It's practically impossible to describe Birdeatsbaby without
sounding like an exercise in random word association. Try prog-folk-rock-classical-cabaret
and you're close...ish. Then again, maybe they just do rock 'n' roll with
some unusual elements.
With the band's third album, The Bullet Within, out now, maybe it's a good time to talk to one of those unusual elements, pianist/vocalist Mishkin Fitzgerald, about the Birdeatsbaby story so far...
Birdeatsbaby are now up to album number three, but I think for many people you're still going to be a new band. So, for those who've just joined us, who's in the band, and what do they do?
We are Mishkin Fitzgerald: Lead Singer and Pianist, Garry Mitchell: Bass, Double Bass and Guitar ,Tessa Gilles: Violin and Backing Vox, and Katha Rothe: Drums.
Three albums in - plus assorted EPs and singles - do you actually feel like a new band, or do you regard yourselves as 'established' in any way now? Do you feel like you're standing at the bottom of a very high mountain, or do you feel like you've at least scaled a few foothills - or even reached a peak or two?
Despite being around for about seven years now, we still
feel like a relatively new band. Mostly, this is because over the years
we've changed direction musically, evolved our sound, and had quite the
turnover of members too!
Every time somebody new joins, it always feels a little bit like starting over and you have to work hard to get moving again as a band.
However, we definitely feel we've scaled a few hills, yes! We've built up quite a substantial fan-base (our beloved 'Flock') which is no easy feat for an indie band, and we're been lucky enough to tour all over Europe and the USA.
We're very happy to still be here, having achieved what we have. We've still got a long way to go though, so yes, sometimes it feels daunting.
Running off with this topic a little, it's rather
disappointing that quite a few of the bands I cover in my webzine don't
seem to stick around long term. Typically, they get as far as their debut
album, then split up - and that includes bands with decent record deals,
positive media coverage, and good future prospects.
So often, they let it all slip through their fingers. Somebody leaves, somebody has an argument, and it all falls to bits. Is there a secret to sticking around? Have Birdseatbaby had to weather any ups and downs? Have there been any moments when it almost fell to bits?
I think for us the most important thing about band-life and longevity is you have to have fun. We really like to have a laugh together, otherwise - what's the point? If it's not fun any more then it's time to stop.
We've had our fair share of arguments and disagreements but we've always been able to move through it and stick together…yes, we've had moments where we feel like it might be over. For example, when some of our founding members left, it changed quite dramatically and didn't feel like the same band. It was hard to carry on, but ultimately, as long as we're producing the music we want to, the band will continue on.
Does survival as a band ultimately come down to a certain bloody-mindedness - you have to want to do it, no matter what?
Yes. We will never stop!
|Birdeatsbaby perform 'The Bullet'. They all live in a greyish submarine.|
Anyone who dips into Birdeatsbaby's music instantly realises that you are....how can I put it? Not as other bands.
When you first had the idea to form a band, did you decide right from the start that this was not going to be just another rock group - or did the Birdseatbaby style, the aesthetic, come about more or less by accident? I'm guessing there must be a fairly wide range of influences at work...
was kind of a happy accident. I really wanted to be in a guitar band but,
being a pianist, that wasn't really possible.
So everything was written centred around the piano which already gave us quite a different sound. Add a violin to that mix and you've already got something a bit different.
While my background was classical, rock and theatre, Garry's background was jazz, prog and heavy metal so can you see where I'm going here...it just happened and we instantly loved it!
The assortment of genres quoted on your Facebook page - Classical, Rock, Punk, Heavy Metal, Progressive - suggest a veritable wall of guitars. But although Birdeatsbaby can get pretty loud at times, it's all done without the conventional array of crashing powerchords (and, mostly, without a guitar at all).
It's fascinatingly counter-intuitive, a real lesson in doing the un-obvious - but was that the plan from the start, or did you realise after the first few rehearsals that things were going in an un-obvious direction?
To be honest, I don't think we've ever tried to define our musical direction. We just had the songs, and gave them whatever arrangement we felt necessary. When we wanted it loud, we made it loud, when we wanted it soft, we made it soft. The only thing we were careful about is that we remained true to the song, and gave it the best harmonic sound possible, using the instruments we had.
I think these days, it's easy for a band to go into the studio and lay down a million tracks before they actually play the song as a band. When you only have a few instruments to begin with, it's easier to make a solid arrangement first. Everything else can be added afterwards.
We wrote those genres on our Facebook page after we had listened to our own songs and thought… hmm… this sounds like etc etc… we were never trying to do the un-obvious, it just happened that way!
It's also interesting that you've got punk and prog in your influence list - two genres that usually eye each other suspiciously from opposite sides of the room. But this is the 21st century, and those battles were fought long ago. Do you think we're far enough down the line now for the usual demarcation lines not to matter? Is it all equally valid?
On the other hand, would things be a bit easier if you could simply point to one genre and say, "That's what we are!"
I think when you look at both those genres, the extremes of each are hard to listen to!
I personally can't stand the really over-the-top
prog bands like Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, neither can I listen to most punk
music for long periods of time (even though I adore the Sex Pistols and
For me it's about creating the perfect balance between something very musically clever, but with bags of attitude. That's "prog punk" to me, and no, I don't think anybody minds!
Talking of crashing powerchords, a while back you supported ASP in Germany. Now there's a band which I'm tempted to say could only exist in Germany. At any rate, their brand of wildly OTT pomp-metal must've presented you with a bit of a challenge. How did that one go down? Did you put together a special 'loud' set for the occasion, or did you just give the crowd a normal set and let them take it or leave it?
Actually, yes, it was pretty hard for us to play to their
fans. I think they were expecting Birdeatsbaby to be a heavy metal band
and were a bit shocked, haha!
We played as heavy as we could do, and I think by the end of it we'd won most of them over (as our merchandise sales proved!) but it was hard, hard work. We felt a bit deflated afterwards, but it's always harder to be the support band!
|Birdeatsbaby get heavy on 'Incitatus'. All together now: "FLOG THAT HORSE!"|
Are Birdeatsbaby fated to always be the odd band out - but, if so, does that matter? Are there advantages to being the odd ones?
Yeah, we're definitely a weird one. I don't think it matters. Initially it's been harder to make our voice heard, a lot of people are like "What the hell is this?" but since we've got our own loyal following, we've proved that it doesn't matter, and actually it's way more fun to be different.
And yes, there are advantages. Our music always provokes a strong reaction. People either love it or hate it, and we'd much rather be one of those bands, than the conventional ones where people say, "Hmm… it's OK…"
Do you think there are other artists working in your kind of area - fellow travellers or kindred spirits? Given a choice, who would you like to tour with?
It's our band fantasy to tour with Muse one day! But, more realistically, we'd love to tour with a band like Gabby Young and Other Animals. We've done a handful of shows together, and even done a track together, and it's always been very, very fun. We also enjoyed touring with Coppelius in Germany, we'd do that again for sure.
There's a strong visual side to Birdeatsbaby. You seem to release videos almost as frequently as the music itself, and the videos are always impressive - all the more so because I guess they are done without big budgets. I'm surprised that more bands don't do the same, especially as it's possible to get an instant audience on the web.
What's the process behind a Birdeatsbaby video? Where do the ideas come from - and then is it a case of scripts and storyboards and meticulous planning, or do you just point and shoot and improvise?
We probably release so many videos because we nearly always have a concept for them. It's definitely a thought-out process though, we never just improvise!
Most of the time we already have an idea when the song itself is born, and then we have to be selective for which ones we choose for the video…I wish we could make all our songs into videos! We just don't have the money or time!
Have the videos got a good reaction and lots of views? Has it got to the point where we don't need music shows on telly any more - or would you still like to get on Jools Holland (and, if you did, would you let Jools play along?)
Yes, mostly the videos have got a lot of views and good
reactions too, although I think we'd benefit greatly from a slot on Jools,
yes! I'm not sure I'd let him play along though…he's a bit jazzy…
And finally....the traditional 'What next?' question. What's the plan for Birdeatsbaby's immediate future - and the more distant future too? Where would you like to go from here?
Well, we'll definitely be putting out another video/single this year, and we will continue to tour as much as we possibly can. We're trying to get back to America and Mexico as our core fan-base are out there so that's definitely on the cards.
And I guess we'll begin recording album number 4… we'd like to carry on what we're doing, on a much, much bigger scale!
Birdeatsbaby with Gabby Young: 'Spiders'. A frock 'n' roll number.
Go back to the interview index page here.