WALLIS Bird even surprised herself when making her latest album Home. The deeply personal record was her most tender to date and revealed a side of her personality she never knew existed.
Since launching her recording career in 2007 with the album Spoons, the Irish singer-songwriter has built a reputation as a fierce, tough and independent musician.
Perhaps it was her upbringing in the south-eastern seaside town of Wexford or because as a baby she had four fingers on one hand surgically reattached after she fell underneath a lawnmower.
Bird spent a full year away from the rigours of touring at her Berlin home to write Home and the domestic setting helped expose her unknown tenderness in an open letter to her girlfriend.
“I found a really girly side for sure,” Bird tells Weekender while drinking a pint on tour in Manchester, England. “An in-love, vulnerable childish girl and I found a mother and I found mostly nurturing and feminine feelings. Because before I wouldn’t have wanted to sound just like a woman. I wouldn’t like that at all.
“All of my other records were gender neutral and you’re not trying to say things about being a woman or a man. You’re not trying to homogenize a theme even. With this one I relented and said, ‘f--k it, it is what it is.’ I suppose I relented to the feminine voice in me.”
Bird’s music is difficult to pigeonhole. On single albums she flies effortlessly between new-age and traditional folk, rock, electronica and pop and is often compared to Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple and even a young Janis Joplin.
Home is arguably her most eclectic release to date, from the electronic calypso beats of Pass The Darkness, the soaring pop of Control to the sparse love balladry of the title track.
Its gestation came at an important juncture for Bird. She admits after four albums the continual cycle of recording and touring was beginning to sap her creativity.
“I would say everybody should take time off,” Bird says. “I never had that time afforded to even find out what I was into. I’ve had time off, but I’ve never had that much time off from work.
“It helped me to be clear in my head, helped to stop thinking I was the centre of the universe, it helped me get closer to my family and friends. It helped me enjoy life to be honest with you.
“What I was writing before that, the well was starting to dry up and that was becoming really obvious because I was losing lust to do it.”
The 34-year-old veteran is relatively unknown in Australia, having never toured here before. In Europe she has built a loyal fan base through regularly charting across the continent and earning two Meteor awards, Ireland’s national music prize.
Over the summer Bird will embark on 12-date east coast tour of Australia that includes rarely-visited outposts like Grafton and Wauchope.
“Through talking with friends I’m really looking forward to seeing the landscapes,” she says. “A bunch of other Australian people have constantly talked about how alternative it is and I kind of gathered there’s a real spirituality in the air you know.
“And you’re mad as f--k and wild from the stories I’ve heard.”
Bird’s unique guitar style, coupled with her vast vocal range, have made her an intriguing live performer. She plays a right-handed guitar left-handed and due to the effects of the childhood lawnmower accident, which caused her to lose a finger, she is able to reach notes most guitarists cannot.
"I suppose I relented to the feminine voice in me.”
“My baby finger can stretch between two notes, so I use my baby finger to f--k around with bass notes, so I can move up and down the neck and use the top strings as almost a percussion element, because I’m using the smaller strings so they sound more raspier,” Bird says.
“So that’s helped develop my style because it’s heavily percussive because of hitting the percussive notes first rather than the melodic notes.”
It’s Bird’s way of identifying something beneficial from a traumatic experience.
“I suppose I can’t take any credit because I was way too young to know if it was traumatic, but certainly I know people who have had something traumatic happen to them, they either fight or flight,” she says. “You mostly take lessons from it, because you can’t do much else.”
Wallis Bird makes her Newcastle debut at the Small Ballroom on January 11.