“It’s funny you should say that, because that time is now,” Bird says in splendid Irish brogue. “It came to the point where I’d been touring hard for a decade, and I totally believed I could keep going. But my management said to me, ‘I think now is the time for a break, you’ve done far too many gigs in too short a time, lived in too many suitcases and you’ve left clothes unwashed too many times.’ But I would have kept burning the candle at both ends until they stopped me. So it wasn’t my own choice to stop, but it was a pretty good choice that they made me stop. I feel good about it now, it put life into perspective. As soon as I turned 32, I started to look over what I’ve done. I hear at 35 your face changes. How old are you?”
Turns out, I’m two weeks older than Bird herself, so I offer to be her Age Correspondent and send back reports so she knows what to expect. Given her debut Australian tour stretches across December and January taking in a host of solo gigs as well as the Woodford Folk Festival, her birthday will be spent Down Under, but the prospect doesn’t bother Bird. Indeed, turns out she has quite an impromptu family already waiting for her here in the wings.
“I haven’t been to Australia before, but a tonne of my friends have headed over. So going there, it’ll be like a homecoming without it ever being home. I didn’t have the right context before to visit, I could have gone over, but to be honest, I would have played the Irish card, and I didn’t want to do that,” she says. “So I waited until we met the right people, and I’m also not in a hurry to do things. A lot of my friends have been travelling all over the world much longer than I have, and it’s made me think, ‘fuck, why aren’t I doing that?’
“Since then, we met really fabulous people, like promoter/booker Cathy Kirkpatrick and Woodford’s Chloe Goodyear, they’re both really special. Now, with all of what I’ve done, that’s been the making of who I am, distilling down to the essence of who I want to be working with. I’ve done the whole licking ashtrays and kissing arses thing, and there’s not a lot of that in me. I’d rather be working. And that just took time. I had the opportunity before, but now it feels right. Took it’s time, though.”
Better late than never, and while I’m sure Bird would have been warmly welcomed had she breached our shores years ago, there’s likely truth in her commitment to biding time; her live energy is the stuff of legend, and her most recent album, Home, is one hell of a showcase of her talents. She is being supported by Tullara – that self-same friend who supported her all those moons ago – as she takes her solo show state to state, and while I’m fully expecting the same wild dervish she displays at home, Bird has taken cues from an unlikely source to ensure at least a portion of each performance is hers, and hers alone.
“I was watching this thing about Anthony Hopkins, and he said the more you give of yourself, the less you can take away for yourself. If you give away 100 percent, what can you take back at the end and think, ‘I’ve learned something today’? So give 90 percent, and be calm with what you’re giving,” says Bird. “In a situation where you’re supposed to be creatively open and free and on and giving and forthright all the time, you want to show people your real side. So do 90 percent for the show, and 10 percent for you. Writing, you also have to be true, I have to dig down deep and see what the song wants to say.
“But ultimately, I’m just a vessel; the song is going to tell me what instrument it wants to go to, and I think that’s why I become magnetised to a certain style or beat. That’s how my songs get written. I just learn how to play these instruments that the song wants me to learn. I honestly feel like I’m not even part of the parcel any more, but it still makes me grateful. I just try to stay open to it.”
Wallis Bird will be touring Australia this month. For more information head to love-your-artist.com/wallis-bird. Home is out now via Mount Silver Records.