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Andrew Bird Biography

Home > Music > B > Bird, Andrew > Biography

Born: 1973/07/11
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Years Active: 1996–present
Genres: Indie Rock, Indie Folk, Folk Rock, Baroque Pop

Andrew Bird (born July 11, 1973) is an American musician, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Trained in the Suzuki method from the age of four, Bird graduated from Lake Forest High School in 1991 and Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in violin performance in 1996.

That same year he self-released his first solo album, “Music of Hair.” Vastly different from his later work, this album showcased his violin skills and paid tribute to his fascination with both American and European folk traditions, as well as jazz and blues. Following this, his initial commercial exposure came through collaborative work with the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, appearing on three of their albums, “Hot,” “Sold Out,” and “Perennial Favorites” between 1996 and 1998.

Taking on the role of bandleader, Bird released “Thrills” on Rykodisc in 1997 with his group Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, shortly followed by second album “Oh! The Grandeur” in 1998. Both albums were heavily influenced by traditional folk, pre-war jazz, and swing, with Bird relying on the violin as his primary musical instrument, as well as providing vocals along with his trademark verbose lyrics.

In 2002, Bird was asked to open for a band in his hometown of Chicago, but fellow Bowl of Fire members were unavailable for the date. The reluctant Bird performed the gig alone, and the surprising success of this solo show suggested potential new directions for his music.

The Bowl of Fire unofficially disbanded in 2003, and Bird went on to radically re-invent himself as a solo artist. His two subsequent albums were released on Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe Records label. 2003's “Weather Systems” was a sparse record with a dramatic change in musical direction. It featured the tracks “Skin” and “I,” proto-versions of songs that would later become “Skin Is, My” and “Imitosis.”

2005’s “The Mysterious Production of Eggs” continued a progression towards an eclectic indie–folk sound, and both records formed a stark stylistic break with Bird's earlier work, swapping the lush backing of a full band for carefully layered samples of sound constructed using multitrack recorders and loop pedals. As his sound changed, Bird made increasing use of guitar, glockenspiel, and whistling in his songwriting, in addition to his traditional violin and vocals.

Bird is noted for improvising and reworking his songs during live performance, as can be seen in his series of self-released live compilations entitled “Fingerlings,” “Fingerlings 2” and “Fingerlings 3,” the first of which was released in 2002. Each “Fingerlings” EP was released prior to a studio album, and presented a mixture of live performances from different shows, including old tracks, covers, and previously unreleased songs, some of which have since appeared on studio albums. “Fingerlings 3,” released in October 2006, also featured studio outtakes. “Fingerlings 2” provided Bird with an unexpected boost in recognition in 2004 when it was named album of the month by “Mojo.”

In September 2006, Bird signed to Fat Possum Records, and in March 2007 he released his third post-Bowl of Fire album, “Armchair Apocrypha.” The album was recorded in collaboration with electronic musician Martin Dosh, and included a track composed by Dosh (with lyrics by Bird) entitled “Simple X.” This song first appeared without Bird's lyrics as “Simple Exercises” on Dosh's 2004 release “Pure Trash.” The album was produced by Ben Durrant and also featured Haley Bonar and Chris Morrissey.

Bird's fifth solo album, “Noble Beast,” was released in January 2009, and contained fourteen new songs. “The Privateers” was a re-imagining of a very early song entitled “The Confession” from 1999's “Oh! The Grandeur.” A limited deluxe edition of the album included alternate packaging and artwork, as well as an all-instrumental companion disc entitled “Useless Creatures.” The entirety of “Useless Creatures” was made available via Bird's website during the run-up to the release. “Noble Beast” was met with generally favorable reviews.

In May 2009, Bird released the EP “Fitz and the Dizzy Spells.” It contained “Fitz and the Dizzyspells” from “Noble Beast,” as well as other songs from that album's recording sessions. In 2010, Bird recorded with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, contributing vocals and violin on a cover of “Shake It and Break It” on “Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program.”

Bird wrote and performed the original score and songs for the 2010 film “Norman.” The soundtrack for the movie was released in 2011.