By Megan Gnad
Wallis Bird’s sixth studio album has turned out to be her most outspoken recording yet.
It was also one of the most complex and confusing, as she grappled with societal issues, politics, social media, the environment, and inequality.
Ultimately, while the two-year process was intense and all-consuming – and many of her questions still lay unanswered – she came through the experience with a simple message to share with the world; “Love one another, listen to one another, that’s basically where I’m coming from. That’s my basic activism”.
The resulting album, WOMAN (released 27 September) is the follow-up to 2016’s HOME, and in that time, the Berlin-based, Irish musician notes, “the world’s changed a lot”.
“This is the most pointed album for sure, I’m actively engaging with issues and talking about current affairs happening now. I’m talking about racism, sexism, tackling abuse of women and…gender roles, so this is the first pointed record.”
Wallis says going into her latest record, the well was empty. She needed to give it time and observe what was happening in the world around her. It was time for reflection and action.
“I was spending a lot of time watching what was happening on the news, through social media, connecting a lot by the internet, way too much, and I was seeing the word anxious pop up all the time. I was seeing a fluctuation of the people, and I found it connected with the environment we were living with, they’re intertwined and everything was coming to boiling point.
“So, what I would do, after spending a few hours checking out what’s happening in the world, I’d go and sit down and I’d write something, play whatever the first thing came to mind. I’d leave the windows open and let the air roll in to get a feel of my environment around me.
“Over the course of two years, I would sit at home, record and listen to what’s going on and that would feed into the instrumentation of the record, and towards the end, that’s where the lyrics started to come in, and it was about what’s happening socially.”
The stories that flowed were heart-breaking in their honesty, highlighted in the first single to be released on WOMAN, ‘As the River Flows’, a song devoted to Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee whose drowned body was photographed in 2015 on a Turkish beach.
The emotive track was soon followed by ‘Salve’ which warns us about the darker side of social media.
“Now I feel good about it, but the whole (writing) process was quite confusing,” Wallis says. “I felt there was a discord between politics and humanitarianism, and that was the main thing for me. I was feeling very lost, actually. But once the lyrics started writing themselves for me, it was almost as if I had to sit back and listen to what my lyrics were saying. When it happens, it’s something magic.
“I fought with my lyrics a lot, saying, ‘look I don’t want to be angry about this, I don’t want to reflect on this in a negative or pushy way’, but the lyrics were like, ‘you just have to listen’. It was kind of a push-pull for the whole record, and I really had to work hard with it. Dream writing is what I call it.”
Already a much-loved figure in music, Wallis has toured Australia three times over the past two-and-a-half-years, has released five albums since 2007, and performed more than 800 shows this past decade. She’s now growing her international reach, with a developing following in Europe, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. She’ll also add new upcoming tour dates to the US, where WOMAN represents her first release.
For Wallis, it’s a chance to reach as many people as possible around the globe, to help create a kinder world and spread that simple message.
“The message is to listen to each other. To not take your issues forward into the conversation, to take each situation with an open mind, open arms, and try and be empathic and sympathetic, try and listen. We are one. And, we have to pay attention to what we’re doing to our earth…If we’re not awake now, when are we going to wake up.”
WALLIS BIRD’S NEW ALBUM WOMAN – OUT NOW (ANTIFRAGILE) . AN AUSTRALIAN TOUR STARTS IN MARCH 2019 AND INCLUDES THE PORT FAIRY FOLK FESTIVAL.