By Andrew BirdUpdated Jul 2020
Andrew Wegman Bird (born July 11, 1973) is an American indie rock multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter. He was a member of the bands Squirrel Nut Zippers and Bowl of Fire before pursuing a…
Andrew Wegman Bird (born July 11, 1973) is an American indie rock multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter. He was a member of the bands Squirrel Nut Zippers and Bowl of Fire before pursuing a solo career. His main instrument is violin, but he also plays guitar and glockenspiel and is an expert whistler. He wrote and performed "The Whistling Caruso" for The Muppets movie and composed the score for the television series Baskets.
Trained in the Suzuki method from the age of four, Bird graduated from Lake Forest High School in 1991 and Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in violin performance in 1996. That same year he self-released his first solo album, Music of Hair. Vastly different from his later work, this album showcased his violin skills and paid tribute to his fascination with both American and European folk traditions, as well as jazz and blues. Following this, his initial commercial exposure came through collaborative work with the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, appearing on three of their albums (Hot, Sold Out, and Perennial Favorites) between 1996 and 1998.
Taking on the role of bandleader, Bird released Thrills on Rykodisc in 1998 with his group Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, shortly followed by second album Oh! The Grandeur in 1999. Both albums were heavily influenced by traditional folk, pre-war jazz, and swing, with Bird relying on the violin as his primary musical instrument, as well as providing vocals along with his trademark verbose lyrics. The Bowl of Fire featured musicians from Bird's home town of Chicago, including Kevin O'Donnell, Joshua Hirsch, Jon Williams, Nora O'Connor, Andy Hopkins, Jimmy Sutton, Colin Bunn, and Ryan Hembrey. During this period, Andrew Bird was a member of the jazz group Kevin O'Donnells Quality Six, for which he was the lead singer and violinist and contributed to arrangements and songwriting for the albums Heretic Blues (Delmark 1999) and Control Freak (Delmark 2000) (both Delmark albums were produced by Raymond Salvatore Harmon).
In 2001, the Bowl of Fire released their third album, The Swimming Hour, a dramatic departure from their previous recordings. It featured a mixture of styles, from the zydeco-influenced "Core and Rind" to more straightforward rock songs such as "11:11". Due to this eclectic nature, Bird has often referred to it as his "jukebox album". Although gaining critical praise (The Swimming Hour received a 9.0 from indie music website Pitchfork), the band failed to attain commercial success or recognition, playing to audiences as small as 40 people. In 2002, Bird was asked to open for a band in his hometown of Chicago, but fellow Bowl of Fire members were unavailable for the date. The reluctant Bird performed the gig alone, and the surprising success of this solo show suggested potential new directions for his music.