Andrew Bird got his band together for practice and ended up making a record.
The sessions that turned into the violin-playing, whistling singer-songwriter’s latest album, “Break It Yourself,” were initially a rehearsal.
“I rolled tape and made sure we captured it,” Bird told The World-Herald. “I didn’t put the pressure on myself that I had to make a record, but we ended up making a record.”
Before the charming Bird and his band came to Omaha, we caught up with him on the phone to talk about the new album, playing the violin and — yes — the Muppets.
Q. You recorded “Break It Yourself” kind of in the middle of nowhere in a barn. That must have been different.
A. Yeah. There’s nowhere to go to blow off steam unless you want to go for a long walk. My band (members) are all from Minneapolis, so they’re used to a certain degree of isolation. In the past, with different groups of musicians, there are the folks that need to have that bar or the coffee shop down the street. They get a little itchy after a couple days.
The key to the success of the session is hiring a cook, which I hadn’t done in the past. When you’re not doing that, it feels like you’re hosting a nonstop party.
Q. Seems like being isolated would make you more focused. Did it?
A. That’s the way it is wherever I’m recording. I have to be locked into this intense focus until I drop dead of fatigue. This ended up being less of a strain because we didn’t set it up like it was a big deal. Let’s all get together and learn these songs and jam for a week, which is something we never do as a band.
Q. This album had more of an organic feel. Did that come from the way you recorded?
A. Some songs get distilled over the course of four or five years to the moment you lay it down. You’ve been living with it so long that you kind of play it safe when you finally lay it down. Your ideas are kind of sculpted.
There’s been other examples of my recordings that are pretty free-flowing, but the weirder ideas get normalized. That just didn’t happen here. There’s more searching in the way that we were playing so the solos were a little wilder and they’re not distilled into hooks all the time. Some of them are, but that’s what I’m kinda proud of. There’s wild solos right next to, for me, fairly straight-ahead lyrics.
Q. Some of the songs sound very happy, but have melancholy lyrics. Do you like the contrast?
A. I’ve always done that. That contrast is what makes it. You hear that in two-penny opera — dark lyrics but kind of funny tunes — and I always loved that contrast. It’s more true to life, I think, being not so black and white.
Q. It’s like having a bad day but telling people you’re fine.
Q. You tend to play the violin differently than most people expect. Why is that?
A. I’ve been playing it for an awfully long time. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with a violin. For a while, I was like, ‘I’m going to almost abuse it and keep it in its place,’ because there was a time when it took over my life. For the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve been sort of reactionary.
I’m not a violinist, I’m just a songwriter who happens to play violin. Lately, I’ve been getting back into playing it like a fiddle, especially the old-time stuff. I still manipulate it to get more percussive sounds out of it.
Q. You wrote one of the songs in “The Muppets.” How did you get involved with that?
A. I got word that it was in production, so I offered my services, as did a number of others. They sent me a script and I read the dialogue. Kermit is dealing with this stuff. I wrote about four songs and the whistling thing kind of came together as the script was still being finished.
Q. Are you a big fan of the Muppets?
A. Yeah, I am. They were a big part of my childhood imagination.
Q. So was that pretty cool?
A. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It was a Disney production, but I thought it was promising that they hired the guys they did to do it. The original script was pretty weird, it got a little bit ironed out or evened out by Disney, but it wasn’t too bad.
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