Ahead of her gig at The Everyman, Explore Liverpool Music Writer Matt Jacobson interviews singer, songwriter Dorothy Bird.
“There are always new sounds and melodies to discover.”
Was the family home a musical home?
There were no musicians in my family – my father was a businessman and his mum was a seamstress; my mother worked in film and later as a secretary and my grandfather was a philosopher. However, my mum told me that her mum sang beautifully along to operas playing on the radio. My niece and nephew also love to sing. So music kind of runs in the family, even if no one else has taken the professional path. My mother used to sing with me a lot when I was little. Somewhere even exists a cassette with a recording of the two of us.
When did you pick up your first instrument and begin to play?
I wanted to learn cello or piano when I was little. But growing up in East Berlin limited the possibility of getting an instrument and so my parents got me a recorder. I never loved it, but I started improvising on it because I couldn’t read sheet music. When I was 5 years old, I started singing in a choir and I really enjoyed it. We sang international songs and a repertoire of Eastern European folkloristic music. The choir did some performances too and I was allowed to sing a few solos. I picked up the piano just a year and a half before studying music at university.
Did you attend any gigs and do you recall any that stand out?
My father took me to a piano concert when I was about 6 years old. I remember he said we can leave if I’m bored. But I sat spellbound, completely immersed in this world and couldn’t get enough. When I was a teenager my parents took me to the opera a couple of times and I was fascinated by the voices, the passion and the orchestra. At the same time, I was extremely amused by the bobbing wigs and the dramatic acting. But I loved the moment when the orchestra started to tune the instruments and the air started to charge electrically with excitement and anticipation. Later, of course, I went to concerts alone and I heard Björk and Depeche Mode, for example. Björk’s gig was the most beautiful concert I have ever seen.
Your influences; can you name them and what is it about them that influences you?
Björk and Thom Yorke are probably my biggest influences, closely followed by Goldfrapp and also The Beatles. All these artists are just going – or went! – their own way, and their albums never cease to amaze me. There are always new sounds and melodies to discover. Bjork creates other worlds with her music, with layers of sounds, concepts and unusual combinations. I love the authenticity and originality of all of these artists. I studied jazz at university, so I feel at home with Ella Fitzgerald too and I’m deeply moved by the raw honesty, fragility and strength in the voices of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. When I was a teenager, we relocated to Bulgaria because of the work of my parents. The women’s choir Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares has influenced my harmonies and scales a lot, especially through the haunting arrangements of their voices.
Are you always thinking about writing, or do you stop and say it’s time to write and record?
I don’t always think about writing, but I enjoy observing the world and nature around me, and I love imagining thoughts, stories and the lives of other people I meet. All of this goes into my subconscious and comes up when I write. I write a few pages every morning, not straight away with a focus on songs, but more for getting into the writing flow and seeing what comes up. When something really moves me, a song or first drafts of lyrics come up naturally. Then I record them in Ableton and work on the first arrangements and instrumentation.
Did lockdown halt creativity or create time to be creative?
Lockdown gave me time and new perspectives. I wrote a lot of music, learned more about home recording, but like everyone else, I performed very little. Since we couldn’t play live and a release didn’t make much sense, the planned EP became an album. I was able to record the album with Jon Lawton at Crosstown Studios and we worked on it with lots of love and time. And I’m so happy to say that we finished it.
For those, yet to hear your music – how would you describe it?
My music is piano-led and my analogue bass synthesizer can never be missed either. I love combining acoustic instruments like strings and guitars with synths, electric guitars and drum machines. For me, they represent two different worlds that are connected to each other. On the record, we did a lot of programming with layers of sounds. Live it is slightly different – we are playing with an acoustic-hybrid drumkit, electric guitar, and I’m playing the piano and two synthesizers.
How would you describe being on stage?
In lockdown, I really missed being on stage because I enjoy so much the connection between the audience and the music, and the connection between the musicians when we are playing. Everything just becomes more than the single parts themselves on their own. I enjoy being on stage but I’m also always nervous beforehand. But once we’re playing that’s gone.
And what next for Dorothy Bird?
I’m really looking forward to playing live Downstairs at the Everyman on the 24th of March. A massive thanks to Dave McTague and Mellowtone for the support, organising it and for the love for music in general. I will be joined on stage by Jon Lawton on guitar and Ryan Mallows on drums. Looking forward to hearing Blue Saint and DJ Jonnie O’Hare on the night too. At the end of June I will be releasing my first album on vinyl with KLEE Music, called ‘Belonging’. It will be accompanied by a few new videos and by shows in Liverpool, Berlin and other cities in Germany. I’m so excited about all of this and very grateful for these opportunities.