After a three year hiatus, Notion catches up with Grammy-nominated artist Birdy ahead of her forthcoming album to discuss her reintroduction to music, growing up in the spotlight, and why this time around feels more authentic than ever.
Whether you realise it or not, the hauntingly familiar voice and aura of Birdy is one that has captured your attention at some point over the past 10 years. From her viral, ethereal cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” to appearing on The Hunger Games soundtrack and performing at some of the world’s largest ceremonies such as the London 2012 Paralympic Games; Birdy’s undeniable talent has sold over 18 million records and collected 21 Platinum worldwide singles.
The English singer-songwriter, also known as Jasmine van den Bogaerde, began composing her own music at the age of seven and had signed a major record deal by the time she was 14. Despite seeming premature, it was her family who naturally noticed her distinctive ability as she began to write songs alongside the piano. “My mum is a concert pianist so I grew up with lots of classical music around me”, she tells me. “I would make little pieces up on the piano and then I just sang along which I didn’t think about too much. I then started writing songs and my family would be listening thinking ‘What is she singing about?’ you know, I was seven-years-old singing all these really sad songs”, she laughs.
Now 24 with three acclaimed studio albums, Birdy is preparing for her return with a reintroduction to the awe-inspiring talent that not only showcases her artistic growth but the personal journey she has embarked on. She’s just released a new EP titled ‘Piano Sketches’ that features four beautifully crafted tracks, striking the spotlight on her ethereal vocals and dreamy piano ‘sketches’ that were mostly recorded in one take. “I’ve written so much for the new album because it’s been over three years that I’ve been making new songs and I just really wanted them to be in the world because I didn’t feel like they fit on the album”, she says. “The stories of them also just felt very personal”, she continues, “I thought it would be nice to put something out during this time for people that have been waiting so long”.
Although a second lockdown isn’t exactly how she thought she’d be spending the release of her comeback taster; she’s finding ways to celebrate. Tucked up in her family home in New Forest, Hampshire, with a few drinks, she tells me that “[releasing the EP has been] exciting. I’m so happy it’s out”.
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Standout track “Open Your Heart” is an honest and delicate offering that moves listeners to a place of serenity despite its introspective lyrics that are desperately calling out for one last chance at love. Written alongside Rick Nowels at his studio in Santa Monica, Birdy tells me that the process was a different experience for her which ultimately resulted in a unique song: “I think it was one of the first writing trips I did and it was kind of weird for me to be working with people”, she explains. “When we were writing, he would play the piano and I would sing which I’m not used to doing because I’m usually the one playing whilst I sing”, she continues. “He’s wonderful. I was very lucky to work with him”.
A craft that Birdy has been mastering since the age of eight, her means of conveying powerful emotion with nothing but a voice and a piano is undoubtedly a natural gift. Admitting that her creative process changes with each album, she states that in order to remain inspired you have to “try different things”. A lot of Birdy’s earlier music sourced inspiration from her hometown surroundings such as the wild countryside which reflects in its aptitude for reaching into the core of listeners, allowing the forces of nature to ease one’s worries simply through sound. This time, however, she’s taking a more personal approach to open up about her experiences with heartbreak, travelling, and being far away from home.
Her growth as an artist and individual dominates on tracks like “Loneliness”, one which effortlessly merges its fragile melody while describing the beauty of being alone: “I’m not afraid to be alone / to know you’re gone / I’ve been losing my mind in these sweet dreams of loneliness”. Despite its inkling of optimism, the record’s overall insight into the intense feeling of personal heartbreak suggests that it’s perhaps a coping mechanism — a way of convincing herself that she can be alone.
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You may be wondering how someone with such vulnerable and raw songwriting ability manages to stay focused during the moments when recalling such experiences might be too challenging. “I think I really needed a break after the last album”, she confesses. “I needed some time to explore and learn more about myself”. This all seems completely coherent. It’s difficult to grasp how someone who’s only just entered their mid-20s is 10 years into their career and holds a collection of achievements most people only dream of while also staying genuinely humble.
Reflecting on her time away from the spotlight, Birdy notes that a change in musical influences has been a significant part of her artistic growth. “I recently discovered Joni Mithcell for the first time which has changed my writing a lot [and subsequently] I’ve been playing a lot more guitar”, she says. A scary but exciting journey, she admits that the new record is “very much my vision and is completely driven by me which is nice because when you’re young you don’t exactly know what you want yet”. Adding that the most rewarding part of her break was now knowing that this time around she’s more sure of herself, she admits that if she could give her younger self advice she would say to trust her instincts, but realistically, “that’s something you naturally learn to do over time”.
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The forthcoming album, titled ‘Young Heart’, possesses a comforting sound that, especially during the world’s current uncertainty, feels like a breath of fresh air and provides a glimpse of hope with every listen. Despite its deep sense of longing and heartbreak throughout, the powerful voice of Birdy offers happiness even during its saddest moments as her inherent gentleness acts as a form of companionship. Delving into the album’s writing process, she says that she “wanted to have a theme of storytelling and be quite direct in that way”, which was why a lot of the record was written in Nashville as “a lot of the people there write the same way which was amazing to experience”.
“While I was writing I had this strong feeling of fate and the stories had an underlying message that everything would be ok in the end”, she shares. “You know the stories are sad, but you know that everything is going to work out how it’s meant to eventually”. As you can probably imagine, when every day is spent writing and listening to yourself sing on repeat, it can become a bit “boring”. Luckily for Birdy, she found that switching between art forms helped in keeping her focused on the end-goal. “I love painting and drawing so normally if I can’t write or listen to myself sing anymore I’ll just draw something”, she explains. “For the Piano Sketches EP, I drew the artwork for each song so it’s really nice to do something alongside the music”.
From the start of her career, Birdy has built a passionate global fanbase who have seen her sell out some of the most famous venues in the world. From the Hammersmith Apollo and Sydney Opera House to appearing at theatres and festivals throughout the U.S and in Asia, the art that Birdy creates is brought to life through live shows and lets the audience witness the soul-stirring voice and production that Birdy’s performances have to offer. At the moment, the future of live music and its respective industry is looking uncertain. So what does that mean for artists like Birdy?
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“I’ve had these songs for so long I just want to be able to sing them to people,” she says. “It’s so nice to actually receive a proper response from an audience. I think now there’s going to be a lot of online performances and it’s just not really the same. Maybe it will be a lot of smaller shows which, in a way, would be quite nice.”
Until we can attend live shows in all their glory once again, we’ll have to rely on the comfort of our own homes and natural surroundings to get us through. Thankfully, it’s Birdy’s passion for storytelling and innate aptness for conveying emotion through music that makes her one of the most remarkable acts from the past decade. Ready and sure in her highly anticipated return to music, Birdy’s atmospheric sound will no doubt be the soundtrack of early 2021.