Birdy’s Back – And She’s Found Her Wings

"I'm now at a point where I'm able to speak my mind..."

After nearly five years of adventures around the world, chronicles of love, heartbreak and an adopted duck, Birdy is ready to step back into the spotlight. The Grammy nominated, multi-platinum singer-songwriter is releasing her first album in five years, titled ‘Young Heart’, on April 30th.

What made her wait so long?

The 24-year-old has a good reason — after signing her first record deal at 14, Birdy’s life took a turn that lots of teenagers only daydream about. Her cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ became a hit, and she went on to record songs for movie soundtracks such as The Fault In Our Stars and Brave. By the time she was 19, she had released three successful albums. After riding a never-ending wave of success all throughout her teenager years, she knew that it was time for a break.

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“When I was touring the last record, I just got a bit bored by the end of it, because I felt like I was acting a little bit,” she said. “And it was such a performance. I always felt like I was putting on a voice. At the end it was this big, powerful voice. But when I play the piano by myself and sing, and when I'm writing, it's really quiet and gentle. I'm right up against the keys and singing. I just wanted to capture that on this album a bit more.”

Birdy felt she needed time to have some normal experiences and explore her independence. Over the past few years, she went out in search of new experiences she would later write about, whether she planned to or not. She explored the world and even fell in love. And then she experienced her first heartbreak. The experience of having to listen to her instincts while writing this record without the security of having this person around was difficult for her, but this newfound vulnerability and new way of moving through the world is the foundation ‘Young Heart’ is built on.

“I went to India for three months and just tried to forget about writing and just focus on that,” she said. “I went with my sister and my cousin and a friend, and that was really nice to do that. It's been a bit of a journey, the whole album.”

When she came back from India, she ended up taking three trips to Los Angeles, trying to find the right people to work with for this record. Some of that was successful and some of it wasn't, she said.

“We were staying in Topanga Canyon — which was so beautiful — in this old kind of wooden house with hundreds of little windows,” she said. “And all the houses are really quirky and have strange architecture. The artwork for the album is all from that time when I was staying there, and my friend came and documented it all.”

She was mostly finished recording the album just before the pandemic hit, and spent most of last year in her hometown of the New Forest in the south of England, finalising the album and reflecting on it. “We live by lots of lakes and right by the sea,” she said. “So we were just so lucky to be outside for most of the summer.”

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She even adopted a duck that had fallen into a neighbor’s pool during this time, letting the bird sleep at the end of her bed in a little box. “She was kind of like my child for a little amount of time, but now she's integrated back into the wild,” she said.

Adopting a duck is exactly what one would expect from such a vibrant household. Birdy’s family as a whole is very musical and artistic, and she said it was a bit of an adjustment coming home after being away for so long. “There was a lot of big energies together,” she said. “Everyone wants to sing and play the piano. So it was hard to find your own space in the house. But it was quite nice as well.”

Having a mother who is a concert pianist, it’s no surprise that Birdy chose to re-introduce herself to fans in November with the four-song EP ‘Piano Sketches’, named at the time to NPR’s Top Albums Of The Week. The four songs are very stripped down to raw piano notes and heartwrenching vocals, a lot of which was recorded in a makeshift cupboard studio in her grandparents’ cottage by the sea. “[My mother] taught me to play initially, and I learned classically until I was about 13. And then I sort of branched off, and I think I was a bit stubborn. And she was just like, ‘Alright, I'm not teaching you anymore,’” she laughed. “Because I didn't pay attention. And so I learned kind of by ear. But with all my early songs at that point, she was always the first person I played them to — my most trusted critic.”

Stemming from her childhood in the English countryside, Birdy has always had a magnetic pull to melancholic music from the Romantic period. “I grew up listening to a lot of classical music, and everything that [my mother] is drawn to is always really sad,” she said. “My first memories are of laying in a cot, and looking up at the ceiling and just being surrounded by that music. So I think I just absorbed all of that.” Her own music blossomed out of these roots into a style that is profound, soulful, and a tad gloomy to match the weather in the New Forest. “Since I was seven, and I first started writing, my parents said that they’d listen at the bottom of the stairs, like, ‘What’s wrong with her? Why is she so sad?’” she laughed.

Even though ‘Young Heart’ centers around the heavy topic of loneliness (two of the released songs are titled ‘Loneliness’ and ‘Deepest Lonely’), Birdy hopes that her audience gets a peaceful feeling from it. It is more guitar-led than past albums, with influences such as Nina Simone, Etta James, and Joni Mitchell. “It's maybe not sad straightaway. It's not until you listen to the lyrics that you realise the songs are actually really sad. So I hope it kind of has that bittersweet sort of feeling.”

Although she has not been able to perform for crowds since the first songs have come out, she has been able to talk to people directly and see their reactions. “Obviously it's been quite a long time,” she said. “I've been away, so it's been quite weird coming back to this, but nice.” She did a livestream on April 15th, and she said it would feel different having no audience. “But it’s filmed really beautifully,” she said. “We've got a full band and eight string players and a clarinet and a horn player. It’s more of a sort of cinematic like thing with really beautiful lighting. It's all online, which is kind of strange, but exciting. Hopefully next year, we’re planning to be touring again.”

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Starting her career so young, she has already had a decade-long journey in discovering her most authentic voice. With this album, she finally feels like she has reached that point. “There are things that I missed out on,” she said. “I was touring instead of being with my friends and going to festivals and parties and spending long summers with them. But at the same time, I was playing festivals, and I was with my band, having an amazing time. So it's really strange. I think I've learned so much over the years and gained so much confidence. I'm now at a point where I'm able to speak my mind, and I know a lot more about what I want and what I want my music to sound like. I've kind of like gained and lost things at the same time.”

Being only 24, she still has a long career ahead of her and countless options moving forward. “I'd love to do some more film music; I'd like to get better,” she said of her possible career path five years from now. Although this new album shows a whole new side of her as she emerges from the familiar and seeks new inspirations, something tells us she’ll always remember her roots. “Maybe I’ll go back to school a little bit and learn how to score properly for the whole orchestra,” she said. “I'm really interested in that side of things. And I guess a more classical kind of side.”

A lot of the album is also written about writing the album, she said, and the struggle of that. Because it is so different from anything she’s ever written before, the entire process was akin to navigating uncharted territory. “At the beginning, before anyone could hear what the end result was going to be, it was quite a shift and quite shocking,” she said. “That was quite difficult in itself, just having to really trust myself and say no to some things and not compromise, like I maybe would have in the past. So in that way, I've grown a lot, learning to say no to things and believe in myself a bit more.”

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'Young Heart' will be released on April 30th.

Words: Kate M Brennan

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