Andrew Bird is a lot of things, described with hyphens and slashes and commas. Singer/songwriter. Multi-instrumentalist (guitar, violin, glockenspiel and amazing whistler). Influenced by jazz, classical, bluegrass, folk and calypso. Socially conscious. Dad. And lover of the visual arts.
So, when we sat with him on a couch in the Riverside’s green room after his late afternoon sound check, we covered a variety of topics.
Earlier this month, a plane flew over Milwaukee pulling a banner with the name of your new album, “Are You Serious.” Are you doing that in other cities?
No, just Milwaukee.
Well, because the Republican candidates were here for a debate [Town Hall at the Riverside Theater]. And the timing was apropos, I suppose. I think it’s a very strange time in our country. And, I’ll leave it at that.
One important issue is gun violence. You’re donating $1 for every ticket sold on your North American tour, to try to reduce gun violence. Why did you choose this cause? [Proceeds go to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.]
I lived in Chicago for 36 years. My manager and good friend Andrea Troolin lives there. And it’s just gotten really, really bad there, I mean, in a lot of places, but Chicago in particular.
Everyone’s so reactionary on the issue. But there are some really smart people in this organization that say, ‘Now, look, we’re not going to take your guns away, we just need to figure this out, because we have a problem.’ And I think if anyone has a chance to make a difference, it will be this group.
Andrew Bird performed Monday night at the Riverside Theater. 88Nine chatted with him backstage before the show. Read excerpts from the interview below.
It’s just simply a yodeling pickle. A pickle in lederhosen that yodels.
On a lighter note, the visuals for your new album were created by the artist John Baldessari. How did you make that connection, and why?
I really liked his use of text. A lot of my friends are print artists, my mother’s a print artist, and using the old print medium they tend to work with narrative more. There’s a piece called “Pure Beauty,” which is simply the words “Pure Beauty” on a white background, black letters, but this kind of odd, sort of imperfect sign painting effect.
And I just thought there’s something about it that’s really striking, so I kept referencing him to the designer and the designer’s like, ‘I kind of know him, or I know someone who knows him.’ So I got a meeting with him, we chatted and he agreed to do it.
And he gave me a pickle that yodels, that [British artist] Damien Hirst gave him, and he said something like, ‘My whole life, I’ve been toiling, trying to do something as good as this yodeling pickle.’
Where’s the pickle now?
It’s in my kitchen.
Do you use it?
I mean the novelty wears off after a while. It’s just simply a yodeling pickle. A pickle in lederhosen that yodels.
See Baldessari’s design in this video of the deluxe box set of Bird’s “Are You Serious” album, accompanied by excerpts from new songs “Capsized” and “Left Hand Kisses,” featuring Fiona Apple.
You grew up just down the road in Chicago, and have performed here a few times. What are your impressions of Milwaukee?
Well, my sister lives here and she has for years. So, I’ve always come up here to visit her.
I like the skyline, actually. If Chicago’s the “City of Big Shoulders,” this is the city of “Bigger Shoulders.” It’s got even more of that industrial girth to it, and seeing all those old churches dotting the skyline, it’s got this interesting mystery to it.
Yeah, I like it, It’s unique.