Photo: Shervin Lainez
Most people know Andrew Bird as a musician, songwriter and world-class whistler. But he’s something of an anthropologist, too, shining a light on the things many have forgotten.
A young Bird — consumed by classical music, jazz and early European folk — dedicated his life to mastering the violin, eventually graduating from Northwestern University with a full-fledged classical training.
It was sometime during those college days, though, that Bird yearned to spread his wings and put the instrument he carried so near and dear to his heart out of the background and into the spotlight. And that necessitated approaching things in a whole new way.
“There were years of playing clubs in Chicago and figuring out how not to sound like a mosquito,” Bird said with a laugh. “That’s what a lot of violins in bands sound like, to be honest — this little, thin buzzing sound that gets buried. I had to quit thinking like a violinist and start thinking like a rock guitarist.”
The Chicago product’s foray into modern music — one originally based in folk and jazz before sprouting into the chamber pop-inflected indie folk — rubbed many of his instructors and classmates the wrong way, his colleagues viewing it as a sort of cop-out at the cost of a more noble purpose.
“With a lot of my relationships with my professors, there was friction. A while back, I went to play at my music school in the same concert hall I performed at for years, and no one in the music school came. Not a soul thought of me being of that realm, but neither did I,” Bird said.
“There’s a lot more understanding in the classical world of
non-classical realms now, but there was this big wall for the longest
Performing Sunday at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Bird himself has played a big part in breaking down that wall, equipping the violin the way most songwriters arm themselves with a guitar. His profile seemingly cemented, Bird’s tendency to bring personal treasure into the light of day has a new target.
Following last year’s classical leaning EP, I Want To See Pulaski at Night comes Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of..., a full album of Handsome Family covers released last week. The little-recognized, husband-wife alt-country duo has kept its nose to the grindstone for over 20 years now, despite never garnering the type of success Bird believes the pair deserves.
Landing the main title theme to crime drama phenomenon True Detective this year was a big step in that direction, and Bird hopes Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of... can help that trend soar upward.
“[The Handsome Family’s] best songs, to me, they do what great songs do,” Bird said. “They say something lyrically with as few words as possible, which is hard to do these days with the English language. They’ve always been what I turn to, to remind me what to shoot for. I learn one of their songs every couple of months, so it was only a matter of time before I did this.”