Bird By Bird - Sound In The Signals Interview

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You just released your new music video for “Delirious” over at ap.net. The video looked like you had a really fun time shooting it and the energy level of the video seems great. What was the video shoot like and what do you think your favorite part of the shoot was?

The video was definitely a blast. It's the second Bird by Bird music video so far, done with the same director (Logan Grime). I'm a huge fan of his style, and it was great to work with him again and be able to spend more time than we did on the first video. Favorite part of the shoot for me was the 30 minutes that we spent filming me playing guitar and singing in this big fountain at the top of a hill in Albany, CA. Though, I did just find out that homeless people may or may not pee in this fountain on a regular basis. This is troubling, as I may or may not have splashed some of this fountain water on my face.

In addition to the video release you offered “Delirious” as a free download through your bandcamp account. What made you decide to give away the song for free when so many people are opting to sell the single for .99 cents?

The music industry has always been a fickle bitch, but that's particularly true right now, and there's definitely no right or wrong way to do things. Looking around on Amazon you'll find some major label bands giving away singles, maybe selling entire records for $5. Go in to Target and that same record is $14.99. The amount that indie bands are charging for their music is all over the spectrum. Everywhere I look bands are giving away music. Personally, I haven't actually paid for music in quite some time, so it seemed due time for me to give away at least one song. It was also partly a test to see if getting people to the page to download the free song would inspire them to buy the record. I definitely did see an increase in record sales since making the song free. It's hard to say exactly how many of those sales came from having the song up for free, but I'd say it worked. I think it's safe to say that Bird by Bird fans can look forward to more free downloads in the future.

Albatross, your debut EP, is a really great release and the songs are really well written. One thing I really like is the strength of your voice and how well you slipped into the front man role. Did you always assume at some point in your musical career you would be the front man of a project? What are some things that you like about being the front man and what is something that is maybe more stressful about being the front man than you would have assumed when you started the project?

You are correct - Albatross is a really great release, and the songs are really well written! Haha, just kidding. But thanks.

Actually, it's not my first time as a frontman. Before playing in the Matches I fronted a band with a few of my high school-aged peers. Though, it is nice to not be playing Papa Roach/Jimi Hendrix/Red Hot Chili Peppers covers anymore. Yeah, definitely better this time around. There's of course more pressure being the frontman, but without a question it's worth it for me right now. I'm beyond thrilled to be doing exactly what I want to be doing.

You’ve been noted many times for your abilities on the guitar. What are some of your favorite guitars? How did you develop your style? What is your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I was lucky enough to get a young start. I pickup up the guitar when I was 8, when I had already been playing the piano for a couple years. I was also lucky enough to take lessons from a phenomenal guitar instructor. At the same time I was learning simple pop punk songs I'd heard on the radio, I was also learning old jazz songs, unusual chord fingerings, theory, etc. That gave me heaps of diversity. And of course playing with the Matches guys for 8 years certainly helped mold my playing style.

My favorite thing I've ever written? Probably a haiku that I carved into a bathroom stall in El Paso, TX. It wasn't bigoted like the rest of the junk scribbled nearby.

You chose to release Albatross the DIY route, and I recently interviewed your old label mate Andrew Jordan (Matchbook Romance) who also chose to go DIY for his new EP. What do you think is making more artists choose the DIY route to releasing music and what have been your thoughts on the whole rebirth of the DIY mentality?

I saw an image being passed around on Facebook the other day of two pie charts. The first pie chart was a breakdown of how money gets split up when a band is signed to a major label. The record label took a massive chunk, then of course tons of money going to the manager, booking agent, lawyer, and then the band portion of money split 4 ways for each member. It worked out to each band member getting 2.5% of actual money coming in. The second pie chart was representing how much more money goes to indie artists. All it had was 30% for iTunes, 70% to the artist. Sounds great right?

Huge fallacy. First off, what about splitting the money up between band members like in the first pie chart? When you divide the indie artist portion by 4 members, that 70% drops to 17.5%. Not so hot. And then what about manager, booking agent, lawyer, etc? Are we expected to believe that indie bands don't need a business team working behind them? In fact, if a band is going to go full steam ahead without a record label, they're going to need to hire a larger business team than they would if they were signed, to make up for not having a label (publicist, radio/video, etc). And then of course there's the fact that the potential audience with a label is far greater than just an indie band doing everything on their own. So, even if the artist percentage is lower, the artist has potential to make much more money if they're successful (and expose their music to a wider audience, which is what they want, right?).

I'm not trying to say that major labels are the answer to the current state of the industry. Most record labels have no idea what they're doing right now either. But I do think that most people, fans especially, are overestimating the power of an independent artist armed only with his music and the internet. It's incredibly rare that an artist can launch and sustain themselves completely independently. Albatross was a DIY release because it was the best option at the time.

Last year The Matches began the hiatus and both you and Shawn have launched successful musical projects since then. Many people are still such big fans of The Matches work and are inspired by the albums you guys made. I always hate to ask these kinds of questions but I know people are interested (but hopefully I can steer the ship in a different direction). After the band announced its hiatus what did you find yourself doing the couple weeks following and did you feel you had achieved what the band set out to do? The few seconds after the band was over what emotions would you say you felt? What do you think of Maniac’s stuff?

The Matches split was very emotionally charged. We made the decision to part ways sometime around May (2009), but didn't play our final shows until late August. We didn't see much of each other the months in between. I spent all of my time and energy focusing on Bird by Bird in that time: writing, recording, playing shows, building momentum. When August came around and we started to rehearse for our final shows, it was quite strange to interrupt my new reality of Bird by Bird with the familiarity of the Matches. The amount of fan support that we saw at our final shows was incredibly touching and moved us all. None of us wanted to leave the stage at our last show. I spent hours after the show talking to fans, doing my best to [unsuccessfully] hold back tears. I definitely felt a bit paralyzed for a couple weeks after our final show. It was hard, but really the right thing for us all.

I'm a huge fan of Maniac. It's great to see Shawn doing exactly what he wants. I'd been hearing him talk about Maniac for a while - music and image. When the Die Rad video came out, it was exactly the image that he had been talking about. It was exciting to see to it come to life.

With the music business being at a big crossroads and finding ways to be profitable in music harder these days for artist what advice would you give to new artist to make sure the are able to build a career as a musician over the one album and done bands we see so much these days?

I have no idea. Nobody knows what they're talking about, myself included. Sorry lad.

If you could do anything in the world or outer space what would you like to do?

I recently heard one of my favorite authors, Mary Roach, interviewed on NPR. She tends to write about quirky topics like sex and cadavers (separate books!), and has just written a book on the oddities that go along with space travel. Apparently toilets in spaceships have little vacuums in them - without these little vacuums, the excrement would just stay stagnant and still in zero gravity. That's pretty gross. I think I'll pass on space travel. Thanks, though.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. I really appreciate it. Do you have any closing comments you’d like to make?


The EP has somewhat of a variety of different song styles and “Delirious” to me is somewhat reminiscent of The Matches and it seems like you’ve worked hard to find your sound. What are a couple of your favorite things about the EP as far as songwriting, lyrics, mood, etc?

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