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Mysterious ways

Andrew Bird struggles with his education, his sound and his future


Andrew Bird angrily adjusts his collar when asked if he - bothered to spell-check his briefcase.
  • Andrew Bird angrily adjusts his collar when asked if he bothered to spell-check his briefcase.

Turns out that on the phone, Andrew Bird is just about as conflicted and poetic as he is on disc.

At different times during our conversation, he calls himself "uncomfortable" as a musician. He labels his early records "genuinely bizarre." And he admits that 10 years from now, he's not sure if he'll have anything left to contribute musically.

"As you make more and more records, it gets harder to surprise yourself," Bird says. "Every time I make a record I want to say, "Yeah, something new happened.'"

So far, Bird has embraced that view. He started in the mid-'90s with a swing-like sound. Slowly, he moved closer to more conventional rock before his latest release, an indie folk album that established Bird as one of the most underrated artists around.

Bird, a Chicago native, is a lifetime musician, proficient in violin. He was trained in the Suzuki Method, which teaches young children how to play classical compositions. The philosophy applies language education to musical understanding; essentially, the earlier children are exposed to a dialect, the easier they understand that language. Bird began playing the violin at age 4.

"By the time I was 8, I was pretty proficient," Bird says. "I had a good form, and I didn't even know what happened. It was all fun and games and before I knew it, I was a good musician."

The Suzuki Method was so young when Bird first started that many of its flaws hadn't yet been realized. Many students, he found in college, suffer from rote playing, failing to inject a personal voice to pieces or to break free from classical forms.

"I spent a lot of time with other classical musicians who couldn't make a move without a book of music in front of them," Bird says. "The classical students were some of the most conservative, uptight students on the whole campus. There was this fear that if you tried something out of the mold, a bolt of lightning would strike you down."

Bird, in his early 20s at the time, underwent what he calls a "teenage rebellion," fighting against the conservative style of violin playing. He recorded his first album, Thrills, which critics described as a part of the swing revitalization of the mid-'90s.

"I listen to those old records, and they're genuinely bizarre," Bird says. "I'm never totally comfortable with the music I'm making, so that's why I keep changing. I've accepted that."

Bird's third release, 2001's The Swimming Hour, moved closer to standard rock. But on 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Bird hit his peak, finally recording an album he seems comfortable with one that fits his talents and direction in life. Soft and poetic with Bird's soothing voice, each song comes off as if it was crafted with purpose, never overly sentimental but hitting a penetrating tone.

In the spring, Bird will release his next full-length album, Armchair Apocrypha, which he describes as a more amped-up, extroverted sound.

And why not? It could be a final chance for him to try it out.

"I feel like right now I've almost done everything I can do," Bird says. "I still feel like new things are gonna happen every day. But it's really hard to imagine feeling that way in 10 years."


Andrew Bird with DeVotchKa and Wovenhand

Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver

Saturday, Dec. 30, and Sunday, Dec. 31, 8 p.m.

Tickets: Saturday, $21.25 in advance, $26.25 day of the show; Sunday, $36.25 in advance, $41.25 day of the show; 16-plus, visit

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