporating violin, guitar, mandolin, glockenspiel and whistling. He also developed a following of rabid fans, 15,000 of whom turned up at his Aug 2008 performance in Chicago's Millenium Park.

As first reported on this very website in late-October, the Bird Man will travel to China for the first time next week, performing in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. We've been big fans of Andy B. since a friend tipped us off to his gorgeous 2005 album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs.

Speaking to him over the phone the other day gave us a host of new reasons to love Andrew Bird. And so readers, we give you...

Five reasons to love Andrew Bird:

1. He never travels without his lucky sock-monkey, a gift from a fan in Toronto.

"I just got attached to it," Andrew tells us. "Now I'm superstitious about it. If the show isn't going well I'd be like, ‘Oh, ‘cause the sock monkey is still backstage!'"

2. He has played to a crowd of 3,000 at Carnegie Hall, but he still keeps it real for his fans.

"I try to maintain a presence on stage like I'm just sharing something with you, like cooking or something. If you embrace your emotions on stage, even your own uncomfortableness, people will somehow relate. Like when people are watching a soccer match, they might be imagining they're on the field, so there's that connection [where they can say] ‘I see he's kind of stumbling here.' That's what I hope [audiences in China] get from me, not a note-perfect performance."

3. He is still learning how to sing.

"On the first record, I wasn't fully confident of what my voice was supposed to sound like. So I would emulate my favorite old jazz and blues records, and my objective was to try to make the microphone distort the way those recordings would. So I would bellow and try to do ‘more is more.' I still don't feel I have fully realized what I'm capable of vocally on a record. I think [2009 album] Noble Beast got fairly close, on the songs like "Effigy," where I think I get a nice ‘bigness' to the voice without belting."

4. He molests his instruments.

"I don't feel I've done my best [with singing], which is cool 'cause it means there's still somewhere to go. With the violin, I don't have anywhere to go! I don't get up in the morning and think, ‘Hmm...I'm gonna become a better violinist today.' I stopped trying years ago, and now I just kind of molest my instruments to get what I need.

5. He sings about proto-Sanskrit Minoans, cellular mitosis, and even coprophagia, and somehow manages to make sense.

"[My songwriting process] begins with total nonsense. It usually begins with a bunch of vowels strung together, and then they take shape into a word, and that word must have occurred to you for some reason but you don't know why. Other songs are kind of inspired by scientific phenomena. I realize there is something in that phenomenon that beholds some truth about ourselves, so I'll use that as a canal and kind of build in and around it. After I've got maybe 60, 70 percent of the lyrics I do start to realize what I'm talking about, and then the last bits are attempts to make it more understandable -- perhaps hopefully without saying something lame."

Andrew Bird will perform at Yugong Yishan on Sat, Jan 30 at 9pm.

Ticket info: 180/150 RMB (pre-sale). Tickets available on Taobao. For more information on pre-sale tickets, call (010) 6404-2711 (Mon-Sun, from 2pm til midnight).

Miao Er contributed to this report; photo courtesy of Cameron Wittig.


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