FAI Showcase: Wallis Bird Takes Audiences “Home”
Folk Alliance International hosted an online Showcase with Irish singer/songwriter Wallis Bird, streaming from her home in Berlin. Bird is set to release her new album Hands: Nine and a Half Songs for Nine and a Half Fingers on May 27th, and is no stranger to FAI, having performed at FAI as recently as 2018. Bird’s most recent album dives inward, grappling with more personal themes for the artist, following a more socially-driven Woman, however, doesn’t shy aware from viewing the current events in the world through a very personal lens.
After welcoming audiences into her brightly lit and mural-decorated home, Bird played a four song set. Her first offering was “To My Bones,” a nod to her previous FAI performance, and one that introduced her combination of Folk and confessional styles with her well-known live play exuberance. The song, with its themes of acknowledging and embracing life with one’s whole person brought a welcome warmth to the set and also suggested plenty about Bird’s ethos as an artist.
Her second song gave audiences a solid introduction to where her music has been evolving more recently with “What’s Wrong with Changing,” from Hands, which was also one of her flagship singles from the album. In the song, Bird gives a personal history of social observation of racism and conflict from a young age, charting political history up to her current experiences. Before performing the song, she introduced is as tracking the “milestones in life as an Irish person.” She also described herself as “a great supporter of migrants and in defiance of any form of racism.” This gives a clear picture of how Bird is currently using concrete first-hand observations to engage with social issues. The song, which incorporates elements of rap, hip-hop, and spoken word was particularly emotive in an acoustic setting, where spoken word references to “racism and lies” became that much more personal. Bird also increased the tempo in the outro to the song, emphasizing her potentially hopeful message, “everything changing”.
Bird took audiences across her home space to a “cubby” she had built for herself during the pandemic, when she engaged more with woodworking, building shelves and also chairs, two of which were featured in the performance, sitting in the “prayer chair” to play. She also spoke in a very personal way about her decision during the pandemic to give up drinking alcohol and her recent milestone of passing one year of sobriety. She also introduced a new guitar, “Pearl,” which was part of her self-reward approach to continuing sobriety.
Her performance of “In dictum,” after that discussion could be seen as having a thematic link, since the song’s chorus reflects “the more you hold onto me, the less you can have of me,” as a kind of pulling away from dominating relationship. However, the song was meaningful for many reasons, speaking of weathering life’s hardships emotionally and attempting to engage in and balance relationships that may be an uneasy.
This performance led into an acapella song, “Home,” which Wallis Bird indicated was part of her introduction and expression of the space she’d allowed audiences to enter with her. The song also charts the early expressions of emotion in a potential relationship, the flights of emotion and the vulnerability of those feelings that then become tied to a place, a “journey home to you and I.” Bird capped off the Showcase with a new song that she had just written, she said, “Pretty Lies.” This formed and excellent contrast to the previous song, reminding that appearances can be deceiving, certainties may not last, and sometimes sharp-eyed confrontation of truths is necessary in life. The nuances of the song, with complex, melodic guitar parts, and lyrics like “I can’t pretend that there’s only wrong or right,” were a great reminder of Bird’s approach to songwriting, which engages sonically as well as lyrically and tends to leave audiences with something to continue thinking about.