Singer/songwriter Wallis Bird is an icon when it comes to Irish music. She has built a substantial discography that has always been integral in its honest storytelling.
In her new album, she says she felt compelled to write about activism and politics and how she has reached a sweet spot age-wise where she feels self-assured about the opinions she has formed.
“I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.
I have enough life experience to be able to speak my piece. I have enough support behind be able to speak my piece as well. I think that I have a duty to make sure that a movement like #metoo gets past through a generation so that that won’t happen again.
“And in the space that I am now, I have a strong contribution to society to give let’s say, and I’m young enough to be naive or to be able to form my opinion still, but at the same time, I am of an age where I have made a kind of a conscious decision about what I feel strongly about.
People are fighting for their rights to gain back some consenses of common sense because they’ve taken commercialism, consumerism too far which I think they have realised.
“I’m at that age where you’re believed in a way, you know, you’ve made your choices, you’ve chosen your choices, you’ve made your experiences. This is who you stand for as a person. I always wanted to be this age. I don’t know what it is about 36 year-olds, but I’ve always really enjoyed being around 36 year-olds and looked forward to seeing the stage. I think there was just something magnetising about it for me. A certain amount of life has been lived; there’s a certain amount of opinions formed. And it’s also kind of an age between youth and time.”
Bird has finished a North American tour where she found the social landscape had changed dramatically. She says this album was written with American people in mind.
“The last time I was over in America, it felt quite macho and set in its beliefs.
“I was writing [this album] with American people in mind. I was writing it with revolution times in mind in America. It was really popularised on TV for us growing up as kids, you know, we knew all about, the segregation, and the fight that American people had to get through to come out the other side; the Martin Luther King story, the wars in Vietnam, I mean, American culture was really popularised in European culture. Everybody wants to be living the ‘American Dream’ or from America when I was growing up.
“It was just such a wild opportunity to be over there singing these songs, but at the same time, I’m singing to the converted over there, but thankfully, they were an extremely listening audience. So I didn’t want to preach too hard, to be honest with you, but it did resonate with them.
“I feel like something is quite changed. I feel that the ‘MAGA’ idealism is primarily in the south and surprisingly, just in little pockets. For me, I felt like the country was after growing up an awful lot. People are fighting for their rights to gain back some consenses of common sense because they’ve taken commercialism, consumerism too far which I think they have realised.”
With age, Bird has found more freedom in her ability to be creative and take ideas to the next level. She speaks about her creative process as a spiritual experience, and this shines through in tracks with plenty of heart and soul.
There’s something so unforgiving and unmerciful about having a shaved head. I found it so beautiful.
“I used to be quite an angry, grumpy person with those closest to me.
This is an oxymoron in my life like I’m constantly a positive person, I always see the bright side, even in the darkest, darkest moments you could imagine possible. I’m always able to see some kind of light like ‘the comedy and the tragedy’.
“I think that receiving those around me and is, is how it became more spiritual because my life is not just a hard stone rock about my experience in this world. My experience in this world is everybody else’s. Everything I do affects everybody else, just the same as everything you do affects everybody else; it affects me. So it’s just kind of opening up to your surroundings. That’s how I became more spiritual, and that’s how I wrote these themes about this record was just paying attention.
“When I shaved my head, I let go of the lot. That was a very cleansing period for me. And I wrote this record with a shaved head because people treat you differently. Some people think that you are trying to rebel because it’s a masculine thing as a woman to shave your head whereas I’ve never felt more like a woman.
“When I shaved my head, I had nothing to hide. I had no hair on my face; I had nothing to hide. It was just an open pallette and people would come to me with secrets. Men would give me zero shit. Men became scared of me; women became scared of me, because I became such an open creature that I surprised myself. There’s something so unforgiving and unmerciful about having a shaved head. I found it so beautiful.
So it’s an interesting time for the North. We have to come together now and say like, Look, who are we? What are we doing now? How are we going to move forward?
“It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and see how the world looks at me. Just being completely free to judgment. It informs the writing of this record.”
One big issue Bird says she would like to see resolved is the situation of marriage equality and reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. This features on her track ‘Repeal’ which is a moving reaction to the 2018 referendum.
Living in Berlin, Bird draws parallels between the two places and their processing of collective trauma.
“How Berlin came out of its trauma was by talking about it and by being completely transparent about the trauma.
“In order to come out of that, there needed to be people vilified and people making themselves vulnerable. There’s an awful lot of vulnerability and ownership that comes from your trauma, to say like, ‘I’ve caused a lot of pain, and I don’t want anybody to ever receive this pain again.’
“So it’s an interesting time for the North. We have to come together now and say like, Look, who are we? What are we doing now? How are we going to move forward?”
Wallis Bird will perform at Culture Night with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra on Clarks Square, Collins Barrack. Her album Woman will be released on September 27 and will be followed by a world tour. For dates, see wallisbird.com
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