“We started getting a lot of visits to our Myspace from confused iPhone users” An interview with Tiny Birds

Picture by Cat Munro

Not to be confused with Angry Birds, Tiny birds are a folk ensemble that may have succeeded in creating what sounds like one of the most chipper albums of the year. Hymns for the Careless is a selection of catchy and intricately arranged folk songs that are immediately appealing. We caught up with Matt and Dave of Tiny Birds to discuss how the band was formed, leftfield comparisons and the ‘difficult second album’.

From what I understand, you all seem to be of normal human size and without avian features, so where did the name Tiny Birds come from?

Dave: It took us ages to come up with a name, and the longer it went on the sillier the suggestions got. Eventually we had the good sense to start raiding our record collections; ‘Tiny Birds’ is actually the name of a Yo La Tengo song. We don’t sound anything like Yo La Tengo, but the song’s got a nice gentle vibe which seemed to fit at the time, and Tiny Birds just felt nice to say. Then Angry Birds came along, and we started getting a lot of visits to our Myspace from confused iPhone users.

How was the band formed?

Matt: Through the wonders of the Internet. I put up an advert for indie-folksters who played unusual instruments, and a bunch of us met up in the basement of a pub for several months, banging away on glockenspiels, ukuleles and mini-accordions and generally making a bit of a din. We got some pretty rough and ready demos out of it, which vaguely approximated some of the tunes on Hymns for the Careless.

Dave: Only Matt and I emerged from that process unscathed really, so we decided to recruit some slightly more stable collaborators.  The rest of the band obviously heard something they liked in the fairly homespun demos we’d made. We were especially glad to get Mark on board to play banjo, it’s become one of the most distinctive things about our sound.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?

Dave: I would lock them in a room and pipe in pre-recorded adjectives until they gave up and just downloaded the album, especially as it’s free anyway..

Matt: But, in a sentence, I’d say it’s thoughtful pop with folk instruments, and upbeat songs with sad lyrics and a sense of humour.

Many often feel the need to draw comparisons between bands on seemingly arbitrary features, what have been the most complimentary comparisons you’re hard about yourselves and what have been the most surprising?

Dave: One sound guy who had worked with Arcade Fire did say that he thought we sounded like them, and we’re likened to Belle and Sebastian a lot; obviously they’re both very flattering.

Matt: A lot of people have brought up Mumford and Sons, which I suppose was inevitable, given the timing and our indie-folk stylings.

Dave: I think our favourite ones tend to be a bit more leftfield though. One blogger recently said our music conjured images of Buster Keaton, which is a massive compliment, and a German blogger described us as “Pogueseskem Folk” which apparently means we sound a bit like The Pogues.

In March, you released Hymns for the Careless, how long did you spend working on it? What was the production process behind it?

Matt: The songs were written over the last 18 months or so and we spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms and living rooms chiseling them into perfection. Most of the recording was us playing all the instruments live at a studio in Hoxton. Steve Honest produced it with us.  He’s an incredible producer who’s done everything from touring with REM and playing pedal steel with Dolly Parton to composing porn soundtracks. After that we took the recordings back to my spare room in Brixton. We spent months doing vocals, glockenspiel, tambourines and all the other shiny things. It took over six months start to finish, which was pretty demanding, but it’s been well worth it.

At present, Hymns for the Careless is available to purchase in CD form as well as being free to download, what made you choose to make the album free?

Dave: Well, we’ve all got day jobs, and if we wanted to make extra money then we definitely wouldn’t spend our time playing in an indie-folk band. We made the album because we wanted people to hear it; anything else is a bonus.

What is your favourite track on the album?

Dave: I think we’ve all got different favourites, and we’re probably still too close to it all to judge, but Still was the song we used to promote the album, and that’s probably my favourite, especially the a capella section.

Matt: Some of the songs really gained a lot in the recording process and surprised us and I think Decisions is my favourite because of that. It has a gentleness and a sense of space that’s hard to reproduce when we’re playing live through beer-soaked amps.

What has been your favourite gig to date?

Dave: We’ve played at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, which is a huge venue, so that was pretty special. We were supporting Kurran and the Wolfnotes. Matt Lucas was the MC as well, bizarrely.

Matt: Then there was the album launch party at the Good Ship in Kilburn. That’s got to be my favourite, because it was the climax of six months’ hard work on the record. Every gig is fun, but that was in a whole different league of fun.

Now that Hymns for the Careless has been released, what should we be expecting from Tiny Birds next?

Dave: We made a lot of jokes about our ‘difficult second album’ at the launch party for Hymns for the Careless, but honestly we’re racing through new material at the moment. It’s definitely the best stuff we’ve done. Having said that, this lot will have to think up a pretty cunning ruse if they want to trick me into going into the studio again just yet!

What are you listening to at the moment?

Dave: I’ve discovered a few gems recently. If I had to name one, then I’d go for Goodnight Lenin. They’re an unrelentingly chirpy indie-country band who I see doing big things very soon. Youtube them and check out the home recording they did in their kitchen, the only thing lacking is somebody on the spoons.

www.tinybirds.bandcamp.com | www.myspace.com/tinybirdsongs

By Sapphire Mason-Brown

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