By Jim Schutze
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You have to hand it to Andrew Bird. Up until now, the Chicago based singer-songwriter-violinist has controlled every aspect of his music, from writing, recording and production to actually helping build the barn where he records most of his music. Sounding quite exhausted over the phone one recent afternoon, he admits he hasn't always managed to pull it off, which is why, for the first time, he's handed over some of the control to his trusted bandmates.
The result is Break It Yourself, Bird's most diverse record to date. The biggest difference isn't so much in the songs — they've still got Bird's whimsical and weighty signature. He's departed from his former methods. He's a new man. And it's all because of the friends in his band.
"I've had a core group of people that I've been building up over the last five years," Bird says. "I brought these guys down to our barn and had a friend cook for us, and it was about the most enjoyable recording session I've ever had."
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Previously, Bird claims he would put himself in a vacuum and see what "he could dig out from inside [himself]." He would work himself to the brink of insanity, mulling over songs, re-recording new versions, getting things perfect. But this record is the first he's allowed others to contribute to.
He didn't remove himself from these grueling methods just because he was getting tired of them. Bird was actually returning to what he originally set out to do with music. "I'm kind of getting back to why I got started on this path in the first place ... which was mainly to find a more easy-going social atmosphere for making music," he says. "I was just seeking out other social, musical situations."
The communal attitude on Break It Yourself yielded interesting results, which Bird says he couldn't have predicted. As the band embarked on what he thought would surely be a long journey, Bird realized the sloppy first takes were the ones he wanted to use for the final product. He didn't say anything to the band, though. Didn't want to jinx it. Meanwhile, the band thought they were merely rehearsing.
The whole process helped Bird, the eternal perfectionist, realize something. He's bored of the way records are produced.
"I'm just tired of the idea of productions," he says. "A lot of records, more and more, sound like a series of choices. 'My record is just going to be a parade of my best ideas.' I just didn't want to think of it that way because when you make a record you have to deconstruct a song you wrote on your couch and piece it all back together. ... I don't want to go down that road. I hear it on other records and I don't like it."