Q&A with Birdlips
Birdlips may be the best band you aren’t listening to. The band’s delicate blend of classic folk instrumentation and earthy psychedelia is often compared to folk gods Nick Drake and Andrew Bird. However, it’s been about two years since the band recorded their remarkable debut LP, Cardboard Wings, and the 2009 single featured on the band’s website only teases listeners with a promise of great things to come. District of Sound was able to catch up with Birdlips members Clifford Usher and Lindsay Pitts after their live performance during September’s H Street Festival to find out what the future holds for the band and exactly what makes their music take flight.
What did you think of the H Street festival?
Clifford: We had a blast! There were so many cool, unpretentious, artsy people out and about in one place. I feel like you don’t see that very often in DC. It seems to us like the DC arts scene is pretty fragmented and it’s been hard for us to get a pulse on DIY culture and stuff like that here. But I think H Street Festival brought in a bunch of those disparate elements and it was big party. Well, I was slinging back free PBRs all day so it seemed like a party to me.
You're both from Charlottesville, VA, correct? Have you lived anywhere else? If so, what brought you back?
Lindsay: Actually we are both originally from the DC suburban sprawl in Northern Virginia. Cliff grew up in Vienna and my parents were in Woodbridge. We both went to college at UVA and liked Charlottesville so much we stayed around for a couple of years. It’s a wonderful town, anyone living in DC who hasn’t made it to Charlottesville should head down there some weekend, especially in the fall. We left because we went on a two month tour and decided to just be nomads for a bit and got back to DC last month.
What’s DC's most unique attribute?
L: I suppose after traveling around the country and seeing a lot of the big cities in the US, the thing that struck me coming back here was the architecture. DC just has a really different look and vibe. All the buildings are so stately, clean, columned, and grand; it’s quite beautiful. Driving over the Roosevelt bridge and seeing the Kennedy Center and the monuments and everything is pretty breathtaking.
You were both in The Business of Flies before forming Birdlips. How did Birdlips come to be?
C: Birdlips started as an outlet for some songs I was writing that didn’t really fit in with the stuff we were playing in The Business of Flies. That band was a loud, dance-y, rock’n'roll band with a lot of riff-based songs. I wanted to try a different approach to writing: something that was more organic or earthy-sounding. I also wanted to get away from traditional rock instrumentation. When the Business of Flies broke up, Lindsay and I decided to keep playing music together so we rolled with the Birdlips thing. Around the same time we saw Beach House at the Rock N Roll Hotel and that was a big inspiration. We were both really into them. This was back in summer of ‘07 and they were just a duo at the time but they had a huge sound and we were like, “we could do that!”
Birdlips' first album Cardboard Wings is outstanding. Clifford, I read that you wrote many of the songs for this album while traveling in Europe. What can you tell us about your experience that inspired you to do so?
C: Well, I like to write from experience and traveling really gives me a lot of new experiences to draw from. At the time I was traveling around Europe, I was in the middle of having an existential crisis, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and how I was going to find meaning in my existence. So the physical journey ended up being a sort of metaphor for the emotional molting I was going through.
Your website features an exciting new single, "Tracks on Repeat". Will this single be featured on the new album, tentatively titled Drift? If so, when can we expect its release?
L: Drift is still very much a work in progress, so it’s hard to say. It’s likely “Tracks on Repeat” will remain a single and not be part of the album. Having a cohesive voice and sound on a record is important to us and we wrote “Tracks” well over a year ago so it probably won’t fit into the atmosphere we’re going for on this next album. We may put out some other new singles soon, and we were thinking that at some point we will release them all together as a collection of singles. So keep an eye out for that in the coming months.
What can your fans expect from Birdlips in the future?
C: Music is a spiritual thing for us and that is something that won’t change. We will continue to follow where our intuition leads. But we’ve definitely been taking our music in a more progressive, psychedelic direction recently. We’ve been working more with textures, loops and found sounds and also challenging ourselves with more complex melodic and harmonic structures. So, boundary pushing is where it’s at for us right now. We don’t want to just settle into one comfortable sound.
Your music and personal style seem heavily influenced by late-60's/early 70's psychedelia. What is it about this time period that has you so enamored and inspired?
L: The thing I find really inspiring about that period is the energy, spirit, and oneness of a large group of people working together for a common good. It wasn’t about ego or manipulation, it was about something bigger than all of us. Today in this society of sarcasm and irony where we are bombarded with advertising, dishonesty and greed a message like “give peace a chance” would fall on deaf ears, would be laughable. But during that time period, people really meant and believed in those ideals of peace and love and there was solidarity. I also think mind-expanding practices like using psychedelics and meditation also contributed to the aesthetic we are so enamored with.
C: Yeah, we’re all for shattering the ego and experiencing the oneness of the universe. But seriously, something really big was happening then. Our consciousness as a species was evolving on a massive scale. And I think something similar is happening today except that where that evolution was sparked by drugs, this one is fueled by technology. The internet is a visible representation of our human collective consciousness and it is rapidly expanding and evolving right in front of our eyes. I think it’s pretty exciting.
If you could meet anyone from this era for dinner, who would it be?
L: John Lennon
C: Yoko Ono. It could be a double-date.
Do you have any bird-like characteristics?
L: Besides my grace and agility? Probably not. Cliff flies around when he’s lucid dreaming.
C: I like to whistle, too.
While you wait for the next big thing from Birdlips, download Cardboard Wings from iTunes or listen to select songs on their website: www.birdlipsmusic.com. Or grab your friends and check them out live on November 27th at the Southern w/Bowerbirds in Charlottesville, Virginia.