Birdy Talks ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, Touring America & Growing As A Songwriter: Idolator Q&A
Birdy broke (really) big internationally in 2011 with an eerie cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”. The song went top 10 in most countries across Europe and was certified six times platinum in Australia. A self-titled album of equally beautiful interpretations followed and the then 15-year-old was soon playing to packed arenas around the globe.
Things moved a little slower in America but the Brit is on the verge of a much-deserved commercial breakthrough thanks to her haunting contributions to The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack (“Not About Angels” is roaring up iTunes despite not being released as an official single yet) and the above-mentioned “Skinny Love”, which simply refuses to die. I caught up with Birdy recently to talk about her new LP Fire Within as well as her songs on the blockbuster tearjerker. Get to know the talented teen a little better after the jump.
Why have you taken a different approach to releasing your music in America? Leading with an EP and then a reworked version of the Fire Within?
I wasn’t really here so much, I think, with the first album, so I didn’t really promote it. Everything was in Europe and Australia, so this is the first time I’ve really like traveled over. These are all my own songs coming out on this album, which is a nice way for me to start over here. So, I’m really excited about that.
There has been such a great reception to your new music. Were you surprised that people your original songs as much as the covers on your first album?
I had no idea what to expect, so to have that reaction was wonderful. It just felt so lovely. All I’ve ever wanted to be was a songwriter, as well as a singer, so it’s wonderful.
Was the warm reception a relief?
Yeah, it’s kind of scary releasing original music for the first time. No one had ever heard my writing before, so, yeah, it was definitely scary.
Had you been writing songs previously? Songs that weren’t included on your first LP?
I’ve always been a writer. I started writing when I was eight, so I had lots of songs. The main reason they weren’t included was because I just didn’t have time, and doing “Skinny Love”, which I released first, seemed to work really well and I enjoyed interpreting it as well.
I feel like that’s one of those songs that just refuses to die. Whose genius idea was it to cover that song?
Thank you. Well, I’ve always been a fan of Bon Iver and loved his music. I think that was just one of my favorite songs. It was suggested to me, but I loved it. Something about it reminded me of my own writing. Just the way it’s kind of fragile and mysterious, and I just fell in love with it really.
After covering so many ballads, some people were surprised that there were a couple of up-tempo/radio-friendly songs on Fire Within.
Yeah, it’s just how it happened. With the covers, it was really piano-based and really stripped back, and when it’s like that, it becomes more melancholy anyway, just naturally. But I really wanted to explore different sounds on this album, so it kind of just went that way naturally and became something a bit more driving.
Do you put that down to the people you collaborated with as well?
Yeah, probably. I mean, I was definitely introduced to new ways of writing. I wrote with a guy called Kid Harpoon. We started with like a drum beat, and I’d never really tried that before, so automatically it just, I don’t know. My head was just in a different frame of mind.
You were at school when your first album was released. Has being (slightly) older given you a new perspective on what this whole business?
Yeah, maybe. I think I really had time to grow as an artist and decide what I don’t like and what works for me, which is really nice. Yeah, having that time, and also being with my parents for the first two years to guide me through it. It was really wonderful for me.
How does this time around compare?
It was really nice just writing songs with other people, which is completely new to me and scary and strange, but I knew in my head exactly what I wanted to do just from doing the first album, being in the studio for the first time and deciding what works. I worked with the same producers, Rich Costey and Jim Abbiss, which I loved, and some of the same musicians, and I just felt really at home and kind of confident in the studio. Even though I was exploring, I kind of knew where I was, which was nice.
Will the third time be different again?
Yeah. I think in the future I’d like to try working by myself. Just to see what I can do. I mean, I’m not really sure. I don’t know, I’d just like to spend some time, taking ages over something in the studio and really taking my time.
You can be like Kate Bush and take 12 years between albums! Getting back to the whole American experience. Did you have any concerns about how they would try to promote you?
Not really any concerns. I have a wonderful label here, so I’ve just felt really excited about the whole thing and to be here for the first time. Especially on this tour, I’ve really been so surprised about how warm the audiences have been to my music. It’s really nice, and people seem to actually know some of the songs, which is crazy.
The songs you contributed to The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack are really popular.
Yeah, I was definitely surprised that people knew the music from the soundtrack. On this tour, I’ve noticed that people have been asking for the songs from the soundtrack, and everyone’s kind of heard about it, and that’s really cool.
Speaking of the soundtrack, did you try to get into character somehow to write those songs?
They were definitely inspired by the story. The one that’s probably the most true to the movie is “Not About Angels”. That’s kind of me in its rawest form. But then I went to Los Angeles to write with Dan Lawson, again, to write two of the songs, “Tee Shirt” and “Best Shot”. Those are more kind of upbeat and light and just about love.
How did you get into that vibe? Did you read the book or did read the script?
Well, I read the book. Well, actually, no I didn’t. I read half it. Not that I didn’t love it, I’m still going to finish it! I went to go see the film because they were doing a screening to help me write. I really wanted to see what I’d be writing to, which was really important. Yeah, and I was just completely inspired by the story. “Not About Angels” was really about how Hazel, the main character, feels like she’s like a grenade, but her realizing that if you have something so true and beautiful, it should be cherished, so, for me, that was really inspiring.
Do you know if any of those songs will be released as a single from the soundtrack?
I have no idea. They’re still on “Skinny Love” from like 5 years ago.
Ok, then. What’s the next single from your album in America?
There have been a few in Europe. At the moment it’s “Words As Weapons”.
I love that video. You’re really scary in it.
I know! When we were filming it, the director kept going “Do The Ring!” You know, like the film? And I was like…
Well you’ve got the right hair for it! That song could work over here.
Well, it’s the new version, which is in the video. In Europe, it’s a much more downbeat, kind of melancholic version of that song.
Can you give us a bit of a rundown of that video. It’s pretty epic.
It’s complicated. See, it’s obviously not the true story of the song, but I really wanted a story line. So I’m meant to be a ghost in it. An evil ghost and I’m haunting my ex-boyfriend, who isn’t very nice, and he’s got this new girlfriend in the movie.
Did he murder you?
I’m not sure. Maybe. That’s why I’m so angry. But yeah, he’s not treating the new girlfriend very well either. So, I’m just like getting angry about it and haunting him.
I love it! There seems to be a bit of a changing of the guard at the moment with a lot of new young artists emerging. Would you agree?
Yeah, I think it’s really wonderful to have these new artists, especially young artists like Jake Bugg, who’s got brilliant music. Yeah, it just feels really organic and different and Lorde, whose really wonderful as well.
Have you had a chance to meet any of these people?
No, I haven’t actually. I’ve got to meet Tom Odell, who I’m a big fan of as well, and I think his music really inspiring and new.
You did tour with Christina Perri. What was that like?
It’s been so wonderful. Just getting to her perform every night. For me, it was the first I’ve ever done like a support-act thing, which was really amazing. I loved it. Just being able to kind of grow. I really love it because like the pressure is off, and, for me, I had a chance to really grow on stage because I’ve haven’t been playing live for that long, so it gave me chance to just do whatever and learn from Christina Perri as well. I mean, she’s so confident on stage.
So what’s next for Birdy?
Well, I’m going home for a bit.
Do you just do nothing when you’re at home?
I really do. I just lie on my bed for like the whole day. But, I’ve got some festivals in Europe this summer. It should be really fun. I don’t know if I’m coming back to America but I’d like to go back to Australia at some point.
Have you fallen under Birdy’s spell yet? Let us know in the comments below.
Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.