Wallis Bird talks about the fame game not going her way, how finding love has changed her relationship with Ireland, and why she eventually said to her father ‘I’m a lesbian’, even though she was out in the public eye from day one.
When Wexford-born Wallis Bird first came to prominence with the album Spoons in 2007, critical acclaim and a devoted audience seemed to confirm her potential as Ireland’s bright new global star. Nine years and four albums later, the Berlin-based singer/ songwriter is in a very different place. Here Wallis talks about…
I grew up in a really small village in Wexford that had huge aspirations. There was a strong community feel, and it’s been foundational to me. You have to look everybody in the eye in the pub, everybody knows everybody. I made sure that everyone knew everything about me, so it was never awkward. I knew so much about repression. Repression poisons.
When I was 21 and signed a record deal I became a complete arsehole. I was tempestuous, and it was my way or the high way. I thought I was fucking brilliant. I think it was because I wasn’t comfortable in myself, so I was projecting negativity on the world. Then, of course, everything didn’t go my way. We finished up the licence on the record and I didn’t become famous. I was raging, because fame was what I wanted at the time.
Wanting fame was such a false way of looking at life. I had everything I needed, but I couldn’t get with it, I couldn’t enjoy it. It’s taken until now to realise that I don’t need it, that I never needed it. It’s all about satisfaction in what you’re doing. If you chase fame, you can never be famous enough.
Until recently I had never officially said to my Dad, ‘I’m a lesbian’. On some level, because I’m a daddy’s girl, I felt he didn’t need to hear it. When I said it to him, I think it took away that burden for him, of having to worry about a judgement around it. He was okay with it anyway, but it was one less thing to worry about.
…being openly gay
I never had a problem with being gay in the public eye, but still I used to write universally. I wouldn’t put a gender on the object of my affection. Now I make the choice to put a gender on it. I’d been listening to songs going ‘hey baby, baby, you’re my best girl’ all my life, and I was like, I want to do that too. I can do that.
I was so proud when I first made the cover of GCN. From the moment I moved to Dublin I used to get GCN. There was a time when. I would roll it up because I was afraid someone would see me. Then I was on the cover and I was holding it so proudly, being able to see myself and read my thoughts in its pages. It was wonderful to be represented in my community.
I used to be quite angry about religions, and I’m trying to let that go. I try to meditate. I try to stop and listen. I’m a spiritual person. I believe we’re all connected, that we all affect each other. I believe in life after death. I feel people’s energy; I feel it in my blood.
My new album is a love letter to my girlfriend. I didn’t mean for it to be like that, but she just made me a better person. I can’t wait to wake up beside her, can’t wait to face the world with her. My family is close with her; I have more friends because of her. My relationships with my own friends have become stronger because she taught me to be better to them.
I knew from the start that the album was going to be called Home. I was thinking about what the word ‘home’ meant, and that it couldn’t be just a picture of a house on the cover, because that isn’t fully representative. Everybody knows the strength and the security of an embrace and that’s when that image came to me, of myself and my girlfriend, Tracey, hugging. That’s what home is to me.
The opening lyric of the title song is “All I ever wanted was to settle down and marry,” which is so Irish, so traditional. I’m really traditional in that sense. My parents are very liberal, but extremely traditional at the same time, and I’m the same way.
My girlfriend is from Kerry and I’m experiencing different parts of Ireland when we come over from Berlin. Her family is really into nature, so we talk about how beautiful a place it is. There’s a lot of enjoying of Ireland in a different way, its simple goodness. I feel a yearning for Ireland now.
There is massive maternal thing going on with me now. We’d like to have a baby if we could, and we’ve begun to talk about the options. The best one for us both, we think, is adoption, if we were lucky enough to be approved. I think it’s a beautiful thing to do. I have a goddaughter. She’s not even born yet; she’s seven months old in the womb still. Her name is Johanna. I’m in the middle of knitting a jumper for her with a little J on the front. I can’t wait to meet her. She’s already called ‘Baba Jo’!
This album feels like my parting gift. I have no plan beyond it. I’ll do this tour and I’ll see this album through, but right now I’m utterly satisfied. I don’t need anything. I’ve reached that point of being like, ‘cool, thank you’.
Wallis Bird was in conversation with Brian Finnegan. Her new album, ‘Home’ is released on September 30, find out more at wallisbird.com
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