Lake Forest-born singer-songwriter—and whistling phenom—Andrew Bird dropped a new EP last Tuesday, I Want to See Pulaski at Night, which is streaming now on his website.
He’s on tour right now—coming to Chicago for four sold-out shows at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, December 9-12—but he took a moment to chat over email about the inspiration behind the new disc’s six songs.
What about Pulaski Avenue inspired you to write the new song “Pulaski at Night,” the title track off your new EP?
The words “I want to see Pulaski at night” were spoken in a wistful tone by a visiting student from Thailand to my friend Shannon. We thought it was funny and absurd that it would occur to anyone to want to see Pulaski at night so it became a sort of catch phrase for my 20s in Chicago. At some point, it stopped being a joke and sort of sums up the bitter and sweet that comes with living in Chicago.
On the new EP, orchestral arrangements, loops, and your signature violin sound are front and center, eschewing some of the more vocal-centric, folk-pop leanings of many of your full length LPs. What inspired this shift?
I wouldn’t call it a shift; I’ve been putting out instrumental music for a while now. I suppose what inspires it are these gezelligheid shows [a Dutch word that basically means cozy. Bird’s Chicago shows in a few weeks are in the gezelligheid style], which have become unexpectedly satisfying—and maybe the ideal frame for what I do.
The push and pull between concise songwriting and instrumental flights of fancy, the big festival show, and the intimate club, all get reconciled at gezelligheid. It’s like I get to start from scratch and build a show I would want to see, filling the 35 mm frame with beautiful things. As far as the EP goes, I wanted to get this song out there because it feels timely and I thought I’d wrap it in these themes (like a soundtrack to the song) that are staples of the gezelligheid show.
Here in Chicago, we mostly see you during your annual run of holiday shows. But in the early to mid 2000s, you were a fixture, tooling around the Logan Square Farmer’s Market and spontaneously jumping onstage with your violin and whistle with the likes of My Morning Jacket. Where have you gone? Are you settled into family life these days?
It’s true; I’ve been scarce. I spend the summers on the family farm in west Illinois, but have been elsewhere raising our 2-year-old.
What can you tell us about the upcoming gezelligheid shows this December? You’re playing with [singer-songwriter] Tift Merritt this time around.
We’re doing material from Hands of Glory and beyond. [Merrit] is a huge personality and a great singer. She’s bringing out something new in my voice that has been elusive and I want to capture it on future records. Otherwise, I’m still doing about half the show solo, trying to keep gezelligheid warm and comforting while giving folks something new.