Interviews

Andrew Bird Talks Grammys, Folk Music and 'Fargo' [Interview]

Matthew Daniel Siskin

It's an even busier time than usual for Andrew Bird as he juggles the FX television series Fargo's filming schedule with promoting his Grammy award-nominated album My Finest Work Yet. Of course, these roles as a novice actor and a nominee for Best Folk Album make the indie veteran no easier to define.

"I kind of assumed that I was not in the Grammy game after 14 records," Bird says. "It might be too hard to figure out where I fit. I have especially difficult elevator conversations when people ask me what kind of music I make. It's the bane of my existence not being able to describe what I do without eyes glazing over quickly. That I play fiddle or violin or whatever you want to call it kind of got me slotted into the folk realm."

Bird, an artist hard to label outside of his stint with swing revivalists Squirrel Nut Zippers, isn't exactly new to folk comparisons, dating back to his time with Bowl of Fire and reinforced by such solo albums as The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Weather Systems, Noble Beast, Hands of Glory, Are You Serious and Armchair Apocrypha. He's just not used to getting nominated in categories that have honored the work of his musical inspirations.

"I'm pretty sure that John Prine and Townes Van Zant have been in the folk category before, and that's good enough for me," he adds.

Bird's latest album My Finest Work Yet (Loma Vista) lives up to its title and the Grammy hype. "Sisyphus," "Bloodless" and other standout tracks take warts and all looks at climate change, political apathy, crass commercialism and other divisive topics.

"This record deals with being alive in this world at this time," Bird says. "I had no choice but to write about it. It wasn't a conscious thing, really. It never is. It's pretty difficult to avoid and rather conspicuous to avoid what's been going on in the world. I've always liked to look at our state of human affairs through the lens of history, and I'm no stranger to finding obscure corners of human history that help us understand who we are and what we're doing."

Beyond the folk label, the equally broad umbrella of Americana offers Bird a home and a place to meet like-minded peers. Bird's recent adventures on the twangier side of the spectrum led to a collaboration at last year's SXSW with fellow Grammy nominee Yola and a chance to perform at 2019's AmericanaFest with actor and folk aficionado John C. Reilly.

"He's a very sweet man, and he's got a really nice approach to music," Bird says about Riley. "It's not like he has ambitions to be a career musician or anything. He really enjoys it."

Conversely, Bird doesn't need an acting career for a creative outlet or a means to support his family. Still, he's been thrust into the fire as Thurman Smutney, a character written for the fourth season of Fargo with Bird in mind.

"The show creator Noah Hawley is a musician himself, and he saw me perform in Austin while he was writing this season of Fargo," Bird says. "As I understand it, he said 'that's my funeral director' based on my stage presence alone. Then I had a meeting with him a couple of weeks later. With no audition, he was just like, 'I hope you do it.' I was like 'how do you know I can do it?' He had no concerns whatsoever about whether I could do it or not."

Despite Hawley's confidence in his funeral director of choice, Bird battled self-doubt as season four began filming.

"I was like 'What if I'm totally wooden or terrible and they send me home?'," he says. "I really had no idea how it was going to go before I got there, and it was a huge commitment: About five months in Chicago away from my family."

As Bird adjusted to acting, the differences between his usual folk-minded truthfulness and the small screen surrealism of Fargo became more glaring.

"You're pretending to feel things you don't feel at that moment, which is not my approach when I go on stage," Bird says. "I try to be honest about how I feel."

Bird's musical itinerary includes a spring tour of the Southeast and Southwest with fellow songwriter Erika Wennerstrom which includes an April 26 date at The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee.

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Andrew Bird Talks Grammys, Folk Music and 'Fargo' [Interview]