Jade Bird talks faster than nearly any artist I've spoken with in a long time. Our connection lags a little and her dense British accent means I miss a word here and there, but her passion and the sense of self-confidence she exudes, even over the phone, keeps my ear glued tightly to the receiver while we speak. I don't want to miss a bit of what she's got to say.
I've heard Bird's breakout hit "Lottery" a lot on my local NPR station, which I listen to religiously while driving around town. It has helped land her slots playing at Stagecoach festival, in front of country music fans, and Bumbershoot, in front of indie fans.
She's just released a new track, "Furious," that addresses cheating in stark terms. She's also on her first headlining U.S. tour, with dates through June that picks up again in September.
Refinery29: Tell me about your history with music?
Jade Bird: "I started learning the piano when I was seven, I was taught classically. I'd say I really started writing songs when I was 12 or 13. I had an acoustic guitar that I got from a family friend. I was taking lessons and kind of permanently borrowed it. It lead me to find a lot of music, a lot of '60s stuff and I remember taking it all in and learning. My parents were into dance music like the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. My mom had me when she was 20 which is my age now. That's weird and I feel a bit unusual, being the same age my mum was when she had me. I found that listening to older music was me being a pioneer of my own taste. From there I went forward, connecting with songwriters like Patti Smith and Alanis Morissette."
Refinery29: How did you then find your way to country music?
Jade Bird: "Country music was quite random. Civil Wars was the first act that was Americana leaning that I absolutely fell in love with. I found Neil Young and Johnny Cash. I think I was drawn to acoustically heavy characters like Cash and got into it that way. I've always said that Dolly Parton is underrated as a powerful woman. They're powerhouses, the women in country. Especially the women from early on in the genre, they're so inspiring because of the way they orchestrated their careers especially in a time dominated by conservative men. They used their music to progress in that scene. I think it's so admirable and they must be proper geniuses at their work. I watched Coal Miner's Daughter, the story of Loretta Lynn, after a friend told me I had to check it out. The story of what was going on in her life, that she was having kids before she was 18, and then going to radio stations with her husband while wearing her expandable jacket to tell them to play her record — I thought that was the most incredible story. My mum and grandma are single mothers and they've always worked for what they've got."
Refinery29: Yeah, there are a lot of parallels between those older country musicians and punk, because they were both political at a time when America needed to be.
Jade Bird: "Absolutely, in my own writing I try to achieve a young woman's perspective. I feel the expectation when I get on stage, like everyone is thinking, Eh, here's a little blonde girl. Then you wind up hearing good songs. I've always enjoyed that, being young, getting to watch people change their mind because I'm not what they expected. When I was gigging in London, I had a residency and I would go every weekend. I'd watch these big, burly guys who got up before me and then slowly I managed to progress and get a bit stompy myself, like them. I became a staple and that was an early, informative experience for me. I learned a lot from that."
Refinery29: It feels like everyone is getting more political with their music these days. Listening to your album, and to Courtney Barnett's new album, they're both the sort of songwriting that sometimes is political, sometimes addresses feminism or representation, and sometimes it's just about life or love. It seems weird to say, but it's just how we think now. Has that played into your songwriting?
Jade Bird: "Yeah, absolutely. I think songs should be political wherever you are, whether your marching or living everyday life. I honestly have to remind myself of why I got interested in music. I've always wanted to be a role model in the feminist movement. My way of doing that is by being very honest about my experiences in songs. That might be about my relationships, with men and women. Ultimately, being able to be open to fans, young girls especially, as someone to look up to and offer advice is important. I try and do my best, because I was once younger and wondering how to do this and how to get taken seriously. I want to make it clear that you don't have to be apologetic or whimsical behind your guitar. You can stretch a bit and be a bit more bold."
Refinery29: Do you personally feel there has been any change in the way you've been treated or the way female musicians are thought about after #MeToo?
Jade Bird: "I think in the subtext of it women aren't always taken that seriously. It's a sad thing to say. I've always had a lot to say and I guess people are probably more willing to listen now that I have, for example, toured America. There are little things you notice in the way certain guys come up to you on the merch stand. For example, one guy got a little bit in my face and took a power stance and I was reminded of all the guys who feel protected by society, that they have a right to do that. I'm still discovering how I can become an active part of this movement, in the right way so you're not taking from it and you're just giving.