Not many people would want to land in America in the middle of one of the most tense elections in recent memory, but Jade Bird has accidentally done just that. “We were trying to keep up with it last night but it’s so hard,” she says the morning after arriving in Nashville, when votes are still being counted across the States.
This is the British singer-songwriter’s second trip to Music City this year. On her first visit, she spent two weeks holed up in the studio, working on the follow-up to her acclaimed self-titled debut album. ‘Headstart’, the first taste of the fruits of this sessions, was released last night (November 4) – a well-timed piece of cathartic pop-rock.
This time around, Bird’s “jumped through hoops” to return to Tennessee to record a live session to accompany the upcoming record. “Live is what I’m all about,” she explains. “It just so happened we could make it work over here and we did a hell of a lot to make that happen.”
She tells us about recording an album in a pandemic, why ‘Headstart’ feels like community and the government’s “appalling” handling of musicians affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Hello Jade. What was it like making an album in the middle of a pandemic?
Jade: “I wrote most of the album in January before we locked down – I was in upstate New York, actually, where I wrote my first record. I was really feeling a bit dry creatively after touring so much the year before. Then I just had this real breakthrough and I was just desperate to record the album, I just didn’t want to move on creatively from it. So in June we ended up going over to Nashville via Mexico. We had to quarantine in Mexico for two weeks for a reason that is unknown to me, no idea why. But we stayed in this little apartment for two weeks and I ended up just really honing in on a lot of stuff.”
How did it feel to be there at the time?
“I was talking to Annie Mac last night and she’s obviously from Ireland. She said sometimes when you’re further away from home, it actually just works it’s way into what you’re doing. I found that absolutely fascinating because when I was in Mexico, I was really feeling all my Smiths influences, Cocteau Twins or PJ Harvey. It all started really bleeding into this album that I thought I’d already finished. I wrote about four or five tracks for the album in the two weeks before we recorded it in Mexico, as you do. But it was a weird, weird time and journey.”
You released ‘Headstart’, the first single from your new album, last night to share some joy with the world…
“To be honest, yesterday I felt physically ill [about the song coming out]. You don’t want to appear naive releasing something that’s actually quite cathartic and upbeat in a time that doesn’t follow that. I was just really reflecting on that and what that means, and I did come to the conclusion, as I have been doing with all this, that this new album was a lot of relief for me. There’s a lot of healing and getting back to knowing who I was, and my family were etc. So I really just hope that releasing this music gives other people – not to sound cliché – a bit energy, a bit of relief, a bit of a break. It’s so difficult for everybody at the minute, I’m so aware of that. That’s what I’m thinking and why I’m keeping on releasing through this time. You can’t be silenced by the time – you’re in history, whether you like it or not.”
What was the inspiration behind ‘Headstart’ then?
“For me, it was really like a clearing in the clouds. It’s less about the simple meaning of liking someone and someone not liking you back. That’s universal and I like the sass in the chorus. With this record, it was a gift from somewhere being like, ‘I’m back, I’m writing, I know who I am, and know what I’m doing’. I was just really, really hoping that this was going to be a little bit of a mantra into 2021 – I want to release it and be like, ‘Here we go, everything has to get worse to get better’. More of a positive, optimistic outlook.”
You’ve said the song “feels like community” – how so?
“I think it’s because with any song with a chant or riff, performing it live’s gonna be so amazing because I can sing that with my band. Wherever there’s light or darkness, there is community in music and art. We’ve got to go through this all together and the artists I love are with me in my lightest and darkest moments. If that’s not community, I really don’t know what is.”
You’re one of a number of artists who’ve spoken out about the government’s handling of musicians and the arts in the context of the pandemic lately…
“It’s appalling, although it’s sort of an in-house joke at the minute with everybody being like, ‘Retrain, relearn the skills’. It’s so ridiculous. Art and culture is the UK. But in a serious way, if I can’t play live in the UK or if I can’t record anything in the UK right now, I’m gonna have to go somewhere I can. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are in that position, but not everyone can afford to go and record somewhere else. The mental health aspects of that on young artists… We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. ”
What impact do you think it will have?
“It’s going to stall young artists’ growth and the development of music and art in the UK. I can never understand why the arts are just the first thing to go and the last thing to be thought of when it comes to politics. I can’t quite grasp why we seem so expendable when for a lot of people, like I said, you’re there. You’re there holding people’s hands in their darkest moments. I can’t work it out but it’s always been the same as in a strange way.”
You’ve got the possibility of a no-deal Brexit cutting off another avenue for touring outside of the UK too.
“We’re gonna see the effects after and it’s probably going to be too late by the time we see them. But really difficult and limiting times sometimes prove really fruitful because we’ve all been going out of our minds. I couldn’t really tell you what impact it’s going to have.”
What are your hopes for 2021?
“I really hope that, politically, things start to align with a more accepting view. I really am praying for that. I hope musically, my record isn’t limited by any of these things we’ve just talked about in this interview. It’s the best thing I’ve ever made so I hope I get a chance to really show people that and spread that and spread the good energy of that. I’m always gonna write out music and 2021 will be what it is. I hope for change in 2021 but it won’t stop me or what I feel is right, even if it doesn’t change.”
‘Headstart’ by Jade Bird is out now.