Birdy’s had a plan all along. And after a very busy two years, the 17-year-old British singer is finally hitting her goal. This spring, she’ll release her second LP, Fire Within. Though it’s her sophomore effort, it’s really more of a first because Fire Within features all original songs.
If the moniker sounds familiar, that’s because there’s a good chance you are one of the 50 million views tallied on Birdy’s (née Jasmine van den Bogaerde) breakthrough 2011 YouTube video, a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” YouTube is littered with videos of aspiring artists crooning covers in front of their webcams. Her version– with elevated production values– managed to find its way through the crowd. “It was so fragile and beautiful, and the meaning of it– I had no idea what it was,” Birdy said via Skype from New York City, “I liked the way that it was mysterious, and that I could interpret in my own way.”
What followed the tremendous reception of her delicate, piano-driven take on the song was a debut self-titled album comprised of cover songs ranging from James Taylor to Phoenix. Birdy found success internationally, including in Australia where the album went platinum twice. Amongst Brit Award nominations, a three-night sold out run at the Sydney Opera House, and a song featured on The Hunger Games soundtrack, her resume is absurdly packed for a teenager.
Still, starting out interpreting songs, as she put it, has been an important step for Birdy on two counts. For one, she said it helped her writing in terms of absorbing song structure and picking up the elusive little things that add polish to songwriting. Covering songs also helped her get on listeners’ radars. “I think being that they were covers by well-known artists, it really opened a lot of doors for me, and I was able to get my own music out there,” she said.
When it came time for album number two, she was ready to use her own words. Or at least, partly her own words. A quick look down the list of writing credits on Fire Within shows that she’s basically been through co-writing bootcamp. Though she started writing songs at eight as an evasive maneuver to avoid practicing piano, writing with other people was new territory. And to start it off, one of her first co-writes was with prolific writer and producer Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic, Adele, Beyoncé). “I still wasn’t used to it then, and I found it quite hard to share all my ideas and be really open. It was really strange, but I loved it by the end,” she said of the session which took place in a Los Angeles studio, and gave shape to her first single off the new album, “Wings.” The subject matter of the song was simple– Birdy wanted to write about having a good time with friends after attending her first music festival (Wakestock in Wales in 2012).
Another co-write of note was with Mumford and Sons’ Ben Lovett. Birdy had already worked with the band as they asked her to sing on “Learn Me Right” for the 2012 animated movie Brave. Their session started by finding anonymous poems on the internet and putting music to them. She said it was “a weird way of making your brain work differently.” Later, they wrote the somber “No Angel,” which grew from a piano riff Lovett wrote. “I started writing lyrics and ideas about what it could be about, and what was on my mind at the time. I really didn’t have to tell him too much,” she said. The more she’s gotten to co-write, the more she’s liked it. “It’s really interesting watching how other people work, and sometimes I found it cool to just learn and be a part of their way of working. It changes the way you think and what comes to you. You get different songs out of it, and different colors in the songs,” she said.
As far as what else colors Birdy’s songs, it’s anything from her travels to the secluded beauty she finds at home. She’s most proud of a track on the album called “All About You” which she wrote after her mother said the phrase one day. “She just said it and I thought, it’s so weird how someone so close to you can know everything about you, even if you don’t think they do.” Birdy said.
With Fire Within set to be released this year, Birdy will be touring America in the spring, sharing dates with label mate Christina Perri. “I’m really looking forward to going to all of the smaller states in America,” she said. It’s all a big adventure for the young artist, and though she’s reached the point where she’s all in career-wise, she trying to shake a very 17-year-old thought: “It’s still in the back of my head– I’m going to have to go back to school soon.”