The Northumbria native makes music for hurtling across America and speaking the hard truths
Jade Bird is a musical time traveller: in one fell swoop, she can go from searing punk-rock in the vein of ‘90s icons like Alanis Morissette and Courtney Love to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan-style balladry.
The 21-year-old’s recent string of singles pulls this genre-splicing into focus. ‘Love Has All Been Done Before’ and the devastatingly catchy ‘Uh Huh’ is bursting with rebellion and monstrous riffs, but ‘Furious’, a hushed riposte to a cheating partner revels in folk-tinged minimalism. It’s a wilfully diverse palette of emotions and styles, one that Bird says is intended to keep you on toes.
“I’ve had some of these songs for over 18 months now, so you can imagine how it feels when people are going, ‘Jade Bird, the country-folk singer’ or ‘Jade Bird, the pop singer’,’ she says. “I’m sat there like, ‘OK, I’ll be what you want for now’, but I can keep throwing out these songs that are completely different. Every time people try and define me, it gets battered around. I like to keep people guessing.”
So who is Jade Bird, really? Here’s what we know: her 2017 debut EP, ‘Something American’, got heads turning with the twinkling title track and ‘What Am I Here For’ teasing a new British songwriting prodigy. In the past year, she’s marked herself as someone poised to be one of 2019’s boldest breakout stars. She kicked off this year in the NME 100 and a BBC Sound Of… nod, with the vibrant stomper ‘Lottery’ lassoing crowds across the country for a barnstormin’ UK tour in the spring.
The 21-year-old is back on the road this week and when we met in mid-October, she was on the cusp of finishing her debut album. It’s being recorded in the leafy suburbs of upstate New York, a place that “clarified everything” after an “anxious phase in London.” It’s fitting, though, seeing as America has played a big part of Bird and her evolution as an artist. Her debut EP was named after the country, and its imagery is reflected in everything Bird does, from the retro-artwork through to the heartrending lyrics. It’s resonating with the US audiences, too. ‘Lottery’ clocked in at Number One in the Billboard Adult Alternative charts and ‘Uh Huh’ at Number Three. Shows from traditional Salt Lake City to freewheelin’ Los Angeles are now selling-out with ease.
“It was an idealistic place for me,” she says of the song. “When you go there it has a freedom of eccentricity that I feel is sometimes a bit shunned in the UK”. It trickles down from her contemporary influences like Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga and Ryan Adams. The latter of which is a fan, and reached out to Bird via Twitter to give her a co-sign on ‘Lottery’.
She’s a born traveller though. Both her parents were both enlisted in the Army, and their service forced Bird to bounce around a lot as a child – from Wales to London, over to Germany and back again. Her latest single ‘Love Has All Been Done Before’, puts her back in touch with her British beginnings. “A lot of the ballsy attitude I have with my songs is very rooted in the UK,” she says with a smile.
“A lot of the ballsy attitude I have with my songs is very rooted in the UK”
That environment had rubbed off on Bird. She likens her upcoming album to an artist like Alanis Morissette, “who said everything about a young women’s experience in one album” and has ambitions to do the same. “I don’t see any reason why young women shouldn’t relate to me and have that connection with my music,” she says. Bird stops short of calling herself a spokesperson, but wants to have the same connection with women that she had with some of her idols.
She’s heading in the right path if her live show is anything to by. She’s an electrifying and charming performer, one that is able to strike up a connection with audience at ease. Bird will flit between guitar and piano during her sets, but remains a welcome host as she cracks jokes and slips in and out of an American accent as she speaks to the crowd. “You do ham it up a little bit for the moment, but it’s very genuine. I feel comfortable doing that, but some people often think I’m just drunk!”
Bird’s nailed the live show, now’s time to polish off her debut album that’s expected in the early months of 2019 and it’s primed to be a corker. But as she wraps up the first chapter in her career, how would one follow a similarly successful path? “There’s not point in doing anything without conviction. Fortunately, I’m quite strong minded and I’ve been thinking about how I want this to go since I was 13 or 14,” she says. “I was like ‘I’ll be damned if anyone gets in the way of that,’” she drawls in that faux-American accent. Fat chance of that happening.
See Jade Bird on tour:
Brixton Electric, London (November 21)
The Deaf Institute, Manchester (Nov 25)
Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (Nov 26)
The Wardrobe, Leeds (Nov 28)