On the release of her debut album, Belonging, music writer Matt Jacobson interviews singer-songwriter Dorothy Bird.
‘I like my melodies to be surprising, as light as feathers and moving from place to place.”
DOROTHY BIRD announces new album following BBC Introducing & Tom Robinson, fresh On The Net support. BELONGING is the acclaimed art-popper’s first release on Merseyside’s most eclectic record label, Klee.
With ringing endorsements from BBC Introducing, Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net and a plethora of tastemaking magazines both in England and her native Germany, Dorothy Bird’s star is rising. Comparisons have been drawn with Björk, Kate Bush and Thom Yorke, but the sound of Dorothy Bird is startlingly original. “I love those artists because they’re unique and use melodies to create a feeling or atmosphere. I like my melodies to be surprising, as light as feathers and moving from place to place.”
Dorothy Bird’s debut album , BELONGING dives into personal development and wills a world to appear. BELONGING represents two different worlds that are connected to each other. An enchanting listen that encourages us all to talk, chat and connect in a world which is further adrift and separating us more by the day. Dorothy Bird assures us all, ‘you are not alone’. Synths and strings combine and sprinkle magic to beautiful and pure vocals. In terms of debut albums, it surpasses expectations. It seems to be a complete album from an artist with 5 albums already released and a plethora of technology, resources and experience to hand. It is complete, it is unique, it is faultless and transcends you to a warm and caring zone that is comfortable and serene. As you listen, the world outside goes missing and in these times – that can only be a good thing. I wanted to know more so i interviewed Dorothy about the recording process, poetry and the future.
The album, how long did the process take from start to finish?
I recorded the first song for the album at Crosstown Studios in 2019. At that point I wasn’t thinking about an album, but that we were working on an EP. Right before it was supposed to come out in 2020, we had to change our plans because of Covid and hit pause like all of us. It sounds weird, but I’m very thankful for it because it was only then that I saw the connection with other songs I was working on. It was suddenly very clear that all these songs belonged together. The Corona period slowed down the rest of the recording process because I was commuting between Berlin and Liverpool, as I do now, and a lot of travel was cancelled. The songs were all finished mixed and mastered in August 2021, since then they were in the hands of the pressing plant.
The album dives into personal development and has themes of uprooting, longing for arrival and letting go. How easy or difficult do you find writing lyrics to a personal journey?
I write a few pages every morning, and sometimes topics emerge that move me, that want to be looked at more closely. I try to let my subconscious speak. Some of the topics in the songs are very personal and I have struggled a lot inside to allow the words and feelings to come out. In the end, it was cathartic. The idea behind the album is that we can all live and experience in different ways, but are still connected, no matter where we come from and how we identify. Life is full of change and surprises, on the small personal level, but also in the big sense. Whatever my own personal development is, if I lift my gaze and leave my perspective, I can see other people who are also going through the same thing or who may have experienced something similar. In this connectedness, I find it easier to dive into the depths to search for the full spectrum of emotions the lyrics need. One person’s development is like a microcosm and a direct mirror for the macrocosm, where there are changes happening all the time, sometimes they happen over a long period of time and with a big inner or outer force.
You have mentioned for the album, ‘all instruments belong together’, this combination – is it a lengthy process of experimenting with sounds or easy to combine?
For the album, I combined electronic instruments like synthesizers, electric guitars, drum machines and soundscapes with acoustic instruments like strings and acoustic guitars. For me, these are two different worlds that are interconnected, representing aspects of the fullness of feelings. They don’t contradict each other, but they can exist at the same time and belong together.
It was actually a longer process to find all the sounds for the album. Every note is intentional. In the first phase, I arranged and pre-produced the songs in Ableton, with a variety of sounds, synthesizers, rhythmic elements, found sounds like hydrogen, and for one song guitar loops sent to me by a friend. With that, I went to Jon Lawton at Crosstown Studios and together we continued to search, experiment, record, arrange, sort out and add. We worked song by song to find the right sounds for the mood, emotion and lyrical meaning. We also found instruments and sounds that tie the album together. So certain synthesizers, guitar sounds and drum machines reappear repeatedly, and we developed a piano patch in which we combined different instruments.
The recording process, do you have the lyrics first or the sound?
Most of the time, I first have a musical idea that emerges at the piano. It also happens that I hum a melody while taking a walk, which I then quickly record with my phone. When melodies or chords appear on the piano and I start to build song structures and sing melodies with syllables that sound like words, then I know that a song is waiting for me. I first let my subconscious have free rein, and then I take a closer look to find out what the song is about. Then I work on the lyrics, which can actually take a while. But occasionally there are also songs where the lyrics came first, like Silent Warrior. They poured out in one go as if they had always been there.
You have co-produced the album with John Lawton and strings were provided by Wirral musician Amy Chalmers, with Natasha Jaffe providing Cello – All experienced and multi-talented. What did they add or bring to the recording process?
I love working with these musicians! It is such a pleasure to work, record and co-produce with Jon Lawton at Crosstown Studios. Through his own perspective, musical intuition and knowledge, new dimensions have opened up. Jon has added depth and shimmer to the songs and his mixes are just great. In addition to his incredibly beautiful guitar playing and programming, we got to experiment together. As a songwriter, I sometimes feel like a sculptor trying to discover and reveal a face in a stone. It is so valuable to find people who support each other in walking this path and who make it possible to go on a journey of discovery. Amy has written string arrangements for the songs ‘Belonging’ and ‘The Evening’. They complete the songs and fill me with happiness. Her arrangement for ‘The Evening’ in particular defines the song and enhances its feeling and colour. She has also played all the violin and viola sections for these songs and it was fun to work with her. Natasha Jaffe has recorded her beautiful and warm-sounding cello from her home studio in Berlin. Natasha and I have worked together for a long time, she has musically been with me since the start. Her cello can be heard on ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘The Evening’. Last but not least, Pete Maher did the mastering and I love it.
There is a calmness to the album and I feel it transcends you into a different world with poetic references – from Theodor Fontane and Rainer Maria Rilke – what is about the two poets that captured your heart and imagination?
Two songs on the album are inspired by these poets, ‘My Heart’ and ‘The Evening’. I came across these poems while I was commissioned to write music for a theatre piece by the German theatre company Fritz Ahoi. For the album, the lyrics to the songs are translated by a friend of mine, the poet Alistair Noon. Since my teenage years, I’ve been in love with poetry and Rilke is still one of my favourites. The evening is the transition between separate things, the day and the night, light and dark, sun and moon. At that time of day, everything can co-exist and is combined into one. It is an in-between place that is full of everything. Like when there has been a change in life and you don’t know where it will go from here. It can be anything, anywhere. You’re still thinking of what has been and the new things are already there too. For me, the song is about the different forces and feelings in life. Testing how far you can grow, reaching out, splitting apart. And only because a heavy feeling exists, it doesn’t mean that there is no lightness within too – „A stone within an object in the skies“.
Playing live, which venues in Liverpool contribute to the sound and add value to the performance?
Liverpool has a nice range of venues and I think they’re all special in their own way. Depending on which sound or genre of music you would like to play, there is a venue for that. I’ve had the honour of playing in the Philharmonic Music Room and LEAF, among others. And now I’m particularly looking forward to playing the record release concert at Jimmy’s on Thursday 30th June with Jon on guitar, Ryan Mallows on drums and myself singing and playing synths and piano. We have wonderful support acts, local duos Visions of Albion and RUINS, and I’m looking forward to listening to their sets.
And what next for Dorothy Bird?
After our vinyl album launch at Jimmy’s on June 30, we will play more concerts in Berlin and other German cities. Of course, there are more concerts coming up in Liverpool, but they will be later in the year and with surprise lineups. I want to play live as much as possible. On September 2nd the album will be released digitally on all streaming platforms. Several videos are waiting to be released, including studio live recordings and another official music video for one of the songs from the album. And… I’m already writing more songs. It’s all very exciting and I’m happy about all the lovely feedback I’m receiving for the album.
Thank you, Dorothy, much appreciated and very best wishes for the future.