“I’m just an ordinary 20-year-old girl,” Jade Bird says with a shrug. “There’s nothing you can’t connect with about that.”
A quickly-growing audience seems to agree. The English singer-songwriter’s debut EP, Something American, arrived last July on Glassnote Records, the indie label that launched Mumford & Sons, Phoenix and Chvrches in the U.S. Her recent single “Lottery,” a heartfelt romantic plea (“You used to tell me that love is a lottery…Are you still betting on me?”), hit Number 1 on Billboard‘s Adult Alternative Songs chart in April, and its video has earned half a million views on YouTube. This summer, Bird is in the midst of a long festival run, which will lead her into a headlining tour in the States this fall through clubs like Los Angeles’ Troubadour and New York’s Bowery Ballroom.
Today, despite the unreasonably hot London weather, Bird has arrived to an interview in pink corduroy trousers and a tee-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow, a coffee in hand. Her long hair dangles over her face, often pushed back unconsciously as she chats, which she does rapidly. “As you can tell I talk way too much,” she remarks at one point.
That propensity to express herself translates into her story-driven songs, which veer between Americana, punk and soulful indie pop. Country fans have begun to gravitate to Bird thanks to her evocatively imagined narratives about broken relationships, fledgling love and marriages that end before they can begin. She says she’s happy to be simply alternative – or “whatever Alanis Morissette was called.”
Bird, who now spends her time in south London when not on tour, was born in Hexham, a small town in the far north of England, and jumped around the U.K. throughout her early childhood as an army brat. Her parents’ divorce sent the singer to live with her mom and grandma in South Wales as a teen. She’d taken piano lessons earlier on from a Russian teacher (“She taught me discipline,” Bird quips), but it wasn’t until she taught herself to play guitar at age 13 – plucking her grandma’s old acoustic until she found the right sounds, inspired by Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – that she found the right outlet for her feelings. “Songwriting really kicked in with the guitar,” she says. “I was going through a lot as a kid. There had been a lot of transitions in my family. So it just became a total therapy, like most artists. I think that’s why I did so much. I used to write so many songs.”
Bird remains a prolific songwriter, constantly jotting ideas down on her phone and in a Moleskine notebook. Every few months, she heads into a London studio with an engineer to lay down demos of everything she’s got ready. Most sessions yield 13 to 15 new tracks, all in a visceral, imperfect form. “I kinda just bang through ’em,” she says. “I’m not really precious about it. It’s just me and my guitar. How much perfection do you really need?”
Bird recorded Something American with producer Simone Felice, formerly of the Felice Brothers, in upstate New York. The five-song EP is full of heartbreak songs – see “Cathedral,” an acoustic ballad about broken vows – and echoes of her hero, Patti Smith (particularly on the raw, piano-led number “What Am I Here For”). Her newer songs, including “Lottery,” “Furious” and “Uh Huh,” unfurl in notably varied ways, with tones that range from languid crooning to snarling punk.
As Bird finishes up her full-length debut, expected out in 2019, she wants to explore all facets of her personality. “No artist is one-dimensional,” she says. “I get the sense that if I push myself now and if I create a million different-sounding songs – I just feel that’s going to be such a set-up for my ability in the future.”
Instead of looking to professional session musicians or label executives for guidance, Bird tests her new music on her fans, either at live performances or in snippets on Instagram (which is how “Furious” came to be). “I’m hoping to write the album 100 percent by myself,” she says. “Which, nowadays, is quite a rare thing. The artists I love, like Elliott Smith, they wrote their own songs, and the imperfections make a perfect album in the end. But you only get imperfections by people who don’t point out your imperfections and go, ‘Maybe we should rewrite that.'”
Adds Bird, “I feel pretty perfect. I feel pretty in it, pretty ready to stay in it and keep working like bloody hell and releasing new music.” She grins. “Yeah, I feel good right now. And that’s not to be taken for granted.”