SPOTLIGHT w/ Bird Noire

 

Today, as an accompanying piece to the official music video of “Still Hope”, we have an exciting talk with the incredibly talented guys behind Bird Noire, an epic retro-synth project, that has left us speechless, the first time we heard it. Their early, professional musical output has the potential to reach millions of listeners and today, we want to give an extended inside of the creative minds behind it all.

The Bath-based duo joins us today, to discuss their next release “103”, modern life, the rise of retro-inspired music, how they formed their ambitious project and of course, how this incredible music video, directed by Mike Tyler, came together.

 

 

Let’s start nice and simple, for those that dont know you –  How did your project Bird Noire begin? 
Drew : “My name’s Andy Gladwell and I’m one half of a night pop/electronica duo named Bird Noire. I’m also a professional coeliac.
Bird Noire began all the way back in 2014. Jamie and I had been playing as session musicians with a rock band who suffered a classic testicle-crushing music industry let down, off the back of which we decided that if you want a job done right, do it yourselves.
Jamie : “I am Jamie Bird; co-writer, singer and one half of Bird Noire. The project began on a drive back to Bristol in Drew’s car…we were talking about how shit it was to be in other projects that weren’t working, having to constantly ‘play the game’ as session players. Our hopes being built up, and every time, without fail, “the industry” and haphazard optimism, would promptly and swiftly dash our hopes, kicking us when we were down. The phrase ‘If you want a job done properly, then you do it yourself’ became a mantra for us in the early days, and to a degree still resonates true today. Essentially, Drew and I were tired of jumping through hoops for other people. And our combined love for Prince, D’angelo & all things synth, led us to get writing in our own style, without pressure. Bird Noire became instantly meaningful for me. It is something that I take great pride in.
You’ve already released your first EP, 101, and you’re just about to release the follow up, how do the 2 releases differ in sound, style and emotions?
Drew : “The sound of 103 is a huge step up in fidelity from 101. This is thanks to Toby McClaren for giving us the opportunity to record with wonderful analogue vintage synthesisers through some amazing outboard gear, and the engineering brilliance of James Scott who tirelessly helped record and produce the record.
The songs on 103 are more varied with more splatters of light compared to the darkness of 101, though still very much a Bird Noire record. I think it’s fair to say that Jamie and I were in a much better place when 103 was being written so it doesn’t feel quite so cold and melancholic.
Jamie : “There is quite a substantial difference between 101 & 103 Interludes. Firstly, the recording environment was hugely different. 101 was recorded in Drew’s bedroom, through a crappy sound card and with a cheap SM58 microphone. We used one hardware synth, the Arturia Microbrute, and the sessions usually were once a week, and went on late into the night. To be honest, most of it was a bit of a haze…sort of finding our sound as we went along, just making music for us and no one else, but all the while knowing there was something special happening. 
At the time, we both were going through lots of emotional heart ache and trauma, so, 101 basically became the place where we could transfer all those feelings and leave it all behind. It became a sort of diary, or a cathartic compilation of all the affecting shit we were experiencing, I guess that’s why the sound was quite dark, honest, raw and fully emotive.
103 Interludes, on the other hand, was pretty damn professional and without doubt way more hopeful. I have always seen 101 as black and white, with perhaps quite a straight forward emotional narrative. 
However, 103 is awash with colour and hopeful nostalgia, all the while having its own sense of emotional range, and to be frank, a much superior sound quality! 
The two records are almost polar opposites to each other. Sound, vibe, colour, recording and writing processes, as well as the logistical approach, were all different. It feels like we really upped our game the second time around.

We’d love to know how you produce your music, the vocals are so tender yet very cinematic, the synths are raw and powerful, and the mixing seems so professional. What’s the dynamic between you both, what is your creative process and what kind of gear are you using?
Jamie : “I’ll start with gear….I have a bit of a thing for synths… we have had the fortunate pleasure of using some really nice synths and other next analogue gear. Im writing this now sat next to a Juno 6, so that says something. On the record we used a Teisco 70f, Juno 106, Korg Minilogue, Jen (70s Spanish synth) Rhodes piano, Arturia Microbrute, Roland AX, Vermona mrkII (drum machine) Behringer Deepmind 12, plus a 60s organ that I can’t remember, shame on me. Wish we had more to use, next record will be ridiculous! I promise.
The dynamic between us is actually really relaxed and quite fun. Every time we sit down to make some music, we seem to make a track that we are both really happy with, it’s weird…
We enjoy each other’s company, which helps, but also know each other’s style and taste in music, even down to the nitty gritty details. Drew has heard me sing terribly so many times over the years, and I feel comfortable enough to sing badly in front of him too.
My creative process definitely starts, 9 times out of 10, with a synth line or pad, the other time being a vocal idea. And just get playing and being experimental until something twigs; then get it recorded, and usually a vocal melody forms quite quickly in my head, get that recorded. Then, in essence, that’s the song. Everything else, ie. verse, chorus, structure, melody, lyrics etc etc, all start to inform themselves, within the Bird Noire sound, along the way.
We acquired the significant assistance of James Scott to help us record and produce 103 Interludes. The analogue curation of this record was integral to the sound. We tried to approach all parts and processes with as much consideration as possible, meaning a synth line sounded perfect before we hit record, therefore, minimising the amount of post edit production.
Drew : “Thank you! Jamie and I are both prolific writers, though we cover different fields. Jamie’s strengths are his sublime voice, melodies and layering of vocals to create rich, haunting songs. I’m more of the techie of the duo, so I like to play with soundscapes, textures and create intricate rhythms with foley sounds – when they all come together it sounds like a Bird Noire song!
We have a really good working relationship where we will be creating long into the night – many of our songs are crafted together as demos in a home studio and from there taken to a studio.
103 features an impressive arsenal of gear, including a Roland Juno 106, Teisco 60f, Farfisa organ, Korg Minilogue, Arturia MicroBrute run through Neve and API preamps and countless other magical boxes I can’t recall!
We’ve had the honour to see you guys perform 2 tracks and you are already so comfortable behind the mic and on the keys. Were there other projects before Bird Noire and what made you form this new one as a duo?`
Drew: “I’ve been playing in all sorts of bands since I was about 16, as a funk guitarist, a folk bassist, a reggae drummer and many things in between. The first project I joined Jamie on was for a wild electro funk band called Beta Civilian where I played bass guitar and made dumb electronic noises. It was a really fun band to play with, but touring round with 5 synths, a full drum kit, 2 laptops, a bass and amplifiers became quite difficult and upset many live sound engineers! Forming a duo keeps organisation and logistics nice and straightforward and leaves much less room for unpleasant politics and unresolved disagreements.
Jamie: “Drew and I have been in 2 other bands before Bird Noire. BetaCivilian & Waves of Fury. Plus, I have been performing as a singer from an early age, as well as many other bands over two decades, before I knew Drew Hill. I also grew up in schools, my parents were teachers, so there was always lots of pianos around. Ended up teaching myself piano, and the rest is history.
I have always loved the idea of a two piece, especially coming from bands. Love the conceptual possibilities of a duo, look at Daft Punk! As well as the practicalities of things too, two people streamline the whole process, and the back and forth nature seemed way more gratifying and productive.
 
Forgetting music, if you could be any where in the world right now, where would you be? And would you go together or are you sick of each other after all the studio time together?
Drew : “I’ve always wanted to spend a few years in New York – many of my heroes and influences have come out of NY, both musical and non-musical. It seems like an amazing city with an unending stream of brilliant and challenging art.
Jamie : “I would love to be in Tokyo right now, its definitely my top ‘dream destination’.
Although, I would happily go on holiday with Drew! The studio time was intensive but really not bad in the slightest.” 
Social media, the internet and mobile phones have been on a trajectory to world domination, how do you think it affects the musical landscape and the artists trying to make a name for themselves? You often see gigs full of people taking videos and pictures, some clubs now banning phones and photography but it’s also easier than ever to connect with your fans and share your music.
Jamie : “Im not a huge fan of smart phones and social media to be honest, I fully appreciate its merit and uses, however, personally, see it has a bit of a hassle, maybe I’m just being a dinosaur! I have been rocking a Nokia ‘burner’ phone for the last 5 years, so that says it all!
For the music industry its tougher than ever, as everyone now has a voice and a platform to buy or listen to their favourite music, exposure is at an all time high, so it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd.

 

Drew : “I think about this an awful lot and it’s a double edged sword – you’re faced with the dichotomy that it is much easier to distribute and reach an audience but at the same time you’re competing with millions of others who are doing the same. What I’ve found is that the huge influx of average, unremarkable music being generated and sprayed online is that it’s made me raise my game and given me the determination to try to be unique and different.
Retro music and culture has been on the rise lately, we all love looking back and feeling like it’s the 70’s and 80’s, even though many of us weren’t born then. Why do you think it’s so popular right now? And how much does Bird Noire owe to those eras?
Drew : “It’s always easy to romanticise an era gone by through rose-tinted lenses, particularly what seems like a simpler time when compared to the chaotic pace of modern life.  Personally I owe a huge amount to those eras – the majority of my music tastes were made before the 2000s, and I think that the limitations on technology and resources exposed the raw talent of recording artists and bred true creativity.
 
Jamie : “Retro is totally back in, and long may it continue! I think it has made it’s way back into popular music because of the genuine article of sound, be it using 80s synthesizers, and perhaps the simplicity of it too. College is a great example of that, the track ‘Real Hero’ featured on the Drive soundtrack, is literally one sequencer, a drum machine, vocal line and a synth line. It just works. The sounds used are emotive as hell, and it just comes down to how it makes the listener feel…I will always love throwback music for that reason.
80s style synthesis and ‘vibe’ was definitely a big influence for me in writing 103. At times, it feels as if some of the tracks on the record were directly inspired by films such as ‘2001 Space Odyssey’, ‘Back to the Future’ and of course ‘Blade Runner’…These scores set in motion something undeniably nostalgic for me. The mood created by the soundtrack are so affecting, and without it, the films would not have the impact that they did. I had hoped to create a record that had the same lasting impression, using a cinematic, yet sensitive approach to epic emotive music.
The music video of Still Hope is here in all its sci-fi glory. Its your first big shiny official music video, directed by our good friend Mike Tyler. You spent a long day filming in London being turned into spooky 3d holograms, how was that?
Drew : “It was an amazing experience! That was my first taste of a professional music video shoot and it was absolutely electric to be surrounded by intimidatingly talented people, all of whom were delightful to work with – the results of which speak for themselves!
Jamie : “The video experience was really cool, I have to mention how professional Mike Tyler and his production team where, really felt like entering into another world. Seeing the studio space and all the next level cameras being used, the lighting rig etc etc was just a great experience. It was a long old day, and everyone showed such patience and understanding, but people were really working together to get it down as best as possible. I felt a bit weird having to mime the lyrics to the track, as its basically about being mega depressed, but that was something i had to step up to, for sure.
The finished video is straight up incredible, Mike Tyler is a genius, and he has created something so perfect for ‘Still Hope’, better than i could have ever imagined. Would love to work with him again, if he would have us…
Desert island discs time, if you were both stranded on an island for the rest of time, which 3 albums/records do you take. You get 3 each!
Drew : “Only three?! Okay that’s a tough one, but at this moment in time I’d select : 
  • Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom
  • Talking Heads – Remain in Light
  • Ray Charles – Live at Newport
My apologies to The Beatles, 10CC, David Bowie, Nina Simone, Charles Mingus and Frank Zappa.
Jamie: 
  • SURVIVE – RR7349
  • Michael Jackson – Bad
  • The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

To finish off, we have some quick fire questions :
Big festival or intimate gig?
D: “Intimate gig.
J: “Intimate.
Mountains or beach?
D: “Majestic mountains.
J: “Mountains.”
Dogs or cats?
D: “Cats.”
J: “Dogs.
Favourite label?
D: “Blue Note Records.
J: Other than Oleeva : ) – Warp Records/Invada Records
Favourite band?
D: “It constantly changes but right now I can’t stop listening to Talking Heads.
J: “Carpenter Brut.
Favourite food?
D: “Lasagne.
J: “Eggs Benedict.”
Tea or coffee?
D: “Always coffee.
J. “Coffee.
Time travel forward 1000 years, or backwards 1000 years?
D: “Backwards, I’m absolutely fascinated by history.”
J: “Forward 1000 years, it would just be insane!
America or Australia?
D: “America.
J: “America.
Day or night?
D: “Day.
J: “Night.
Thank you very much, guys! And congratulations on the new EP!
Drew & Jamie : “Cheers! It’s been our absolute pleasure.

Go ahead and check out the new Bird Noire single “Forever Now”
Connect with Bird Noire on their Social Media : 
Bird Noire Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/bird-noire

 

 

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