whynow is the time to listen to… Exploring Birdsong

Inspired by everyone from Kate Bush to Porcupine Tree, art pop trio Exploring Birdsong are making experimental music as catchy as possible. Their work’s won them the support of countless critics – and one of the Beatles.

Exploring Birdsong whynow

Recently released, Exploring Birdsong’s new track, ‘Ever the Optimist’, is a classy anthem with silken vocals and off-kilter percussion. And it was perfected during a songwriting session with Sir Paul McCartney. As part of our series on emerging artists, we talk to singer and pianist Lynsey Ward, drummer Matt Harrison and bassist Jonny Knight about collaborating with a pop giant and their future trajectory.

So, Paul McCartney. How’d that happen?

Lynsey Ward: We were in our third year at Uni [the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts] and the Uni was founded by Paul McCartney. Some of the third-year songwriters are chosen to have a one-to-one songwriting session with – it feels weird saying ‘Paul’. We’re not that close.

Exploring Birdsong

Matt and I were two of the few chosen people to go in: we were a songwriting partnership throughout Uni. We waited all afternoon, and I was bricking it. I’ve been a huge Beatles fan for years. I sheepishly held back behind Matt, who walked in like Paul was just some fella.

Matt Harrison: I’ve never been massively into the Beatles though. Lyns has a massive nostalgic attachment to the band, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the session that I was like, ‘This man is actually a quarter of the most influential band ever’.

What happened during the session?

Lynsey: He wrote on the little lyrics sheet that we took in and he liked the tune. He put forward a few suggestions. I sat next to Paul McCartney on this piano stool, playing it and he says, ‘That’s nice!’ Which was wild!

What parts of ‘Ever the Optimist’, as we hear it now, are by Paul McCartney?

Matt: There’s not a specific part. Because we only had half an hour together, he gave us general vibe pointers. We have this sheet where he gave us lyrical suggestions that were then substituted for better ones. So, in a sense, I rubbished Paul McCartney’s lyrics and said, ‘Fuck you’.

Exploring Birdsong

How does it feel to be a better lyricist than Paul McCartney?

Matt: [Laughs] I don’t know, because it’s not true!

Lynsey: I remember the melody [Paul] put over the pre-chorus. It was really weird hearing him sing over our tune, because I remember, about an hour beforehand, Matt and I were in a practice room saying, ‘We need to get this shit figured out! We can’t stand before Paul McCartney and not have a clue!’

What’s ‘Ever the Optimist’ actually about?

Matt: When we were writing the song and jamming with Paul, there was a lot of shit going on. Trump was either president or about to be, so a lot of the lyrics are about this figure that controls like a dictator. The world that surrounds him is crumbling and he’s so blasé and ignorant. There’s a lot of apocalyptic imagery, with locusts and a nationwide famine. It’s not about Trump, specifically, but more this global figure leading a country that’s going to shit.

Progressive pop hadn’t been cool for some time, but then Kate Bush was in Stranger Things and went to Number 1. Has that created an environment where Exploring Birdsong can succeed?

Jonny Knight: It’s great that Kate Bush is getting that recognition. She’s a huge influence on all of us. The nice thing about it is that we take influence from different parts, whether that’s pop artists and modern production – production is a much bigger part of our next EP than the last one – or heavier bands like Meshuggah. If doing that works and resonates with people, then great!

You mentioned your next EP there – tell us more.

Matt: Yeah, we’ve got another EP coming in the first quarter of next year.

And there’ll be shows as well?

Matt: Yeah!

Exploring Birdsong

So, with this new cycle you’re entering into, what do you want to achieve? Is there anything on the bucket list you’ll be trying to cross off?

Matt: When we released our first EP [The Thing with Feathers] in late November 2019, everything went to shit so quickly. It’s gonna be nice to put this thing out without a massive fucking global health catastrophe.

What about in general? Is there a glass ceiling on Exploring Birdsong’s potential? How big do you want this band to get?

Lynsey: We’re starting to write an album now, so I can’t wait to see how this thing progresses even further. I think, if you keep moving, then your growth isn’t going to be stunted by any glass ceiling. If you don’t box yourself in, then you can’t be stuck in a box. I think the potential is there to just keep moving forward and keep moving. Onwards and upwards.

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