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ARTIST PROFILE | Andrew Bird
A virtuosic violinist, singer, songwriter, composer, actor, and expert whistler, Andrew Bird's career has undergone a variety of stylistic shifts since his early days playing jazz and swing music. He combined these and other styles, including elements of traditional folk, on his solo debut, 1996's Music of Hair. Gaining a reputation as a consummate performer and developing a distinctive sound along the way, he then released three albums as leader of Bowl of Fire. His third solo album, 2005's Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs, signaled his transformation into savvy pop sophisticate and instrumental looping pioneer. When Armchair Apocrypha followed in 2007, it marked his first appearance on the Billboard 200. Bird broke into film scoring with assignments including 2010's Norman, and made his Top Ten debut with his sixth solo effort, 2012's Break It Yourself. Among records focused on his original songs, he released an album consisting entirely of Handsome Family covers in 2014 (Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of...), and 2017's Echolocations: River was the second in a series of instrumental works inspired by -- and recorded in -- the natural world. His aptly named 12th studio LP, 2020's My Finest Work Yet, was nominated for a Grammy award.
A native of Chicago suburb Lake Forest, Illinois, Bird began playing violin at the age of four, eventually earning a violin performance degree from Northwestern University. His hunger to incorporate numerous traditions into his own work manifested itself on his 1996 solo debut, Music of Hair, a largely instrumental set of fiddle work that ranged from Celtic and gypsy styles to swing. His first commercial success arrived that same year via a collaboration with swing revivalists Squirrel Nut Zippers, who scored a surprise hit with their album Hot. Eventually forming his own retro-minded band, Bowl of Fire, Bird spent the remainder of the '90s fusing elements of New Orleans jazz, folk, gypsy, swing, and blues on records like Thrills and Oh! The Grandeur. By the time Bowl of Fire released their third and final album, 2001's eclectic The Swimming Hour, Bird's music had already begun to shift in a more pop-oriented direction.
A subsequent move out of the city to a rural Illinois farm prompted a sea change in the singer/songwriter's approach. Acting as a sort of bridge between the Bowl of Fire era and his tentative new solo career, the self-released 2002 EP Fingerlings combined a handful of stark new solo tracks with a scattering of live band cuts. The proper solo LP that followed, 2003's Weather Systems, signaled a new phase for Bird, introducing a more experimental and layered folk-pop style that he explored more fully on his ambitious 2005 breakthrough, Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs. With this release, Bird established what would become a signature sound based around elaborately multi-tracked violins and instrumental looping while also introducing fans to his remarkable prowess as a whistler. His 2007 follow-up, Armchair Apocrypha, continued to expand on this eclectic mix, framing his cryptic and highly literate lyrics with increasingly experimental indie rock propelled by a new collaborator, drummer/keyboardist Martin Dosh. The album was his first to reach the Billboard 200, peaking at number 76. 2009's Noble Beast also featured Dosh and, like many of Bird's previous releases, the wealth of extra material from the album sessions yielded a companion release in 2010's instrumental Useless Creatures.
The following year, Bird composed the score for Jonathan Segal's independent coming-of-age film Norman. The film's soundtrack was his first offering for the Mom + Pop label, which released his sixth studio album, Break It Yourself, in March 2012. Break It Yourself became Bird's highest-charting album to date, debuting at number ten on Billboard's Top 200. A companion EP, Hands of Glory, arrived later that year, followed in 2013 by the seven-song conceptual suite I Want to See Pulaski at Night.
Newly relocated to Los Angeles and employing the backing band of Tift Merritt (guitar/vocals), Alan Hampton (bass/vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel), and Justin Glasco (drums), Bird recorded his seventh album, 2014's Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of..., a collection of cover songs of fellow Chicagoans the Handsome Family. Bird has had a long association with the husband-and-wife folk duo, first covering their song "Don't Be Scared" in 2003 on his Weather Systems LP, a song that he again tackled on this tribute album. 2015 brought the first volume of a new environmentally oriented instrumental series called Echolocations, in which the violinist was recorded performing deep inside Utah's Coyote Gulch canyons. His next studio LP, 2016's Are You Serious, featured collaborations with Fiona Apple and Blake Mills and saw Bird writing in a more personal style. It was followed in 2017 by the second Echolocations release, River, recorded under a viaduct on the Los Angeles River. Inspired partly by the day's sociopolitical climate, his next collection of songs, 2019's My Finest Work Yet, was his second for Loma Vista and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album. 2020 saw Bird make his acting debut on the fourth season of the acclaimed anthology television series Fargo, as well as release his first full-length holiday LP, Hark!