Like A Bird
Wallis Bird discusses condoms, coke and travelling, and reassures Sally Hayden that she’s not ALWAYS happy.
Wallis Bird is hyper. “Too much coke”, she declares. “Coca cola that is!”
This Meath-born Wexford-bred ball of energy has just turned thirty. A modern-day nomad, she is permanently in flight. Her wandering lifestyle is reminiscent of Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air, encased in the paradox that change can be similarity. “I think the constant thing is that you always keep moving, that’s the only thing that has really been solid in my life since I was a child.” Bird is just back from Holland, a “really cool country, very open-minded system and beautiful landscape”, flying in to support Rodrigo y Gabriela in the UK before coming over to Ireland.
Though she mentions a home she seems, somewhat admirably, to lack the standard human feelings of attachment. “It’s kind of part of the game to be on the road really… It’s kind of incredible to be able to get out of a train or get out of a bus in a different country every day, in a different town, different currency, different language, you know it’s incredible. Travelling around, seeing all of this different culture, yeah I mean, what’s not to love?”
But at least she has an entourage. “Ah yeah, I have my person who lifts me up stairs and who drinks my tea and makes sure it’s stirred! No, I think it’s just us the band, and a tour manager. Entourage, like people hang around that make us look cool? No. We always pick up a few people along the way, but it’s not really an entourage. We just kind of hang around, do our own thing, play the gigs, meet people after the show, party and go on to the next one. I suppose it’s a temporary entourage all the time, yes.”
Signing with Island Records six years ago brought her to London, for better and for worse. “The scene is excellent, it’s kind of the epicentre of the music business as such, but that doesn’t mean that it’s anywhere better than anywhere else, I prefer jamming at house parties as opposed to big serious gigs or going around and networking, all of that shite that comes with London.”
Three albums down, she describes her music as “the basic rhythms of a nation”; a genre-neutral nation that is. “I would describe it as a healthy mixture of many, many different styles ranging from rock to jazz to reggae even. It’s, oh fuck, you explain it for me, you’re better, you’re the journalist. It’s very style-blind.”
Musicians overcoming adversity seems to be par on course with the emphasis on today’s X-factor sob-stories, but Bird is an authentic example. At just 16 months old she was in a lawnmower accident, which led to five of her fingers being chopped off. Four were sewn back on, and as a result the originally-left handed songstress plays a right-handed guitar upside-down. “Because I wasn’t allowed to do it after the accident, you know you have to rest your hand. That made me want to do everything double the amount more… It shaped me as a person, definitely. I work harder at a lot of stuff based on the fact that I grew up just wanting to prove people wrong.”
She’s also one of a rare breed of musicians that will unashamedly reference their ego. “Mostly my success is quite simplified down to just wanting to just play music for the rest of my life and live my life by that. That would be the only success that I wish really to have, but you know because of my ego I like to have that massaged every now and again, so I suppose I’m probably like most musicians in that way.”
Bird’s glee radiates from her music and her voice. It is infectious and undeniable. If there’s a secret to eternal happiness, Otwo believes she’s the keeper. “I do of course have a lot of sadness and elements of deep-rooted depression, I think everybody does, to be able to allow myself to get down and low, but I tend to work myself out of it, and I think the positivity is just the allowing to allow myself to feel any way that I want to feel, and I think that’s where I get my energy to be positive.”
Her life advice to students is to let loose, get practical experience and “always have condoms. Yes, always have condoms, that’s handy.”
And with such a pun-friendly moniker, Otwo asks her can she bear the the inevitable associated quips. “Do you know what, out of all the interviews that I’ve had there haven’t been as many as I thought there would be. I think people might have found that a little bit too lazy or something. But no, it’s cute. Like a lot of people call me Birdy Bird. I’m sure for the release of the record there might be quite a few ‘this bird will fly’ or something to that effect.”
“Birds tend to sing to themselves and enjoy their own life, don’t they, and share it with us a little bit. That’s alright.”
Originally published in the University Observer in March 2012