Andrew Bird's 1st Holiday Album Includes A Song Inspired By The Pandemic

Dec 12, 2020
Originally published on December 21, 2020 7:47 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Andrew Bird began to wonder about Christmas a while ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS IN APRIL")

ANDREW BIRD: (Singing) Yeah, I'm writing this song about Christmas in April this year. So I'm not sure what to think about that.

SIMON: And Andrew Bird's full album of holiday music is available now - has some classics, of course, and original songs like "Christmas in April" that might supplement the December playlist that you might be leaning on just a little hard this year. The album is called "Hark!" with an exclamation point. And Andrew Bird joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

BIRD: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Billboard says "Christmas In April" might just be the first ever COVID-inspired holiday song. How did it come about?

BIRD: Well, I started writing it in March, but I thought March wasn't the most lyrical-sounding word. But I was - you know, I was going through what a lot of us were going through which - the stages of acceptance of what we were dealing with, with the pandemic. And I was thinking ahead to the holidays and wondering if it was going to go on that long and if - whether we'd be able to see our families and loved ones and also kind of realizing that probably millions of people were thinking the same thing I was, which - how often can you say that?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS IN APRIL")

BIRD: (Singing) I said Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.

SIMON: You have been making music for - what? - 25 years now, almost?

BIRD: Yeah, yeah.

SIMON: And why did you want to do a holiday album now?

BIRD: You know, I didn't think I'm going to make a holiday album right now. I thought, man, I love these Vince Guaraldi tunes, and I want to do a couple of covers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD SONG, "CHRISTMAS IS COMING")

BIRD: And then that kind of - one thing led to another, and I thought, maybe I'll write some originals. It's kind of like the ultimate challenge for a songwriter to try to write something that enters the repertoire of holiday classics.

SIMON: One of the more somber songs on this album, we want to ask you about that, too. Let's listen to "Alabaster."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALABASTER")

BIRD: (Singing) Days are growing short. Nights are growing longer. Got to get much stronger to make it through.

SIMON: Does a holiday album have to encompass what we're going through now to work?

BIRD: Not necessarily. A holiday album is in its own complete category of music. It's kind of extraordinary, really, that we have this repertoire of music that only works a certain time of year. And the ones that stand the test of time that have been around for - some of them for centuries - they're not always the most uplifting. Sometimes they're sad and creepy, honestly. And those are the ones that kind of stick like, you know, "Greensleeves." And, you know, they're oftentimes in minor key. You know, I think of "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" or - you know, that sort of captures the darkness of that time of year. And Christmas, going back to the Holiday Festival of Lights, you know, welcoming the darkness, there's this whole tradition of, like, the holidays being something that gets us through the dark, cold months.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALABASTER")

BIRD: (Singing) Keep your lamp on. Keep your lamp on.

SIMON: You do a noteworthy kind of annual gig at Fourth Presbyterian Church in our hometown of Chicago on Michigan Avenue - great, famous church. What about this year?

BIRD: Well, yeah, it's become an annual tradition. And I don't play any Christmas songs at those performances, but I try to capture a sort of ambience that captures the holiday and, again, kind of helps us get through the dark months. This year, I'm doing it as a live stream in Ojai, Calif., amongst the orange groves - not exactly the setting that I imagined. But it will be at sunset, and it'll be beautiful.

SIMON: And that concert will be tomorrow.

BIRD: It is, yeah. And I really enjoy having to stay present enough to react to the acoustics of a particular space. So "Gezelligheid" kind of captures that playing to the room idea and how important the environment is.

SIMON: What's that word again?

BIRD: Gezelligheid - it's a Dutch word that the Dutch say has no translation but roughly translates as cozy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD SONG, "GLAD")

SIMON: How are you feeling this holiday season, Mr. Bird? How are you and your family doing?

BIRD: We've thankfully avoided illness and tragedy. It hasn't come too close to us so far. Anxiety has just been the word for this year. You know, I can't perform live. But capturing everyday life and how music is a part of my everyday life, I've gotten a little closer to that goal.

SIMON: What is everyday music like in your life now?

BIRD: Well, it's a bit more lo-fi. And sometimes it's just me late at night, fully reclined on the couch after a fairly anxious, defeating day, recording a song like "White Christmas" on my phone and kind of embracing the scrappiness of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

BIRD: (Singing) I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

SIMON: Andrew Bird - his latest album is "Hark!" with an exclamation point. And good holiday to you, sir. And thanks so much for being with us.

BIRD: Happy holidays to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

BIRD: (Singing) Treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.