Breaking Big: Jade Bird on her self-titled debut, gigging as a teenager, and her love of riot grrrl bands
In 2018, Jade Bird quite literally hit the jackpot with her 2018 single “Lottery.” The bright, folk-tinged guitar track topped Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart, creating buzz around the 21-year-old star in the making. “The amount of support I got from that song certainly seemed to break through to a lot of critics and a lot of different audiences,” says Bird, who would later book a spot on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and play sold-out venues across America and Europe. “I think it was a breakthrough of myself as well because it led me towards [my] debut album.”
Born in Hexham, U.K., Bird grew up as an “army brat,” bouncing around South Wales, Germany, and Chesterfield. She found constants in the strong women in her family: her mother and grandmother. That later translated to the female role models she discovered through music, including Alanis Morissette and Patti Smith. She especially found comfort in raw, confessional songwriting that had a thread running between folk, rock, and pop.
In her late adolescence, Bird discovered guitar via a family friend. Later stumbling on records from Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, she subsequently became enamored with acoustic-based music. “It just kind of smacked me in the face,” she recalls. By 14, she started gigging and continued to do so for six years, which wasn’t always easy. “I gigged all the way through school [and] moved to London when I was 16 for music. I got my lungs that way, in a strange sense, but it’s been a bit of a journey.”
It’s since paid off. Now, Bird is being fully embraced by Americana artists and fans as she’s set to release her self-titled debut album via Glassnote (due April 19). The 12-track project is full of the same crystalline vocals and alt-country anthems she introduced to the world at live performances and in her debut EP Something American.
But she isn’t keen on being confined to one sound or genre. “I often feel like when people try to attach a genre, sometimes it can be a little bit limiting, especially where ‘I Get No Joy’ really seems to be coming into more of an alternative space,” she says. “I listen to a lot of artists like Tori Amos, Cherry Glazerr, and Patti Smith, and I kind of wanted to follow in their footsteps, or at least try to be that genre-defining.”
In particular, she’s found herself drawn to the riot grrrl movement from a visceral performance standpoint — and because she’s always been interested in saying something in a way that hasn’t been said in the past. “I think with how society makes me feel like I should grasp onto the inner strength of me being a woman, and I felt like it was all just very much married into what I’m listening to, what I’m writing, how I’m feeling,” she says. “It was just this happy marriage.”
While she takes cues from riot grrrl bands, Bird is looking to be her own artist and, really, her own person. She also has a very specific songwriting process: she prefers to write in notebooks, not computers. “I work a lot on words, so if I hear a word or see a word or a phrase or a sentence that someone says to me it just immediately sparks a concept,” she says. Bird creates a “mind map” from whatever word or phrase she’s focused on and branches out ideas from there. When she was leaving the airport in Germany, a fellow traveler said something along the lines of, “Oh, you always bring the rain, you Brits,” prompting Bird to go to her hotel and pen a song titled “You Bring the Rain.” “Words seem to be the root of everything for me: words first,” she says.
At the moment, the song Bird is feeling the most connected to is a demo that aligns with her vision of saying something that’s never been said before. “I had this idea, if someone said to me, ‘If you weren’t here I wouldn’t stay on this Earth, I couldn’t be bothered with it,’ and for me I was like, ‘Okay, if I had to write a song to keep someone around, if they really wanted to go, what would it be?’ The result is “If I Die,” which she admits is the most depressing track on the project. “It was always the ending track on the record, and I think it’s the one I am proudest of on the record,” she says.
But Bird is also looking at a future beyond her album. She has a vision of what the next five years will look like for her — and it includes touring and releasing a lot more music. “Hopefully I’ll be on my third album in five years, that would be a big aim for me,” she says. “I see myself as happy and still playing music, that’s what I wanna do.”