“Just be yourself. Don’t care about what people think. Just have fun and do what you love.” -Birdy
Seventeen-year-old British singer-songwriter Birdy displays a refreshing, easygoing attitude that is simply contagious. The same goes for her heartfelt vocals, which are displayed perfectly in the artist’s breakthrough video; a heart-wrenching cover of Bon Iver’s single “Skinny Love” that the artist posted to her YouTube channel when she was just fourteen. The video has received over 65 million views, as well as captured both critical and popular praise. As a result, Birdy gathered a global audience of dedicated fans. Last year, she was nominated alongside the likes of Ellie Goulding and Jessie J in the coveted category of Best British Female Solo Artist at the 2014 Brit Awards. Goulding ultimately took the win, but the nomination in itself was a huge honor for Birdy, who is still in the early stages of her career.
2014 saw Birdy perform at the V Festival, which took place on August 16-17 in Essex. The singer also made headlines for contributing three songs to the soundtrack of the film The Fault In Our Stars, as well as releasing her debut album Fire Within in the US.
Indira Cesarine: How did you get into music?
Birdy: I started playing the piano when I was about seven, and it was my mom who taught me to play; she’s a concert pianist. I grew up surrounded by musicians and music, and then I started writing when I was about eight. It was something I loved doing by myself, and then I think it was when I was about twelve that my parents put me on Youtube. It was me playing one of my own songs on the piano, and someone from the record company happened upon it and got in touch. It went from there, really. It was about two years where I was just working on my own songs, and then I decided to do a cover of “Skinny Love,” which is by Bon Iver. It’s one of my favorite songs, and we sent it to Radio One and they played it! It was so exciting. I was at school at the time. I remember hearing about it being on the radio. From there it was number two when we got started, and then I signed the record deal!
IC: Can you tell us what inspires your tracks?
B: I think a lot of it comes from the music and the musicians I grew up listening to, like Tracy Chapman, Jeff Buckley, George Michael and then classical music. It’s a real mix. Also, I think different places inspire the music. Especially with this new album that’s coming out, it’s all about touring and traveling and seeing new things.
IC: Do you remember the first song that you learned to play?
B: I remember the first song that I wrote, which is when I was eight. It was a song about love, and it was very sad. It was about heartbreak.
IC: At eight? Were you heartbroken at eight? That’s adorable. Do you have a favorite female musician?
B: Yes. Tracy Chapman, probably.
IC: Would you consider it to be a breakthrough moment when you were contacted after your Youtube video?
B: I can’t remember the exact moment. It was kind of a build up of two years, and then finding “Skinny Love” and working on that, then after when it was played on the radio, that was probably the most exciting time. That led to an album of covers, which I got to do.
IC: Do you remember the first time that you performed in front of a crowd?
B: I grew up playing to my family. I have a huge family, so there were always family parties and stuff I’d play at. The first time was at my cousin’s wedding. I wrote a song for her, for her wedding and played it and, I’m not lying, it was terrifying!
IC: So you were always the one that got up and performed. You were the musical entity of the family?
B: All of my family really does music. So there’s always somebody playing something at the family parties. It wasn’t always just me.
IC: Does your family tour with you as well?
B: I’ve had one of my parents travel with me for a span of two years, but recently I’ve ditched them.
IC: How old were you when you ditched them?
B: It’s quite recent.
IC: Are you feeling liberated?
B: I do miss them. I’m just traveling with my band, which is really fun. They’re like my best friends.
IC: What was it like growing up in New Forest, England?
B: I think that’s where a lot of inspiration in my writing comes from, because it’s where I grew up and it reflects me. It’s right by the sea, and there are wild horses running about everywhere. I grew up in a country house surrounded by my cousins and a huge family, so it’s a really wonderful upbringing, actually. It’s such a small town; I know everyone and everyone is close to their family from back home, which is nice.
IC: How did you juggle school with your touring schedule?
B: I finished school, then did my exams, then went to college. I went there for a year to two years, but I’ve recently left, because I wanted to concentrate on music.
IC: Did you ever get a bit overwhelmed by your whirlwind rise to fame?
B: Although it’s happened really quickly, it’s also been a really gradual thing. I’ve had time to get used to it and grow and be comfortable. But it’s overwhelming, surreal and weird at the same time. More so at the beginning when I heard my song on the radio. All of my friends thought that that was really weird, and my friends were really weird. It was crazy. It was crazy! I mean, being at school and hearing ‘you’re being played on Radio One-‘ It’s crazy.
IC: Where does the name Birdy come from?
B: It’s a nickname from when I was a baby. When my parents would feed me, I’d open my mouth really wide like a little bird. All of my family has always called me that; they’ve never even called me Jasmine, apart from at school.
IC: Have you ever had a difficult performance?
B: There have definitely been times where I’ve made horrible mistakes, and just been in a complete muddle and didn’t know what I was doing, but somehow it always works out. You keep doing what you’re doing, and something happens, and you’re able to save it. God, I just can’t remember one time. I’ve had times where I’ve worn the wrong clothes for playing the guitar. One time, I was wearing this shirt with these massive things on it, which kept banging against the guitar, and I couldn’t work out what it was; it ruined a whole song.
IC: I understand that you performed at the Sydney Opera House: what was it like to perform there?
B: It was one of the most amazing memories. It’s very incredible. It’s a beautiful place. I’ve found every different place has a really new atmosphere. Australia has quite a young audience, which is really fun and lovely. But, the Sydney Opera House is so overwhelming in the inside, it has really huge tall ceilings, amazing.
IC: What was the inspiration behind The Fire Within?
B: It was about writing my own songs, and it’s all about how my passion is writing. The songs are inspired by the past few years, really just traveling and meeting new people.
IC: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve ever produced?
B: Well, it changes. If I play one too long, then I get bored with it and move on to another one. If I had to choose one, it would probably be “All about You,” the first one I really wrote on the guitar.
IC: When you hear the word “legendary”, what do you think of?
B: Legendary… Something that’s unforgettable. Something a bit magical.
IC: Can you name five artists that you would consider legendary?
IC: Do you have a new album you’re working on?
B: I’m just thinking about this new one, which is coming out in America too. But I’m writing all the time, and the songs are quite different, which is exciting. They’re a lot happier, I think.
IC: How would you describe your sound?
B: I think it can be melancholy, but it’s soulful and truthful. The new stuff is a little more folky, pop and happy.
IC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
B: I have no idea. I haven’t really thought about it. I’m excited about today, but I don’t know. I would love to play some festivals and hopefully just be releasing new albums and writing. I don’t know, I’m too scared to think about it.
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by or get you through a challenging day?
B: I guess it’s just be yourself, don’t care about what people think, just have fun and do what you love.
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Jonathan Bookallil for The Untitled Magazine
Stylist: Jules Wood
Hair by Joseph DiMaggio
Makeup by ChiChi Satio