Andrew Bird: 5 Albums That Changed My Life
When Andrew Bird was growing up, he saw music as more of an assignment than a pastime. A young violinist, he spent hours listening to classical records, teaching himself to play by ear. As a result, a lot of Bird’s wider musical discovery came in his post-teen years.
“I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of pop music at all, so I came to great pop records later — maybe in my twenties and even thirties,” he tells TIDAL.
We spoke with Bird about some albums that changed his life in celebration of his latest album, My Finest Work Yet — and the lineup is a pretty eclectic mix of jazz, the Kinks and Bobby McFerrin. As for the pop of his teenage era and our current radio output? The ‘80s production bothered him too much to draw him in, and today’s mainstream music he associates with the smell of Ubers: air fresheners and pungent former passengers.
My Finest Work Yet dropped on March 22, a more political follow-up to his last album, the distinctly personal Are You Serious? “I didn’t set out to write a political record,” he tells TIDAL. “The previous record, I had some personal things going on, so that’s what I wrote about. This time, there’s a wider frame; things are going on in the world and that’s what I’m writing about. All the songs that I write are pretty involuntary things; they’ll happen no matter what.”
The result is a gorgeous yet sobering work replete with the intricate violin, resonant voice and melodious whistling that has marked Bird’s work for over a decade now.
Read on for more on Bird’s life-changing records.
The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society
When I moved out to live in a barn in the country, which I turned into a workspace and studio, I took only two albums with me: The Kinks and Low’s Trust. Otherwise, I left the rest of my records in storage. I was into being deprived. The idea was to isolate myself.
I was doing a lot of dry-walling and painting and I was listening to the Kinks. That’s a great record. Every song is so distinctly melodic. It just has so much character to it and it’s kind of a concept album, but not too heavy on the concept.
I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of pop music at all, so I came to great pop records later — maybe in my twenties and even thirties. I [first listened to this album] at 31.
Django Reinhardt, Djangology
When I was maybe age 20 to 24, I was really into classic jazz and early jazz. I got into it because I was a violinist and Django is amazing. He mostly played [guitar] with two fingers. He did these incredible runs. It’s not an album, per se, but his body of work is important.
Lester Young, The Jazz Giants
This album had Lester Young and Roy Eldridge recording for Verve in the ‘50s. Lester Young was a Kansas City jazz musician who played with Count Basie in the Big Band era, and after the Big Band era was over, the small group stuff that he did in the last five years of his life was just so good.
In jazz, you have the Charlie Parker branch that became modern jazz, and Lester Young was the swing or high swing — sophisticated swing. It didn’t get so much into bebop. It was more beautiful phrasing and tone. A little more romantic than Charlie Parker, but no less transcendent.
That was one of the first records where I wasn’t just trying to learn licks off of it. I wasn’t trying to use it as a textbook. I was just like, ‘Whatever this guy is doing is making me feel good.’
Townes Van Zandt, For the Sake of the Song
The title song, in particular, was revelatory for me. It was the perfect blend of heartfelt and smart lyrics and kind of a mournful voice. That just really resonated with me.
That was one of the first times that I heard a song and went, ‘Oh, he’s singing about something that I’ve been through.’ That’s not usually how I listen to songwriters. I usually listen for feeling. I’d get to the lyrics last and never really think, ‘Oh, they’re singing about my life.’ That usually wouldn’t occur to me. I was like, ‘Oh, this is how most people listen to music.’
Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin, Hush
I wanted to put something in that you might not think that I’d be into or that wouldn’t make me look cool to say I was into. When I was 18, this Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin duets record came out called Hush. I haven’t listened to it much since I was a teenager, but there’s one song in particular called ‘Stars’ and it had a huge influence on the way I hear melodies.
Bobby McFerrin is a good example of someone who, if he hasn’t had that hit with ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy,’ we might be talking to him more now.
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