Known the world over for her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”, released when she was only 15, Birdy can already be considered a veteran in the British music scene, even though she only recently turned 21. She has impressively penned most songs in her three original albums and has toured the world a couple of times in the last few years. The cover that made her famous went on to earn platinum certification six times in Australia and over 128 million views on Youtube.
Tonight (May 22), she is playing an acoustic 5 song set at the Deadhouse, an atmospheric cellar-like room at Somerset House, to give the audience a preview of what her performance in the courtyard of Somerset House will be like in July, when she performs at the Summer Series at Somerset House with American Express®.
As I sit down with Jasmine (Birdy’s real name), I marvel at how laid back she seems for someone who is about to perform alone on stage for about 50 people. From the intensity of the lyrics she writes, I might have expected someone who takes life very seriously. But here she is, dressed in an orange kaftan, with a serene look in her eyes, patiently waiting for me to start my questionnaire.
She looks her age now, speaking to me. Soon after this interview is over, when Birdy steps on stage and starts singing, she will be a different woman: her voice echoes through the room, powerful and clear and she never misses a note. She plays the piano with confidence, as she sings “Ghost in the Wind” and “Not About Angels“, both songs she wrote for film soundtracks (The Edge Of 17 and The Fault On Our Stars, respectively).
We discuss the influences behind Beautiful Lies, her latest album, and I ask about plans for a new one. She replies that for now, since she’s still touring, there’s nothing concrete in the works. Later, Birdy will play “Wild Horses“, the hit single off of Beautiful Lies, which sounds beautiful as a stripped down ballad.
“Wings“, arguably her most famous original song (from the album Fire Within), follows right after some minimal interaction with the audience. Birds finishes off the set with “Skinny Love” and someone in front of me lets out an enthusiastic “Woohoo!”, clearly happy that the old favourite is still around.
Birdy herself is more interested in looking forward. In our talk, she tells me how excited she is about performing at the Somerset House, talks about what has been inspiring her at the moment and discloses her musical guilty pleasures.
Q: I had a look at your tour schedule, you have quite a busy summer ahead. The concert at Somerset House is the only one you have in London for your Summer tour. Does it have a special meaning to you? Will your family be watching?
BIRDY: Yeah, it is special. I haven’t really done a lot of festivals in the UK and it’s such a beautiful setting as well, I think that’s the main thing for me, I’m just so excited to be surrounded by this setting. My family will come down, it should be good. I’m really excited.
Q: Does that make you nervous?
BIRDY: A little bit, a little bit. I mean, I’ve kind of grown up playing for them and them being there, so I’ve gotten used to it. It’s kind of nice now to know you’ve got friends in the audience.
Q: Your mum is a concert pianist and your dad is a writer. I’m sure they were a big influence growing up, but as you evolve as an artist, do you still go to them for advice? Or is that something that you need to separate yourself from, as you grow older?
BIRDY: I’ve always played my songs to my parents first when I was growing up and I love their opinions, hearing what they’ve got to say about it, especially my mum. It’s kind of nice to have that person who’s really honest.
Q: The Somerset House is a beautiful place to perform in, like you were saying. What is the most memorable place you’ve ever performed at?
BIRDY: Oh my God… Probably the Paralympics, it was really beautiful. I always say that in interviews, but it really was my favourite memory because it was just… obviously, it was a big arena, but mainly because of what was going on, the dancers and everyone just sitting there, it was so beautiful with all the colours, the lights. It was amazing. I also got to play at Sidney Opera House for three nights, which was so beautiful. I loved that.
Q: You’re playing Glastonbury. Do you like playing festivals? Do you feel like your music fits intimate concerts, like the one you’ll be playing here at the Somerset house?
BIRDY: I like both actually. Because sometimes it’s kind of more fun, it’s a bit more relaxed when it’s a big show, because you have no one right there who is watching your every move and there is a bit of distance so you’re just bouncing off the band and doing your own thing. For the smaller ones, it’s really intense. But in a good way. It’s also really moving and intimate and lovely. So yeah, both. It’s hard to choose.
Q: Do you like playing to new audiences at festivals?
BIRDY: Yeah, I like that. I love it because, again, it’s more relaxed and you’re just doing your thing and people wonder by and if they wanna stay, they can, otherwise they can go. You’re just there playing and not under a lot of pressure, which is really nice.
Q: You’ve released ‘Beautiful Lies’ about a year ago. You’ve naturally been touring since, but are you already planning new music? Or do you want to give it time, let the album breathe a little?
BIRDY: I guess it’s weird for other people when the album comes out because it’s all fresh for them, but for me, there are songs on the album that I’d had for five years. So I’ve been moving on whilst I was recording it. And I write all the time. So there’s not really a huge finished idea yet of what it’s going to be, but there are definitely a lot of songs and a lot of ideas that I’ve got for a new album.
Q: I’ve read that your last album was inspired by the book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and the Japanese Landscape.
BIRDY: You can hear it in particular in Growing pains (song from the album ‘Beautiful Lies’), the scales in it are very Asian sounding.
Q: What are you reading, watching, seeing in the world that has been inspiring you right now?
BIRDY: I’m not sure yet. Maybe I still need to find the thing that is going to bring it all together. I’m not really reading anything at the moment. Actually, I have been reading the Phillip Pullman books, ‘His Dark Materials’, which were so beautiful, I can’t believe I had never read them before, they’re children’s books, but they were so amazing and really inspiring. I don’t know, maybe something will come from that.
Q: Who are you listening to right now?
BIRDY: I am listening to Michael Kiwanuka a lot and to Laura Mvula, I’m a big fan. I listen to loads of stuff and then sometimes nothing at all.
Q: Anything surprising? Anything people wouldn’t expect you to?
BIRDY: Maybe it’s not that far out and it’s kind of a guilty pleasure, but Céline Dion. She’s one of my favourites, I love her.
Q: You’ve recently done the Fall 2016 Valentino Red campaign. Is fashion an interest of yours?
BIRDY: I definitely appreciate fashion, but I don’t know much about it, to be honest. I’m a big fan of Valentino, obviously. Red Valentine is their younger brand, so it was really nice to do that campaign. I think I fell in love with it because it’s quite magical and romantic and kind of other-worldly. I love that. I’ve never been really good at knowing what’s by who, I just end up going to vintage shops or wearing hand me downs.
Q: You’ve done a lot of songs for film soundtracks (‘Brave’, ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’). Do you have anything in the works?
BIRDY: Not at the moment, I wish I did. But I sometimes write things and think this would be really good for a film.
Q: What is it about a film that makes you want to write a song for it?
BIRDY: It’s probably the same thing as my music. If it’s magical or a bit sad because I know that I’ll be good at it. I don’t know… the ones that I’ve written for, I love Disney movies, ‘Brave’ is Pixar… and to be a part of it… I didn’t write that song, it was Mumford and Sons, but to be able to be a part of it was so exciting and I’d love to do more of that sort of Disney films.
Q: You’ve said that moving to London gave you an edgier, livelier sound and that the countryside made you more thoughtful. Now you’ve moved back home, can we expect a more introspective sound?
BIRDY: Maybe. Yeah, probably. It always happens. But that’s kind of just… me. That’s how I grew up and that’s how my songs started, so I think that’s good for me, actually. I’m just growing there, in a space where I feel comfortable and I like that.
Q: You’ve been nominated for a BRIT, the song ‘Learn Me Right’ was nominated for a Grammy. You’re only 21. What are the big milestones that you’d still like to hit as an artist?
BIRDY: I’d love to do some more painting. I love to paint. I’d like to get into that whenever I have time. But music wise, more of the film stuff. One day I’d love to do scores for movies. I’d love to do orchestras and that kind of thing, do a big score for a movie. I’d have to learn how, of course, but I’d love to.
Summer Series at Somerset House forms part of American Express’ Invites programme, which gets Card members closer to the things they love with the best seats, exclusive offers and early on-sale tickets to the UK’s most sought after entertainment events. To find out more, visit amex.co.uk/invites
Words by Joana Coelho