As a producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Andrew Bird has always micromanaged the album-making process.
As an accomplished producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Andrew Bird has always micromanaged the album-making process. But for his 10th full-length effort, the Illinois native deliberately took a less hands-on approach.
"I just wanted to give one more serious try that I maybe never had given an album," Bird said on the phone recently from Los Angeles, where he lives now. "I've always done things on a shoestring, and wearing all the hats. What happens when Andrew Bird makes an extensive record?"
The answer is April's "Are You Serious," arguably his most personal and direct record to date. (It was produced by Tony Berg.) For the 43-year-old Bird, it has also provided a jolt of visceral energy to an indie-folk/baroque pop catalog often associated with intellectual concepts and heady compositions. The setlists of his current tour — which stops at Rams Head Live on Sunday — have leaned heavily on the new album for this simple reason.
"With this record, there's hardly a song on it that isn't a blast to play, which I can't always say is the case," Bird said. "That was the idea with the record: to close the gap between the live energy and the recording output. People would often say to me that I'm one of those artists that the records don't always do the show justice."
It's been a long and fruitful road for Bird, who first became known in the 1990s through his work with the swing-revival group Squirrel Nut Zippers. He also released a few albums as a group called Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, but his solo work — including fan favorites like 2003's "Weather Systems" and 2009's "Noble Beast" — has most built his reputation as a smart, idiosyncratic composer and performer.
Throughout his discography, Bird has showcased his abilities with the violin, guitar, glockenspiel, loop pedals and more. He's also a hell of a whistler.
He has approached lyrics from both concrete and abstract angles, including a "fixation on scientific phenomenon as a metaphor for how we behave as people." Sometimes, he forgoes words all together, such as last year's instrumental "Echolocations: Canyon."
Yet, as a husband and a father to a young son, Bird found himself less drawn to circuitous storytelling for "Are You Serious."
"Who's got time anymore for word games?" Bird said. "I have less patience for my former self and some of my mental gymnastics."
This mindset can be heard on songs like the tender closer, "Bellevue," and "Left Handed Kisses," Bird's collaboration with Fiona Apple. The latter is a self-aware back-and-forth that finds Apple poking fun at her counterpart for not risking "more than a few 50-cent words in your backhanded love song." Bird said he knew early on that Apple would fit the part.
"I just knew whoever it was couldn't be too ethereal or trying to be liked too much," he said. "Fiona doesn't really care about that. She's pretty uncompromising. There's a real gravity to her voice."
On Sunday, fans can expect to hear "Left Handed Kisses" and plenty of material from "Are You Serious." But Bird is also mindful of longtime listeners, and tries to include a song from nearly all of his previous records, including the staple "Plasticities" and "Heretics," a song he recently "dug up" after a long stretch of not performing it.
During some performances, Bird said, he doesn't feel like the same artist who wrote those early songs.
"Some of the stuff goes so far back that I feel like I'm covering someone else's songs, which is kind of a nice feeling," he said. "It brings a freshness to it."
Two decades after Bird released his debut album, "Music of Hair," he's still searching for that freshness in everything he does. For his next record, he tentatively plans to return to a more reclusive style of writing. But any fans concerned Bird might be running out of ways to tell his stories can relax, he said.