FT: You’re from quite a musical family? Was there any other career route in mind at any time for you, but music?
WB: Yeah my family adores music! We were all involved with music in one way or another, DJing, booking, choirs, live bands, avid collectors and so forth. I always was led by music but I have passions such as teaching and reflexology and massage which have also travelled with me, I’ll go more into those someday.
FT: Who are your musical influences, and what bands or artists are you listening to now?
WB: Early years: Irish music like Sharon Shannon, 60s soul and groove, folk, big voices like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, arrangements like Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac. Teenage years: Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and then I found Ani DiFranco and everything changed. Present: Villagers, Radiohead, Björk, Big Thief, Floatinghome, Prodigy.
FT: You’ve been described as a nomad. Is that a good thing, and does it help your musicality?
WB: Being a nomad is definitely a good thing. Change and movement and culture is beautiful and wild and evocative, inclusive and mind freeing, every single part of travel enriches everyone and everything.
FT: Do you look forward to playing back in Ireland? What do you miss?
WB: I looooooove playing in Ireland. Best audiences, they’re so real, you can’t pretend – they see through it, you can’t be shite – they’ve seen it all.
FT: The new album ‘Woman’ is sonically quite a diverse sounding record. How does that translate live in a one-woman show?
WB: Easily. Logistically, I played 70% of the record myself so I carry a lot of weight in the performance and the sound. Because drums, bass, harmony and dissonance can be projected through my body and my instruments, I work on bringing out the most from them, that means limb independence and a lot of effort put into filling out the song. Even just the sheer emotional connection and intention of the songs, that portrays a lot of what I’ve recorded. Of course months of rehearsals and pre-production have gone into the performance… also I have two sound engineers, one on overall sound and one on effects, it’s a fucking big sound!
FT: How do you keep the insanely high energy levels up at a gig?
WB: It just comes, it’s just there for me. It’s a natural spirit thing!
FT: This album is a much more political album than previous, it’s fair to say? Are there particular strands, or themes that unite the album? Is the title a clue?
WB: Yes celebrating femininity, change, my age, dispelling the idea of what a woman previously was, it’s in support of trans people, in defiance of racism and right wing populism and hate speech. It reflects on the fall of an empire, the tectonic shift in human empathy and spirituality, it values the extreme shift in female rights and how that has begun a grassroots movement for overall systemic change for all.
FT: The ‘me too’ movement, repeal the 8th, even the recent equalisation of gay marriage in the North of Ireland. Strong messages and signals for Women and Gay people. This is a good time for an album full of positive messages on these subjects?
WB: It’s the best time. It’s a normalising time for all of these reasons, so when times are good, you have to support those in lesser good times, raise the level of humanitarian rights to match those in a less dangerous level. We should have equitable rights.
FT: ‘Woman’ makes six albums of material you have to choose from now. How do you choose which songs you will play, and do you vary them from show to show?
WB: It’s a feeling really, the time of year, perhaps what’s in the news, the feeling of the room, if it’s seated or not, if it’s a beautiful acoustic or a club vibe, just figure it out. Lately I just ask the audience what they’d like to hear, I think that’s important too!
FT: Wallis, thanks for your time and hopefully we’ll see you at the gig in The Duncairn
WB: Absolutely, thank you for your interview.
Wallis Bird Plays Belfast’s The Duncairn on Saturday 16th November 2019.