Birdy, Ascendant

Published March 22, 2012

Although it may seem near impossible given the pop genre’s longstanding fascination with extremely young musicians (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, etc.), British singer-songwriter Birdy’s age (15, to be specific) is almost entirely immaterial to her staggering success. The general glossing-over of the talent’s adolescence can likely be attributed to the fact that she’s too talented for it to matter—it was her incredible take on Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” (a viral hit with over 19 million views), not necessarily her girlish good looks, that got her some well-deserved attention, which quickly spiraled into an array of international record deals and a debut album released late last year. And it’s that same aptitude that earned the classically trained pianist’s track “Just A Game” a spot on the Hunger Games soundtrack, a bill that throws Birdy in the ring with such colossal acts as Taylor Swift, Kid Cudi, and Maroon 5.

We spoke to the performer, born Jasmine van den Bogaerde, about her upbringing, creative process and local celebrity.

CHAPMAN: You’ve been doing music professionaly for quite some time—ever since 2008, when you won the Live & Unsigned competition in the UK. Does it feel like it’s been a long journey?

BIRDY: No, it still feels brand-new to me—it’s really exciting, and I’m still getting used to everything.

CHAPMAN: You play piano and sing. What’d you start doing first?

BIRDY: My mom’s a concert pianist, so she started teaching me when I was around seven. When I was eight, I started writing my own songs, and kinda started putting piano and singing together. But I’m trained classically, which is a big influence on me, I think.

CHAPMAN: How was having your mom as the person who taught you how to play?

BIRDY: It’s quite hard to have your mom as a teacher—it’s like, she’s not necessarily a “real teacher” for me. But she’d always teach me to really hear the music, and develop my ear, and to try and hear the harmonics of the piano. That was the main thing [that stuck with me].

CHAPMAN: Do you remember the first song you wrote?

BIRDY: Yeah. I’m not really sure I knew what the first song was about—it didn’t really make sense. I’m sure it was about love or something. I remember when I sang it, it felt right.

CHAPMAN: Your cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” was the first a lot of people saw of you. What made you decide to release it?

BIRDY: My aunt actually sent the song to me through a YouTube link, and I loved it. I tried my version with the piano and it just really worked, so we decided to do that and send it to BBC Radio 1, and it just got such an amazing reaction—the video got like, 17 million views on YouTube.

CHAPMAN: Did you expect that great of a response?

BIRDY: No, not at all. It was the first thing I’d ever really released! It was very exciting.

CHAPMAN: Your debut disc has a lot of covers on it. What’s the reason for that?

BIRDY: When we started doing the covers, it was a really new thing for me—I had never thought of doing covers before, but I think it came from “Skinny Love” doing so well. I have lots of songs of my own, but with me having school, I just wouldn’t have had enough time to do a full album.

CHAPMAN: Some of the covers are so original, I wasn’t even sure if they were a cover at all.

BIRDY: All the songs are really different from one another, but they are all kind of styles I love.  It was really fun for me to record them with the band.

CHAPMAN: Have any of the artists you covered given you feedback?

BIRDY: I’ve heard that Bon Iver liked my cover of “Skinny Love.” I haven’t heard from any of the others though.

CHAPMAN: What was the studio process like for the album? You worked with some amazing producers—folks who’ve produced people like Adele and The Arctic Monkeys.

BIRDY: We started in London. I was quite nervous at first, but everyone was so nice and asking me for my opinion, so I never felt too shy. Then we came to LA to record the rest of the album with the whole band, who are all so talented. It was quite different from London, and really relaxed and fun.

CHAPMAN: You recently wrote and recorded a song for the Hunger Games soundtrack called “Just A Game.” What inspired you to do that?

BIRDY: Well, I read all the books in like a week and I loved them. They’re so exciting, and it’s such a different story from anything I would usually read. The song’s about Katniss, and how she’s not sure whether or not she can trust Peeta.

CHAPMAN: When you write a song like that, what inspires you?

BIRDY: It never really used to be experience, but I think it’s starting to be more and more. I think it’s just from observing life, situations and relationships.

CHAPMAN: Do you think you’ll be implementing more personal stuff for the next record?

BIRDY: The next album is going to be all originals, so I’ll be doing a lot of experimenting. I’m not sure about who I’ll be working with. I loved working with all the people I did on this album, so hopefully I’ll get to work with all of them again.

CHAPMAN: With all this stuff going on, I’m sure you get recognized at home.

BIRDY: My town’s quite small and you kinda recognize everyone when you see them, so I definitely get funny looks from people.

BIRDY’S SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM IS OUT NOW.