Folk multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Andrew Bird announced “Underlands” as his new single from his upcoming album, Inside Problems, on Monday.
Mike Viola produced Inside Problems, which Bird recorded live with his four-person band. Madison Cunningham provided vocal overdubs.
Bird’s career has spanned two decades and he has always managed to stay current with an endlessly creative body of work.
Back in 2020, his album My Finest Work Yet was nominated for a Grammy. Bird has even dabbled in acting, with his role in the hit show Fargo being written specifically for him.
Bird recently joined WBEZ’s Reset to discuss his career and new album. Here are highlights from the discussion:
On his new album:
“[The name] is something that occurred to me years ago. You know, I sort of joke that there’s sort of two kinds of problems: inside problems and outside problems. Of course, things are not that simple. It’s a vague reference to something kind of messed up and wrong going on inside you that no one else is privy to. I gathered certain titles […] I keep a notebook of possible titles and that one stuck with me.
It’s a difficult one to articulate, this album. Usually I have no problem talking about songs but this one, like, I kind of think that’s what the songs are for. A lot of them were written lying in bed when I couldn’t sleep in the last couple years. I’m not the person who gets up and, you know, mops the floor when I can’t sleep. I just lie there and go deep into, well, I can’t just pull up a song and kind of tinker with it in my head. It’s those moments in the middle of the night when you’re kind of spiraling. There’s no distractions and noise to keep the personal demons from kind of running rampant. I think this album is sort of an attempt to keep them in line or organize them into song form.”
On his experience scoring films:
“When I was in music school at Northwestern, that’s what I thought I wanted to do because I was so kind of omnivorous stylistically. I was into a different thing every two weeks, just devouring different types of music that I found interesting. I thought, ‘What better way to use all that than to do film scores?’ But then I got sidetracked by this adventure of getting in a van and driving around and playing clubs all over the country. That became its own story — a road movie, in a way. More recently, I’ve done a few more film scores, most notably I did Lynn Shelton’s second-to-last film. I’ve done maybe half a dozen films, documentaries and features. It’s a different thing because you’re not fully autonomous, and you’re part of a big machine that generates this thing.”
On his proudest achievement:
“I’ve always measured things by the live performance, so the venues I’ve been able to play and the shows I’ve been able to play with other people. So I would say playing the Hollywood Bowl or Millennium Park — we had a big show there years ago that had like, you know, 13,000 people — that was a moment.”
On his special connection with one of his violins:
“I was getting very serious. I’d played since I was 4 years old, but in high school it was just becoming, I was really dedicating myself to it and practicing hours and hours a day. Searching for an instrument at that time, first of all it was extremely expensive and you never know what you’re getting with an instrument that’s 200 years old. So I heard about a violin maker; he was a Polish immigrant who lived in Norridge. I went to Norridge to his house, and he only made 40 instruments in his lifetime, so I had to audition for him for the right to purchase his violin. I’ve had [the violin] since I was 16 and I’ve never envied another instrument. […] This instrument is very versatile; I can pull all sorts of sounds out of it.”
On being called the best whistler alive:
“Oh man, I don’t know if I’m the best whistler alive. There’s a lot of, you know, different techniques, some of which I can’t do. I can’t whistle through my teeth or that sort of warbling effect that some people can do, I can’t do. My style of whistling is like a power ballad, aria kind of whistling. It’s just kind of something I do incessantly all day long, so I would say it would be strange to stop whistling.”
Bianca Cseke is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her @biancacseke1.