Since releasing her debut album in 2011 at the age of 15, Birdy has been an acclaimed singer/songwriter who’s had gold and platinum success, along with BRIT and Grammy award nominations. Now in 2023, she’s about to release her fifth album called Portraits, that shows her continued growth as a gifted singer, songwriter and live performer.
With a large international following (particularly in the U.K., Europe & Australia), Birdy has become known for her expressive, soaring lead vocals, her classical-influenced piano playing, and her increasing range as a songwriter. Her songs range from beautiful, graceful ballads (in the vein of Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan) to imaginative, high-energy uptempo songs (a la Florence and the Machine and Kate Bush).
Birdy’s new album, Portraits (which will be released August 18 on Atlantic Records), is perhaps her most ambitious and adventurous work. It has more uptempo and musically-experimental songs than her previous album, Young Heart, which focused more on heartfelt ballads and midtempo songs.
So far, Birdy has released four songs that will be included on her new album. “Paradise Calling” is a fast-paced track that leads off the album, followed by the uptempo, colorful “Raincatchers,” the elegant ballad “Your Arms,” and the spirited uptempo tune, “Heartbreaker.”
Currently, Birdy has been performing live shows again and playing songs from her new album. She recently completed a European tour, and she’s looking forward to coming to the U.S. in October to play shows in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Birdy. But before we get started, here’s a brief rundown of her music career, and her best known songs and albums.
Here’s the video of Birdy’s new song, “Paradise Calling.”
Birdy, who is now 27, grew up in the town of Lymington, England, and she began to play piano when she was 7 (her mother is a concert pianist). Impressively, she won a highly-competitive U.K. talent contest when she was 12, winning the grand prize. Then at age 14, she released a cover version of Bon Iver’s “Skinny People” that launched her career and became her first hit.
In 2011, Birdy released her debut album, Birdy, which contained mostly cover versions of songs including “Skinny Love,” “People Help the People” and “Shelter.” Then in 2013 she released her second album, Fire Within, that featured songs that she had written or co-written, including her hit “Wings,” plus the singles “Light Me Up” and “Words as Weapons.”
In 2016, Birdy released her third album, Beautiful Lies, that included her popular songs “Keeping Your Head Up” and “Wild Horses.” Then after a five-year hiatus, she returned in 2021 with her fourth album, Young Heart. This album is an excellent work that featured the lovely, emotional ballads, “Surrender” and “Nobody Knows Me Like You Do.”
Here’s our interview with Birdy. She discusses the making of her new album, Portraits, and talks in-depth about her songwriting. She also discusses her recent European concert tour and her upcoming shows in the U.S.
DK: I read that you got started with music at a young age, and you had a hit with “Skinny Love” when you were 14. Can you talk about your early years as an artist?
Birdy: I started playing piano when I was really young, and I also started writing. My mom’s a concert pianist, so I grew up listening to her play and she taught me to play. Then when I was about 8, I started writing songs and singing. Then (at age 13) I put a song that I wrote on YouTube, and someone from my record label saw that, and that’s how things started, from that YouTube video. Then I worked on this cover of “Skinny Love” which was suggested to me. I had never done a cover before because I’d always written my own songs. But I recorded “Skinny Love” and it happened very fast. It was sent to Radio One in the U.K., and it was played by DJ Fearne Cotton, and I remember seeing the views on YouTube going up every day. It was a very surreal time.
Here’s the video of Birdy’s new song, “Raincatchers.”
DK: One of your early hits was “Wings.” What inspired you to write this song?
Birdy: That song was my first experience of co-writing. I wrote it with the great (songwriter & artist) Ryan Tedder in L.A. We wanted to make something that felt free and fun. I had been to my first festival that summer, and so the song was about that experience and being with my friends, and remembering that moment with them.
DK: I like your album, Young Heart, from two years ago. It’s one of my favorites from that year. Can you talk about the making of that album, which was your first album in five years?
Birdy: That album is one of my favorites too, although it was a very difficult process (laughs). It has a lot of bits about heartbreak, and I was going through that at the time. I had a lot of writer’s block when I was making that record, because I was very sad and I didn’t want to be writing. But I’m really proud of the end result. It was a long process…it took five years to make it. But I got inspired by Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake, and I wanted to make something that was really for me. I mean it’s very intimate, and it’s like I’m singing to myself.
For some of the writing, I went to stay in Topanga Canyon (near Los Angeles). I spent a few weeks there and did some writing. Then I recorded the record in Nashville and I did a lot of writing there as well. And being exposed to those country writers…it’s so heartfelt there and that’s something you don’t get everywhere. There’s a lot of craft and soul in Nashville that I loved.
DK: Two of my favorite songs on Young Heart are the ballads “Surrender” and “Nobody Knows Me Like You Do.” Can you talk about writing those songs?
Birdy: I wrote “Surrender” in Nashville with (hit songwriters & producers) Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian. We wrote it around the table on guitars, and it’s about trying to get through stuff, but wishing you could fall back on someone who’s not there anymore, and just wanting to give in to that. You know when you miss someone, you wanna pick up the phone and talk to them. But the song is about me being on my own out there and going through this heartbreak, and having to be alone for the first time, and deal with all those emotions.
Here’s the video of Birdy’s new song, “Heartbreaker.”
“Nobody Knows Me Like You Do” was of the first songs that I wrote for the record. I wrote it down in the countryside in New Forest (England) which is where I’m from. I wrote it on my piano, and I recorded it myself with the help of my brother. Then I tried recording it in Nashville and I couldn’t get the performance that I wanted. So I ended up redoing it at the last minute by myself on my piano.
DK: Your new album, Portraits, seems to have more uptempo songs, and more adventurous production. Can you tell me about the making of this album?
Birdy: I guess it’s a product of the last recording (laughs) which was long and took five years, and I wanted to make something that was really fast. We made the new record in a year. It’s also from being in the pandemic and not being able to play live. So I wanted to make something that was for the stage and felt powerful, and I was inspired by ‘80s synth-pop from artists like Kate Bush, Prince and David Bowie. It’s a mixture of electronic and acoustic, and I really love those coming together.
DK: How did you decide on Portraits as your album title?
Birdy: The record is called Portraits because I’ve captured different moments in life and examined how I’ve felt about them over the past year, and how my feelings have changed. A lot of it is about relationships and some of it is me painting pictures from other people’s perspectives and writing through them. A lot of the time, I’ve written about things before they’ve happened to me, which sounds really witchy and weird. I don’t know if I write it and the situation manifests because I’ve written it, or if I somehow subconsciously know what’s going to happen.
DK: On your new album, you lead off with the uptempo songs “Paradise Calling” and “Raincatchers.” Can you talk about writing these songs?
Birdy: “Paradise Calling” came late to the album…I felt like there was a piece missing. I wanted to make something that was really instant, because I didn’t feel like I ever created a feeling like that in the past. We wrote it just to the drums, and it’s about chasing a dream, but it being just out of reach. So it’s still a sad song underneath all the fun.
Here’s the visualizer video of Birdy’s new song, “Your Arms.”
“Raincatchers” is about a friend of mine and us growing apart. We were really inseparable when we were young, and it’s about remembering that time and about the inner child and reconnecting with that part of yourself that’s very free and child-like.
DK: I like your song “Your Arms,” which is a beautiful ballad which is more in the style of your previous album, Young Heart. What inspired you to write this song?
Birdy: “Your Arms” is probably the only ballad on the record. It’s about someone close to me who was greving for someone, and I was trying to help them through that. He was telling me the things that he found the hardest…forgetting things about this person that he lost. And that he would never really know them; he lost them when he was very young and he would never get to know them properly. And he had this image and this tiny memory of who they were. But he couldn’t tell if this was a real memory or something he made up. So it’s about that.
DK: On your album, you have two songs that have similar titles: “Ruins I” and “Ruins II.” Can you talk about these two songs and how they fit on your album?
Birdy: Yeah, they’re sort of sister songs, and the stories are kind of opposite stories. So it’s about a relationship—in “Ruins I” the relationship is ending; it’s gone wrong. And “Ruins II” is about making it out of that and coming through the wreckage.
DK: Besides the songs we’ve discussed, what are your favorite songs on your new album?
Birdy: My favorite is one called “I Wish I Was A Shooting Star.” It’s very inspired by David Bowie and the Pixies. I love it sonically. It’s about someone who feels invisible and wants to break through and be heard. And that’s what it feels like sonically as well. It is like a shooting star…a rocket going into space. And it was really fun to record and create.
DK: I want to ask you about your live shows. I read that you’ve been on tour in Europe.
Birdy: We just finished a European tour. It’s really fun; we did a mixture of old songs and a few from the new record. And I’m enjoying being up in the front a bit more…not behind the piano so much. I’m moving onstage a bit more. I’m still planning the next tour, after the record comes out. We’re going to have a big album launch in London, so I’m planning how that’s gonna feel. I want it to be quite dramatic and dark.
DK: You’ll be coming to the U.S. to play some shows in October. Can you talk about that?
Birdy: Yes, I’m very excited to be coming out there again. I’ll be playing shows in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a show in America, so I’m really excited about it.