Birdy: "being outside in nature that’s the biggest healer if I’m feeling really stressed."
Jade Poulters | 16/03/2021
“I’m in my flat in London at the moment but most of the last year I’ve been in the countryside, back at my parent’s house, where I grew up. I was so lucky in comparison to other people stuck in the city as we have loads of space to be outside and in nature. That’s what is most beneficial for my mental health actually, being outside in nature that’s the biggest healer if I’m feeling really stressed. I just walk or do something active. The worst thing is to be on my phone, that really fuels my anxiety. I think a lot of us get trapped, especially at the moment it’s difficult to not be on the phone and to do something else to keep the mind active.”
British singer-songwriter Jasmine van Bogaerder, or Birdy to you and I, has been a sensation for nearly a decade. First finding fame when her cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ went viral, tracks from her debut album of covers graced the soundtracks of The Vampire Diaries, The Fault in Our Stars and The Edge of Seventeen and brought global recognition. Her next two releases, Fire Within (2013) and Beautiful Lies (2016) charted the development of an artist finding their own voice and stories to tell. After four years of relative silence, she returned in 2020 with EP Piano Sketches, a stripped-down collection of hauntingly beautiful ballads set to take centre stage on a new album that will release in April. Five years away from the industry has been a painful wait for fans but a necessary experience to grow and develop, not just as an artist, but as a young woman.
“I think I needed a bit of a break after the last album because since I was 14 I had been putting out records and touring, it was always one thing after the other. So it started as a little bit of a gap year at first, but then I just needed some time to get inspired and gather more experiences and live a bit.”
Most of us can probably share the same embarrassing stories of our teenage years loitering in local parks, getting drunk on Frosty Jacks and making a fool of yourself on social media. It’s not a tale Birdy can relate to, she signed a record deal and was whisked away to perform at festivals around the world while her friends were revising for their GCSEs. “It was really weird, at the time it was happening so fast that I didn’t have a moment to take it in and understand what was going on. I remember when ‘Skinny Love’ was put on YouTube and the views going up and up I was watching it like ‘Oh my god what’s happening.’ Then it got played on the radio and everyone in school knew about it. It did feel like everyone at school was experiencing it with me, it was such a hype, it was so exciting”
“I wasn’t really aware of any of the negative sides of it [the fame] which was probably a good thing. I was also very well protected from it because I was so young, I was never bombarded with it like ‘well now we’ve got to move up and do this thing’, it was slow to ease into it. But it was very strange not being at school, missing out on friends birthdays and summers being at music festivals. My friends were going to music festivals, I was playing them.”
The upcoming fourth album Young Heart is quite the step away from the delicate fairytale-like pennings of the coming of age record Beautiful Lies which chartered the ups and downs of growing up in the limelight. Young Heart is a painful retelling of a relationship ending, the initial bitter heartbreak followed by the struggle to untangle two intertwined lives and move on to a new chapter. Taking inspiration from powerful artists Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and Nina Simone, the singles we have already heard juxtapose these feelings of love and loss, light and dark, in a way that is new but also familiar. It is arguably some of her best work, which doesn’t do much to support those arguments that art doesn’t necessarily have to come from pain.
“The record is inspired a lot by a heartbreak. At the beginning of my break, I ended a relationship and I found it really hard to write about and went through a bit of writer’s block at the beginning. The whole process of writing this album was dribs and drabs and just dealing with those feelings at that time. A lot of it is about fate and there’s a lot of conflicts and you know, ‘have I made the right decision?’ You know the feeling when you miss this person but also feel compelled to change and grow, there’s lots of sort of different things at play I feel like throughout the record.”
“Writing was quite a difficult process just because I was in a difficult emotional space at the time and throughout making it. I was very strict with myself about everything coming from the heart and being true, if I could sense anything that sounded formulaic or over thought I didn’t want to do it. That was quite hard because I was not finishing a lot of things because they didn’t feel true to me, so it just took a while to get the right songs and to work with the right people who really understood what I was trying to do.”
Those ‘right people’ came in the form of Jamie Scott and James Ford who between them have worked with the likes of Jessie Ware, FOALS, HAIM and Florence + The Machine. The time away also allowed her travel as she wrote heading out to LA and Nashville the home of the heartbreak song. “I went to LA to write a bit, some sessions were successful and some weren’t, I did meet some amazing people out there and we wrote a song called ‘Evergreen’. Then I went to Nashville, you know the home of the most amazing storytellers and incredible musicians and everyone you meet plays every instrument to the highest standard and that was so nice because people just make music because they want to, there are no other motives. I just really enjoyed that.”
And while most of the album was written in the states, being back at home over lockdown also provided a new and unexpected collaborator, her older brother Moses.“It was really fun and also really stressful for both of us. I’m really a perfectionist, and I would just do take, after take, after take, until I get it right and he would just be like ‘oh my god, just do it properly’, it’s quite awful for him to have to deal with me!”
“It’s amazing actually because he’s done a whole production course and he’s sort of learning to produce and he helped me to record one of the songs on the record (Nobody Knows Me Like You Do) which was the last song I recorded for it, that was really nice.”
Birdy grew up in a very musical family, her mother a classical pianist encouraged her to play and write music from a young age and her father exposed her pop’s most successful songwriters The Beatles, George Michael and ABBA, inspiring a love of merging both genres which she has mastered over her career. But with 6 siblings there isn’t always a shared appreciation for each other’s eclectic tastes. “My sister and I are completely different but we’re really close! She’s a singer too, she’s more jazz and more pop than I am and she’s an amazing dancer who’s into the performance side of things and being on stage. Whereas I find that difficult because I don’t feel comfortable talking, even when I’m on stage, the hardest bit for me is when I have to address the audience, the rest I quite enjoy. But she doesn’t like the music I like, and I’m not too fond of most of the music she listens to”
And while songwriting was a creative release since she can remember, it wasn’t something she was allowed to pursue until her second album. “I’ve always been a writer since I was about 7. I started writing songs, and I really wanted the first album to be my own songs, but I was so young and Skinny Love had taken off so there was a lot of pressure to release an album. It made sense to do the covers and give myself a bit of time to develop my songwriting.”
Before we sign off I quickly ask her what she is most looking forward to with this release and what she wants listeners to take away from it. “I’m excited to get it out there because it’s been so long in the making, for people to hear it and see what they think. It’s quite a different sound from anything I’ve done before, it’s a lot more guitar lead and a lot more stripped back from my last record. It’s very raw and in a way a return to my first record, so I think any fans of that record will probably understand this one a lot”