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Andrew Bird Lets The Inside Out On 'Inside Problems'
Andrew Bird

Photo: David Black

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Andrew Bird Lets The Inside Out On 'Inside Problems'

'Inside Problems,' the umpteenth release from singer/songwriter Andrew Bird, is filled with quietly passionate songs about the "inside" stuff that can either "drive you insane" or "be the best companion."

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2022 - 04:10 pm

Prolific might be an understatement when it comes to Andrew Bird's work across a myriad of mediums. In addition to his own work, the GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter is a renowned whistler, and was a member of Squirrel Nut Zippers for several years. Bird's 1996 debut album, Music of Hair, was followed by about 16 solo records (some with/as Bowl of Fire), not to mention a variety of collabs. And let's not forget the live albums (six), EP's (10) and film and TV projects, including acting on the FX drama "Fargo."

So it's perhaps unsurprising that Bird has managed to follow up an album — the somewhat winkingly titled My Finest Work Yet — with a record that might be even finer. Inside Problems, released June 3, offers 11 often poignant, quietly passionate songs produced by Mike Viola (who has also worked with Mandy Moore, Panic! at The Disco and Jenny Lewis). Bird will support his LP on a tour that kicks off June 15 at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre.

Via phone from his L.A. home, Bird, a low-key and thoughtful native of Lake Bluff, Illinois talks about pandemic-inspired "inside" stuff (his brain, his home) and the resultant songs that populate his latest, and maybe, greatest work.

When did you start writing the songs that would become Inside Problems — before, or during the pandemic?

Some of them started before that. There are always things that have been kind of simmering for five or six years that I just find the moment to organize. It was strange; I was wondering if just being in one place was going to affect my writing, because I always thought that traveling and performing informed my writing. Going from one place to another, just the act of leaving your home can give you perspective that kind of triggers things. And then being on stage, that sort of sense of a dialogue with an audience; I thought [that] was part of my process, too. But it turns out it wasn't that essential, and I needed the songwriting process to sort of keep my sanity and sense of purpose.

Was there a song that ended up on Inside Problems that set the tone when you realized, OK, this is where this record is going?

I think of "Underlands" as a sort of template for the album. But the one that I spent the most time on was "Faithless Ghost." And that's kind of an outlier. It started, I think, when my son — during the pandemic, we just all hung together — started being the DJ around the house. And he was playing a lot of John Cale. And Velvet Underground, but the John Cale, "Paris 1919," particularly, that song was just on every day.

I was listening to lyrics about this ghost that is sort of a coy ghost, it doesn't ever show up when you expect it to, doesn't stick to appointments. And I thought I'd take that idea and kind of expand on it. I guess it's the way you feel when you're sort of chasing down things creatively too. But that one was a very specific melody that I'm trying to just point in the general direction of this idea about this coy ghost.

May I ask how old your son is? 

He's 11. He was 9 I guess at the start of the pandemic.

That's still a pretty interesting song choice for a kid to play, right? 

I mean, it's kind of funny. He lives in our universe. So from an early age, I never understand when people would  say 'Oh my kid listens to this horrible pop music and I can't do anything about it.' Like, why can you do anything about it? They're living in your house.

Not like we're militant about anything. He complains about going to birthday parties and having to listen to Post Malone or whatever. He's like, 'Why do they think kids like that music?' Anyway, that's a rant. But if I play one Nick Drake song, he starts  playing it all the time. And I don't really listen to music that much. So he's actually influencing me. And he's actually becoming a pretty good guitarist.

There are so many beautiful references and lines in your lyrics. I was curious about "Lone Didion," —  and I'm wondering if you read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking about losing her husband and then daughter? 

Actually before I read it, I was talking to a friend who used to host at a restaurant where Joan Didion and her husband [John Gregory Dunne] used to come in as regulars, and they would get the same table and order the same thing. This is around 2003. Then she didn't come in for like several weeks. And she came in one more time, alone. That story struck me and then I read the book.

You explore what you call the "threshold" of who we are in the moments "in between"? A liminal space might be one term.

I just want to acknowledge that internal world that we all have, that is usually not known to anyone else. It can either drive you insane, or it could be the best companion. If you can cultivate that internal world in the right way, you never have any good reason to be bored or lonely sometimes.

I just became more acutely aware of that during the pandemic, during insomnia…and it was like, Okay, I'm here, I'm stuck here. I can't sleep for two hours. I can either spiral — as we tend to in the middle of the night — or I can try to put everyone to work, and pull out a melody and play it back in my head. While I was working on these songs, it really, really helped me get through that. Once I was done, those demons came roaring back.

I watched the Nexflix film The Bubble and enjoyed it. You were a composer on the movie; how did you get  on board? Did that work affect this record?   

I did that after the record was finished. I know Judd [Apatow] and he asked me to play a bunch of his Largo shows. They were doing once-a-month charity shows, and I would do those and hang out and I got the sense that he might have been kind of circling me and waiting for a project to offer up. [He did] I came in, in the final two months of the score work to work with Mike Andrews. Mike is his longtime composer and I was sort of artist-in-residence, I guess. It is a very complicated score because you have to score the movie within the movie. And I luckily didn't have to deal with…

Dinosaurs?  

Yeah [laughs]. He's very exacting and has very very strong ideas about music, Judd does. So, it was a long, long process. But it was good. I came at a good time: I was finished with the record; I needed a project. But you have to generate a tremendous amount of music to satiate Judd. So it was five or six weeks, just churning out many, many cues.

I know you had a song in Orange is the New Black and other visual projects. How often do you write a song that you feel is super cinematic? Or are there times when you're watching something and you feel inspired to write? 

Writing a song for a movie is the ultimate challenge for me. Doing [an] instrumental score is cool, but writing a song with lyrics specifically for movies…. I'm thinking like Harold and Maude as the ultimate project that I hope would someday come along.

It's just so challenging to try to do; to address what's happening in the movie without leading the viewer and hitting it too close. I feel like I would be well suited to that because my lyrics, they can be a bit ambiguous sometimes. When I was writing "Underlands," at first it was simply a melody. I was like, wow, this sounds like a film score scene. I was working with T-Bone Burnett at the time on [HBO crime drama] True Detective and I played it for him. He said, 'that's like the theme to a great '70s movie.'

When I first came out of music school, that's what I thought for sure wanted to do; film score work. But then I got a conversion van and a band, and hit the road and started playing rock clubs around the country. And that became the buddy road movie of my 20s.

I understand there's an unusual guitar on Inside Problems, the one that starts out "Underlands"?  

My good friend Reuben Cox has the guitar shop Old Style in Silverlake. When I was working with Blake Mills on [Bird's 2006 LP] Are You Serious, he was working with Blake. First we had these electric banjos that we were all collecting. And then they're very weird, rare harmony, electric banjos. And then Reuben started putting rubber bridges on these strange old guitars. It's not that radical to mute the instrument, but it's like you commit to it.

Like permanent mute.  

Yeah, it's hard to explain but what Blake was looking for… Well, guitars can chew up so much space because they resonate so much, sonically. So you take all that and then it creates these weird overtones too, if you distort it in the right way. It sounds otherworldly. I found when I started playing these guitars that it was kind of like pizzicato, but not quite.

It's funny what started with Blake and me and during that time , you hear it a lot now. You hear it kind of affecting the music that's being recorded. It was this particular Harmony guitar called the Caribbean, kind of art deco and very cool looking. It's the thing I just reached for when we were recording; it just worked. From "Underlands" to "The Night Before Your Birthday," it can go from this beautiful pizzicato to a Keith Richards rock 'n' roll thing.

The album closer, "Never Fall Apart," seems to end things on a somewhat upbeat note.  

For "Never Fall Apart," my old guitarist, Jeremy Ylvisaker, sent me an EP he had done and [it] goes into the sort of Kevin Shields, My Bloody Valentine territory. He had this melody in there, and I thought it was so beautiful. And the song was called "Never Fall Apart," but it had no lyrics. I sat down, took the melody and over time it kind of evolved. I wrote that one fairly quickly, really inspired by that melody.

The last two songs on the album ["Stop n' Shop," "Never Fall Apart"] — from the title of my record, people are describing it as maybe not addressing all the upheaval that My Finest Work Yet was, but it really does have as many songs addressing what's happening in the world. "Stop n' Shop" is trying to understand what's missing in our lives that so many people need guns or walls or trucks to kind of fill a void in their identity. And then "Never Fall Apart" tries to answer that question.

Would you always keep those two songs connected in a live set?  

I do like to keep things [together.] The sequencing of the live set is a huge part of my job. Not just what key, what tempo and the segues in between, but then the scenes and everything. It feels like half my job is sequencing. Whether people pick up on that or not, I don't know, but it's  important to me.

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards