Andrew Bird - Interview about cycling

Artist: Andrew Bird

Song: Master Swarm

Album: Noble Beast (2009)

“In my humble opinion, Andrew Bird is one of the greatest musicians alive today, as well as a right snappy dresser. In this video from Current TV, Mr. Bird discusses bicycle riding, songwriting, and his unique musical style, but I’ll thank you to notice his relaxed, yet smart-looking attire as well. My bumble-brained compruder skills can’t get the video to embed, so you must visit the link instead. Also see Andrew Bird’s site, if you like what you hear.”

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Cruisin' the streets of L.A., Andrew Bird discusses the green initiatives he is taking on tour, his passion for the environment, and the influence of bike riding on his music.


How did you start cycling?
On tour there is a lot of waiting for things to happen, and I started fantasizing about doing the opposite of that, which I guess is still touring, in a different sense of the word. I wanted to get on my bike and go for days. It's great. I roll my bike off the bus at 10 or 11 in the morning, and if there's no radio appearance or interviews, I have a couple hours to explore.

What's your bike of choice?
A few years ago I got a Heron touring frame. They're a pretty small company from Waterford, Wisconsin. They make handmade steel frames. I'm not much of a gearhead, but I told my shop in Chicago, "make your fantasy touring bike." These guys are into getting just the right French panniers. It's burgundy with a leather Brooks seat—pretty classic looking. It's good that it's steel because pulling it in and out of the bus's bay every day takes its toll.

Any plans for getting a lightweight road bike?
I don't know if I ride enough to justify getting one. I've been doing this performance for the last 12 years where I stand on one leg and twirl, with my guitar on my back, while playing the violin, so I've got some structural issues that make it hard for me to ride too far. My knee goes out. I'm trying to figure out how to get past that.

What are some of your favorite places to ride?
I like just stumbling across things. In Ithaca, New York, I found a 12-mile trail with beautiful fall colors. I was like, this is great—this is when it all comes together. I have better shows when I have a day like that.

Have any cycling exploits gone awry?
Last summer we had a day off in Moab. I went to a shop, got a rental and headed into the hills. I almost killed myself. They told me not to go there mid-afternoon, but I had no choice; I only had one day off. I was riding on sandstone, which probably heats up to 120 degrees. I started to get disoriented. I found a cinderblock outhouse and got in the 6 inches of shade that it provided. When you're on tour, you get a little bit of freedom and you attack it.

Does cycling inspire you musically?
The rhythm of doing anything that has a pace to it really helps, mostly in the realm of finding a good groove or feel for a song. Often huffing and puffing up a hill, as I'm breathing in and out, I'm making shapes with my mouth to a melody.

Do you ever write songs on your bike?
The tune "Masters Swarm" was written on a bike. A couple years ago my friend Jay Ryan and I rode from Chicago to my farm in western Illinois. It's about a three-day ride. I was starting to work on Noble Beast [andrewbird.net] about then.

Is cycling a utilitarian or recreational endeavor for you?
I feel a certain amount of pride in not using a motorized vehicle to get from point A to point B. Sometimes I'll invent point A and point B to justify riding.

Master Swarm

Come what may
Lay your eggs where it’s warm
We come here to swarm

Come by sea
Swarm like smoke in the dung
We were the young
We were the swarm
Midges and Moths
Cut from a cloth
We were the young

Flailing feudal fleas
Feeding from the arms of the master
Burrow into me
This is sure to misspell disaster

Oh and their young
In the larval stage
Orchestrating plays
In vestments of translucent alabaster

So they took me to the hospital
They put my body through a scan
What they saw there would impress them all

For inside me grows a man
He speaks with perfect diction
As he orders my eviction
Ash he acts with more conviction than I

Burrow into me
This was sure to misspell disaster
Burrow into me
Feeding from the arms of the master

We were the young
We were the swarm
We were the young radiolarians
Come what may...

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