Married couple Dani and Zack Green – two paramount parts of the band Birdtalker – are embracing uncertainty with their latest album. The self-titled offering, available now via AntiFragile Music, is a journey into the ambiguity of all things, and the acceptance that not knowing is something that we all undoubtedly know.
I recently sat down with Dani and Zack to discuss embracing the common cause, rocket ship trampolines, and a musical mission that involves making people feel less alone in the world.
Americana Highways: You’re currently on the road. I’m curious what it’s like to be back out on the highways and byways and performing for faces again?
Dani Green: Oh, man.
Zack Green: Yeah, you actually caught us on a little “in between” of runs. We’re home for about eight days, which is wonderful, but equally – and maybe even more so wonderful – was the experience of being out again, man. It was really beautiful and overwhelming and in a lot of ways, too, just to be with a room full of human beings, doing the same thing on purpose together… it just felt like a really, really connective, powerful experience every night that we went out on our first run.
I feel a lot of gratitude that it’s gone so wonderfully so far, talking with people afterwards about how the new and old songs have been part of their story and feeling them sing. It’s just been a very powerful experience.
AH: As performers, it must be great to feel that energy again and that instantaneous reaction to, like in this run, playing new songs for people who haven’t necessarily heard them yet?
DG: Absolutely. It felt so good to do that and share that. And people have been so responsive already to the new music, which we’re excited about, because we haven’t put out new music since 2018. So we’re really excited to have the record out, and we’re playing a lot of new songs at the shows. And you wonder how that’s going to go over, but everybody’s just been stoked on the new music and stoked to be there. And God, yeah, it felt so good to experience this new music with people.
AH: What is something that you found yourselves missing from the road that you didn’t know you missed until you got back out there?
DG: Well, just being out of my house was really nice. (Laughter)
ZG: As silly as this sounds, I like stopping and getting gas and hopping out of the car and stretching in the parking lot and have people sort of gooseneck at me and everybody’s just quiet. It’s not very romantic. It’s just, I miss that little mundane transition time of putting gas in the car and stretching around talking to the band.
AH: And that’s one of those things that, as a fan, we don’t always fully grasp. We remember the show itself, but you had the experience of getting there, the soundchecks, the post-show hang, etc. There’s this whole thing that you experience that the fan doesn’t.
ZG: Realistically, like 10% of it’s the music and the rest of it’s the travel and the getting frustrated at the front of the hotel counter because the rooms aren’t booked in the right name, or pulling over to the side of the road, because the tire’s low. It’s a bunch of stuff, but…
DG: It’s so fun though, to just be in a little crew and go out there and just figure it all out together. It’s been really fun to do that again.
ZG: It is a really unique experience too, because we are like a little company. We all have our roles, and we roll up to the venue, and Jesse (Baker) and Brian (Seligman) roll in some of the crates and check in with the venue, and Chris (Wilson) is setting up other things. And Dani sets up merch, and we just do the same roles every night, and we all appreciate each other for it, and even articulate those things. It just feels really honed in and aligned. Cooperating with other people is not something that I’ve had a lot of experience with in the last year and a half. (Laughter) And so, to just do something as a group with a common mission… that sounds kind of clerical to say, but it just feels really good. It feels really good to do something together with purpose.
AH: And this is all coming on the heels of the album, which is available now. So much goes into making a record, from recording to promotion, and I’m curious if you feel like this one is more behind you or more in front of you?
ZG: There’s definitely a lot of prep work, getting PR on board and finding a release partner, which this year and this record is, our partner is AntiFragile Music. There’s a lot of prep work, even the videos, the media that we make that sets us up for releasing them at appropriate times, blah, blah, blah. But I feel like we have still quite a bit of road ahead of us for this record. We just started promoting to radio, and we’ve gotten ads all across the country, not a lot of them yet, but it’s a slow burn, which I’m excited about. We’ve never really gotten into that world.
I imagine that there’ll be more press opportunities. And synchronizations is a world that we haven’t really gotten into as a band yet, underneath an advertisement or a movie trailer or something. I have high hopes for this music, because I just love it so much and believe in it so much. It can be – not a massive rocket ship trampoline – but that it can propel us forward even more than it has up to this point. So I’m really curious about it, and I’m optimistic about it. I don’t know if I have expectations, but I just have a small smile on my face about it. I’m just sort of looking into the future with optimism about it.
AH: Expectations can be a dangerous thing, especially when you put so much of yourselves into something like an album.
ZG: Yeah. It’s better to not set yourself up for anything. Just sort of take it in stride.
AH: What I love about your music is that it transports me. It takes me out of the stresses of my day and drops me somewhere else. With that in mind, do you think there is an idea setting for someone to let this particular album transport them away?
ZG: That’s a good question. And thank you for saying that, by the way. It’s very sweet of you.
DG: My favorite music, part of what I love about it, is that I want to take it everywhere with me. I want to experience a lot of my life and bring that music along, whether it’s in the car or hanging out with friends or whatever.
ZG: Yeah, me too.
DG: So yeah, I hope it’s music that people want to live with, and I think my hope for it, more so than a particular setting, is just an experience. And like you saying that it just takes you, it lifts you out of your life and lifts you up a little bit, that’s kind of the best case scenario that I can think of. And one of my strongest intentions I think for the music is that it’s uplifting and soothing. I always just want our music to make people feel less alone. I think that’s one of the best things that music can do for us.
AH: So with that mind, Dani, beyond the band’s music as a whole, what would somebody learn about you in sitting down and listening to the album front to back as a full journey?
DG: Wow. I think they would learn that I don’t quite have a clue what’s going on in my life at the moment. I think they would hear a lot of uncertainty and just earnest kind of searching, which I feel like has been present in a lot of the music that we’ve written so far. But yeah, this record in particular, both Zack and I wanted to lean into trusting ourselves more. And that’s both in the writing and the composition of the music and also just in the context of our own lives. I think that’s what we’re learning how to do. And so, I would hope… I think maybe that’s what people would hear is uncertainty, but with a sense of confidence and curiosity underneath it.
ZG: I think that there’s some perspective on the record that validates the experience of the uncertainty, and also it just validates it as a human experience. It’s not a bad thing to experience uncertainty. It’s actually incredibly normal and wonderful. And living in that space with less anxiety is a venture that I am on.
AH: How does this album translate to the stage? Is what we hear on the record what we’d hear in the clubs?
ZG: We’re doing a few things different. It’s pretty close to the record representation, I would say. We prolong some moments and have some instrumentals. Specifically, the thing that comes to mind is the song “Better Days,” the first song we released off this project. We’re not doing really a full band version of that, and maybe this will evolve over the tour, but this is our first tour with this omnidirectional mic that we put at the front of the stage. It’s like an old bluegrass mic. It’s been functioning as our encore performance. And we just get around the microphone altogether and have a 12-string and a six-string and sing it in the air without much affectation. It’s been a really beautiful experience to share that with the people.
DG: It’s fun. I feel like the songs are pretty well represented as they live on the album, but we’ve leaned into them one way or the other. If there was room to kind of turn something up, I feel like we leaned into that. And then like with “Better Days” and “The Dream,” we’ve sort of leaned into the spirit of those songs and brought them into an acoustic space. And so, it’s been just really fun, really fun to imagine these new songs and figure out how we want to present them.
AH: We talked at the start of the conversation about the experience of playing live for the audience and how that’s the thing we remember. The same thing applies to a record. We just hear the songs, and that’s what we take away. But for you, there’s this whole experience in making the record. In 10 or 20 years, what are you going to remember most about bringing this album to life?
DG: It was a really special experience. It meant a lot to me, and I think to everybody, to have this record to make during the pandemic year, because it was just this time where it felt like the whole world stopped. And it was kind of hard to find a sense of footing and direction. And so, to have this project, to get together and work really consistently (we went into the studio three days a week for a few months) it was just so satisfying to have that, to focus our energy on and express ourselves through. And I think for us, it was the most free that we had felt in the studio, and it was the most creatively collaborative experience that we’d had in the studio. And so, I count that as a real gift that we had this experience that was so creatively satisfying and allowed us to feel like we had space to expand in and play around in during a time when it felt like the world was kind of being constrained in a lot of ways. It was really, really beautiful.
ZG: Yeah. And the timeline was sort of eerie in that prior to knowing anything about the pandemic, we had planned for 2020 to be a year where we made a record together. We had financially set ourselves up for that and so, when we were locked down, I feel a lot of gratitude strangely for it. We had sort of planned to lock ourselves down. It felt strangely aligned to be able to do that as a group and have the space and freedom, like Dani was saying, to explore arrangements.
We went through several variations of songs and didn’t feel any urgency to really pick anything. We just went with what made our toes tap and our heads move around and laugh… whatever made us laugh and smile. Something that is a tremendous gift to be able to say is I have zero question marks or regrets about this record. We made exactly what we wanted to make.
DG: I had a really good time doing it.
ZG: Yeah, we had a really wonderful, connective time doing it.
AH: Well, that kind of brings me to my last question, which ties in nicely, which is, what would the Zack and Dani who first picked up instruments and dreamed of doing this, think of this album? Would it blow their minds, what you created, and that you got to create what you wanted to create?
DG: Wow. What a sweet thought. I just thought of little me, sitting at her upright piano, a little baby girl.
For whatever reason, I never had the dream of becoming a musician, so she would be surprised by that in general. (Laughter) But yeah, what I love about this band so much is that Zack and I make songs together that I could not make on my own. And then Zack and I and Brian and Jesse and Chris make songs together that Zack and I could not make on our own. And so, yes, this album to me, it just shows that magic that is available in collaboration for something to be made that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. I’m very proud of it. I feel gratitude to be able to be involved in it because I feel like it becomes something that’s more than just me.
ZG: If you had told my 22-year-old self that… if you had just handed me this record and said, “You made this,” I would have exploded. (Laughter) Just the growth that I’ve experienced as a musician, as a writer, as a collaborator, as someone who used to resist a lot of what was going on inside of me, to now feeling like I’ve been… I’m more in touch with myself and my inner workings than I have ever been. Yeah, I would be blown away by it and I don’t want that to sound like arrogance. It would be hard for me to believe that I had come that far. So yeah, just a lot of gratitude and shock is in my brain at that question.
Explore Birdtalker’s growth and inner workings by visiting http://www.birdtalkermusic.com.