Chicago's Bird Names have made one heck of a pop record in Sings The Browns. I mean that in a couple of ways, the first being IT'S REALLY GOOD!!! and the second being it is massively labrynthian and joyfully cluttered with probably too many musical and cultural things like some toy castle made out of corduroy. Fits right into Upset The Rhythm, who summise Bird Name's racket as "perfectly off-center" and really I think that's about as close as you can get, especially given all the far-out devices and psychedelic zingers inside their spirit ditties. We talked to David Lineal re: new album and UK tour.
How did Bird Names come together?
I can't remember clearly imagining it. In winter 2003 I was making time with my old friend Colin and asked him if he wanted to move to Chicago and start a band. He was very drunk, and he said yes. It's remarkable-- it happened and it continues to happen. That smallest bit of initial inertia somehow tumbled into five years of regular artistic work.
Does the scope of music ever feel claustrophobic?
I would say yes. Its just vibrations. But its the big folk art form of our time, and I don't know how capable we would prove at other media.
Yr music is packed with ideas and different "things"; do you ever get stuck for ideas/ways to express them?
I don't get stuck that much because I'm not afraid to lower my standards and puke out garbage. I get in fits of writing like 40 songs in a month, and then stop for a bit burnt out, comb through them, identify the handful that are alright.
Inspiration is slippery. I have ideas how to get at it or, anyway, to shorten the wait until it returns. I let myself make bad music sometimes. I try to keep it on the level, to keep my intuition clear so I can recognize when and how an idea might be valuable. Having a proud and almost aggressive disrespect for ideas helps, too, to make experimenting and dispatching things relatively easy. You can do anything you want in music. It's play. Getting over fear of death or fear of imperfection in music nurses the muse. The act of creating is much more valuable than the product created. So get on railing crazily like "FUCK YOU, you are a form and I am a MAN," crumple it up and throw it out. Don't forget, we will be dead and forgotten soon. And if you round, we are already dead.
It seems like a particularly good way of furthering past musical accomplishments and yr own past musical inspirations, by cramming as many of yr loves into songs as possible. Are you into the idea of reworking earlier musics into something new and yr own?
Covering a great song takes alot of humility because it's just going to be worse, and you have to hope that the inherent worth of the song overshines the ways your covering makes it worse. I usually opt to write a new song instead, though I must admit to a back catalog of shitted-out covers of "Mood Indigo", "Oh Buttermilk Sky," "Blue Christmas" and the like. They only remake good movies, and they should remake bad movies.
"People should get more aware", I really like this sentiment, real simple and important but packaged in all that chaos.
The moment we're living in is astonishingly unique. I mean, not on a human/civilization time-scale, but this moment in geological time. We're living through one of the largest and fastest mass extinctions in 500 billion years of life. The whole paradigm changed in this particular geological blink of an eye that we're alive in.
We need to figure out the questions we should be asking. I'm not talking about environmentalism necessarily. The Old World is dead, wilderness is more or less dead. What's the story? What's going on out there? What's the direction of any of it? How will the new world be?
The language, power, and awareness of artists and musicians is, given the moral gravity of this world, kind of pitiful. We should all be asking each other at shows "What are we doing? Why are we doing this?" And we should be able to answer well. Most people involved in art and music have shared, deep humanist values and we should be exploring better and together what that means.
Humanity direly needs advances in wisdom. Where will this wisdom come from if not our magician class, the artists? The world needs good art. The world needs its artists to be moral and spiritual leaders. The world needs a revolution of the unconscious.
People mention the cultic element of Bird Names; I like this idea, kind of feels like a faked out kool aid kind of craziness to me. are you guys interested in that weird side of psychedelic culture?
Foremost I am interested in the "drug experience" side of psychedelic culture. It's weird how the psychedelic fad seems to bleach out the drugs a bit, right? I understand that cultural programs need some sort of gated-off language (of image, sound, word) that in principle represents their values. But the way psychedelia is applied to this end often underscores how aesthetically vacuous most art and music is, how far removed many modern artists are from having relevant meaning to evoke by their work. Psychedelia gets castrated as graphic design, like a tripped out design on a binder or Unitarian-style drum circle. A hollow form of would-be subversive expression.
The powerful, volatile, and weird aspects of psychedelia come from the change in perspective that the psychedelic drug experience provides. People of first-wave psychedelic culture of the '60s rightly saw drug use as political for this reason: it promotes a different perspective, a new consciousness (which can have real implications for power in the world). My generation's psychedelia does not have much dialog about this. People too often treat drugs as they would bottom shelf beer, and not relative to terror, wonder, and truth.
I like to call Bird Names "psychedelic" to tie the music with marijuana and hallucinogen use. The skewed perspective of the music can make more sense when you're stoned, like something real that you can use in your life. We encourage our listeners to get high.
I feel like the childlike element in many of yr songs could be kind of obvious to talk about (in terms of imagery and happy-go-lucky sound of many parts) but is this wacked out fairy tale thing something you think about very much? i love it.
Making music in a band is social but we've been blessed with a narrow audience. Bird Names has always felt private, like four people playing alone. This privacy has given us the guts (read: low enough stakes) to be like children, to indulge in fantasy, to speak plainly, to be messy, to express joy, to make "musical jokes." Its the feeling of "Over There," you know? The world I can feel in Bird Names music is not this world, but it feels real to me.
What sort of bands in chicago do you play with/relate to/hang with?
Chicago's underground music has reached a rich blush of maturity. Killer Whales, Cacaw, Golden Birthday, Icy Demons, John Bellows, Cave, Mayor Daley, Rollin Hunt, Mahjongg and on and on. I hope the greater world discovers Chicago's DIY music scene soon.
Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Teeth Mountain and scads more bands emit a brilliant light from Baltimore, we have grown parallel with them across the years. Lord Scrummage does amazing things in Detroit, and we love the tender wizards of Quiet Hooves.
There seems like a mix of oldness (old AM radio oddities/toy castle vibes) as well as a real new feel which maybe comes from the oblique rendering of modern pop. is this possible dichotomy relevant to how you make songs?
It's hard to be conscious about influence, since the music is not built top-down. Bird Names does not sound that much like old music, but that's about all I listen to. I have tried to copy vocal hooks and arrangement hooks from old songs, and to emulate flaming country guitar solos in my lead playing, but forced through my limitations as a musician and the sensibility of the band it just comes out sounding like it does.
How different is yr live show from the recordings?
More different than most bands, probably, though the songs redound. The recordings are done in a overdubberly, collage style with lots of subtle textural stuff that we do not do live. Bird Names has a special shambly tightness as a live band, though, that can eclipse our recordings.
What's next after yr european tour?
Seated atop a mountain of demos, and a new (used) tape machine, we are set to record a new album. Then we are going to trick a label into releasing it. And probably before then we'll play across the U.S.A. and start recording more demos for the next mountain.
[Bird Names MySpace]
[Buy Sings The Browns from Upset The Rhythm]
[Facebook Event (Newcastle Upon Tyne)]