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INTERVIEWS BIRD YORK|
THE GREATEST HIGH!
OSCAR NOMINEE BIRD YORK
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
HER NEW CD 'WICKED LITTLE HIGH',
MAKING HER MUSIC 'COME OUT OF THE SPEAKERS
AND WRAP AROUND THE ROOM'
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
There is a familiarity to the music of BIRD YORK. Take one listen to her latest release, WICKED LITTLE HIGH. When the CD is finished playing, you will sit there or walk away feeling one or all of the following: 1.)that you've felt that way before, 2.) that you've said it before, 3.) or that you've hummed something like it, when you were in a dark place all by yourself. The fact is, this stunning singer-songwriter connects with the listener in such way that it's not being sung into your ear, but sung from inside your head.
WICKED LITTLE HIGH is a tense, passionate and haunting collection of desire, desperation and hope. The songs are of love unrequitted (WICKED LITTLE HIGH), lonliness (SAVE ME) and wiping off the dust and picking yourself up (HAVE NO FEAR). Let's not forget IN THE DEEP, the ethereal ballad from the film CRASH, which earned her and MICHAEL BECKER an OSCAR Nomination for Best Original Song in a Film.
ROCKWIRED had the pleasure of speaking with KATHLEEN "BIRD" YORK over the phone on a rainy Monday evening. This is how it went.
Your performanace at the OSCARS was mindblowing. I thought it was the perfect introduction to you as an artist, for someone like me who was not all that familiar with your work.
How did it all begin for you. Music, I mean.
I grew up in a house where my mother as a singer and played piano and pretty much learned from that. Then, all through out school I was always asked to sing for certain school functions in the auditorium in front of everybody. When I was fifteen, this guy gave me a guitar and I've been writing songs from that point on. That's it really! And from their, I got a publishing deal through WARNER-CHAPEL.
WICKED LITTLE HIGH is your second CD. What's changed the most since your previous release, THE VELVET HOUR?
The sound of my voice has changed. For this CD, I've started singing from a different place and became really focused on tone and made that the most important thing that was going on with what I was doing musically. Obviously, production is really important. Both records have this spooky, vibey, rhythmic tone to them but I think that now, the songs are stronger melodically and my voice is more pleasant to listen toand there is a resonance to it and it speaks to people. They hear it and it sinks into them. Before, I wasn't so focused on creating a e-dimensional object with the sound of my voice; the kind of voice that comes out of the speakers and wraps around the room a bit.
That's a great description of you music. It wraps around the room.
I was always able to do it production-wise, but never as a singer. I heard this singer from Pakistan do that and I went about trying to figure out out how to do that myself.
I looked at your website today and noticed that a movie(FATAL DESIRE with ERIC ROBERTS and ANNE HECHE) that you're co-starring in, is on tonight.
Yeah, some one was just telling me that.
You've been doing music for both television and film for a while now. How did that get started?
It sarted with PAUL HAGGIS.
The writer/director of CRASH?
Yeah. He had a series called FAMILY LAW and back in 2000, I gave him some of my music. He wanted to hear it and when he did he flipped out and asked if I would do all of the songs for his show. Once that happened, I got an agent and was able to get other placements, but a lot of it is having friends in the Industry who are producers and directors who ask if they could use my music here and there.
The film CRASH blew me away and your song IN THE DEEP is amazing. It's almost as if the movie was written from the song.
That's interesting because I wrote the song to the script and not the film. I handed it to PAUL HAGGIS and he directed the end of the film, in his head, to it.
How is scoring usually done. Do you have all of the photography done and than do the music?
It goes different ways, like with AIMEE MANN and the movie MAGNOLIA, the music and the script were both happening at the same time and that's the same thing that me and PAUL HAGGIS did for CRASH. On other projects, people will show me a film and ask me to write something, like this film that JOHN CUSACK produced. They'll say "...we need a song here and here." It happens all different ways.
AIMEE MANN was also nominated for an OSCAR. Perhaps, more films should be scored that way.
It's a very interesting way to work.
You've also been acting for a while How did that get started?
I've been doing everything for a while. I just like making stuff. It's the only thing that makes sense in my life. It's challenging to make a comfortable living making music so it's a really nice life that I leave, where I get to do both. It's fun. I'm in this show INJUSTICE and the character I play is so close to my song WICKED LITTLE HIGH. The director was a big fan of mine from the song for CRASH that I gave hima CD and told him that WICKED LITTLE HIGH fits everything htat's going on with the character. So, he gave it a listen and 2 weeks later, the producers wanted to license the song for the show. It's a good way to infiltrate and conquer. I don;t write obvious pop music and never have. I like writing music that's very trippy and very sensual and it's not always easy to get the attention of radioor the sensation-crazed masses.
With WICKED LITTLE HIGH finished, how do you feel about it?
I feel good about it. It's hard to be objective. there are thing about it that I love and some of these songs have been with me for a while. Right now, I'm itching to get n to the next thing. At the same time, I listened to HAVE NO FEAR the other dayand it felt realy good. I listened to that and I listened to COME BE WITH ME. Of course, there are moments where you go "...I could've done that differently." MARTHA GRAHAM calls it DIVINE DISSATISFACTION. It depends on the day. One day, it sounds great, and the next it's like "oh, man!" You just learn to accept that about it, It's like people who've been married forever. There are days when you hate each other. I guess I'm married to this record, so there you go.
You say that you want to move on to the mext thing...Musically, what do you mean?
I say that because, I've written some new songs and I'm anxious to record them. I'd also like to find the tone and the style for the next record.
Explain, if it's explainable, the creative process?
I like finding melody, a groove or a piece of music if I'm writing alone or with someone. I create a chord structure and write a melody. That's the best. It's the greatest high! I try to find words that fit the gibberish that comes out when you're coming up with melodies. Some sounds at certain intervals sound right with certain vowels sounds and they cdon't sound as evocative with other vowels sounds and consonants. If I'm writing a melody and certain vowels and gibberish come out, I try to find words that will fit that. I try to write the whole song like that. It's a really hard way to write songs but it starts with the mos important thing, which I think, is the human voice, postiioned in a certain way. That's what people respond to, that's what I respond to anayway. If I'm at a dinner party, I may not be able to hear the lyrics, but I may hear the tone of the voice and go "...Who is that?" Like that great NEIL FINN song (sings) "Hey now, Hey now/ Don't dream it's over" What if it was "Hey now, Hey now / AYE! AYE! AYE! OOH! OOH!" If it was, that song wouldn't do the same thing it does to you. That's why I try staying true to whatever vowel sounds and consonants that come to me. With that NEIL FINN song, most people don't know the rest of that song, but they knw that. that's how strong just two notes can be and leave that kind of an impression on people.
It sounds very organic.
It is. It's very hard, especially if you demand better than average lyrics out of yourself.
From WICKED LITTLE HIGH, are there any songs that stand out for you in particular as being favorites?
I like COME BE WITH ME. If I was out somewhere and heard that song, I'd go "Who is that?" I also like HAVE NO FEAR. If I were going through something and needed solace, I would definitely listen to that song. There is something about those two songs, melody-wise and production-wise, that fels really right. It works for me.
In settling on you current musical identity, was there an artist or a group of artists that you looked to for inspiration?
There was KATE BUSH, obviously and people like KAREN PERIS of INNOCENCE MISSION, PETER GABRIEL, NAT "KING" COLE and CHET BAKER.
Given your work schedule, is there ever any time for gigs?
Yes. As a matter of fact on April 4, I'll be in DC for this RICHARD GERE/ RIAA AIDS CONFERENCE and after that I'll be in New York. I've just signed on with CAA andat the moment, they're working on getting me on a tour with another artist.
What's playing live like for you?
I love playing live. It's why I do what I do. It's all about communication. It's great! It was my orientation as a kid, singing in front of people and feeling that energy.
What do you want a listener to walk away with after hearing your music?
I want them to fee the way they feel after they've made love to someone - And it was good. Or the way they feel after they cry. You become a warmer and gentler person because you've been peeled open.
You've also written a script?
I've written five scripts and sold two.
When I saw you on stage at THE OSCARS, I saw everything. You have this way of acting out the song you're singing. It's like the singer and the actor become one.
I definitely like to think about where I wrote the song from. I'm telling you a story of what I've been through and reliving hte gravity of what I've been through. I don't mindlessly sing songs. I tell a story and go through the event again.
Is that difficult sometimes?
No. it's alot easier than being on a set doing fifteen takes of a breakdown scene. Having to cry fifteen times over is not fun. Like the movie, that's coming on tonight, I have to find ERIC ROBERT's character dead after killing himself. People always say that actors are overpaid. Do a scene like that and you've earned every cent.
Was that you're first time ever going ot the OSCARS?
It was. What a way to go, huh? It was amazing. I had a wonderful time performing that night. I got to the point where it was not at all threatening to me, and that was really cool.
I've got a real interesting life. It's life I've constructed onmy own. No one handed me anything. It's rare. a lot of people don't have the audacity or the insanity to do what I do. At each turn, I've had people tell me, "You're a musician, you can;t do acting!" or "you're an actor, you can;t make a record." I let people say what they want. I'm gonna do it anyway.