Andrew Bird thinks he’s finally found a way to marry tight pop songwriting to his experimental side.
On 2009’s “Noble Beast,” Bird went out of his way to construct a “songwriting” record — although there was still plenty of his trademark swirling soundscapes and loops. At the same time he was recording that album, he channeled his improvisational side on his main instrument, violin, into “Useless Creatures,” a nine-song instrumental album originally released in the deluxe edition of “Noble Beast,” and re-released on its own in 2010.
“I originally wanted to just release a double CD, because ‘Noble Beast’ was so restrained as a songwriting record, and ‘Useless Creatures’ was the place to play more and exercise another side of myself,” he said recently from Boston, while mastering a new album, “Break it Yourself,” due out in early March. “They were really supposed to go together, and I preferred it to be that way, but the labels, and — I don’t know; I somehow got talked into doing it separately.”
With “Break it Yourself,” he stopped trying to separate the two different impulses. He’s ended up with an album that may be his most challenging musically.
When: 8 tonight
Where: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 2nd St., Troy
How Much: $33.50
More Info: 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org
“It’s more challenging to not play, and write a really good song,” he said. “But I took that to an extreme, and now I’m kind of bringing it back together again, and I feel pretty good about that. The new stuff goes from very — some of the most grounded songwriting I’ve done, to the most out there playing and improvising, within the space of one three-and-a-half minute song. That is ultimately the most challenging thing you can do.”
Both sides of Bird’s musical personality will be on display when he performs at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall tonight. Along with material from “Useless Creatures,” “Noble Beast” and his other albums, Bird plans to preview songs from the upcoming album throughout his Northeast tour, which runs through Oct. 22.
“I like doing the new stuff before the record comes out, because there’s no expectations yet of how it’s supposed to sound,” he said. “Just because it’s been on a record doesn’t mean it’s finished. I like to keep messing with it onstage. It’s a thrill showing the song to an audience for the first time, so probably a good portion of it will be new material.”
For most of the set, he will be performing solo, looping guitar, violin, vocals, glockenspiel and of course, whistling.
His drummer for the past six years, Martin Dosh (known as just Dosh), will play an opening set, and will also collaborate with Bird for a 10-minute portion of the evening featuring experimental jamming and loops. These segments will be recorded each evening, with the best bits planned for a possible EP.
Normally, during Bird’s full-band performances, both he and Dosh have loopers onstage that are self-contained. However, Bird also has a second looping device that sends his signal to Dosh’s system and then back through Bird’s rig, which allows the two to sync up during particularly tricky rhythmic passages.
“We don’t really get a chance to fully realize the potential of that when we’re using it to pull off a song that just needs to be synced for some melody or something,” Bird said. “But the potential for that, for experimentation is huge. We don’t often give space to do that, so that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to on this tour.”
Dosh was actually the first musician to join up with Bird in his solo band. Before that, Bird had played violin with Squirrel Nut Zippers and also led the group Bowl of Fire, which called it quits in 2003. He then began focusing on solo work.
“After I kind of disbanded my earlier band Bowl of Fire, I’d go straight from experimenting in a barn to playing solo shows,” Bird said. “And then I gradually — I started with Dosh, who certainly could see where I was coming from, and he would add to it. Then I slowly added other musicians to the mix. This tour is kind of getting back to where I started with Dosh.”
But Bird usually goes back and forth between his band and playing solo anyway — even his full-band sets feature songs that he performs on his own.
“I do tours where I’m like, full band, four guys onstage, and then the band goes home and the next night I’m playing solo,” he said. “I do get a little anxiety that night when I go to the solo thing, playing in front of just as many people, but it kind of keeps me on my toes. It’s kind of liberating to not have to worry about other musicians — I can scribble outside the lines a little bit more, and also hear and get into the tone of my instrument.”
Even with the band, the loops are always present. It’s a core part of his sound, and he’s been able to integrate it with other musicians rather than using it just to fill out his solo performances.
“You know, I still wonder about that, but I think the loops are added texture to the band that makes it unique,” he said. “Looping is kind of a security blanket in a good way I think, for me. I don’t want to just be another rock ’n’ roll quartet, for one, although sometimes I do a couple songs that I don’t do any loops on, I just sing, and that can feel pretty good.”
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