It is my pleasure to welcome to JazzMonthly.com an incredible singer, songwriter, performer and actor. With his trademark look, he is impressing musicians and fans alike every time he steps out on the stage. Alex has just released his debut single titled "The Way She Moves" and is currently working on his soon to be release album, " Whisky Kisses." He has received the highest of compliments by being compared to Michael Bublé and crooner Bobby Darin.
Please welcome… Alex Bird.
JM: In my introduction, some of the music reviews are comparing you to Bublé and Bobby Darin... even Elvis! How would you describe Alex Bird?
Alex Bird: Oh gosh...(Laughs) As none of those people! I'm obviously terribly flattered and grateful for any comparisons like that and I take them to mean we're on the right track. But I would say I've been heavily influenced by all sorts of great singers, from Sinatra, to Bobby Darin, to Elvis, to Tom Jones, to The Beatles, to Springsteen, to Dusty Springfield, or to Leon Bridges. This list goes on and on and I've learned something different from each and every one of those people. They've inspired me to find my voice and who I am as an artist, through their music. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for what's come before me and now I'm trying to share something new within the music that I love, and that music primarily comes from The Great American Songbook. I guess I'm the sum of many parts, like anyone is, and I've just found my way to express them.
JM: Tell us about how you started in music?
AB: I was adopted from Romania when I was six weeks old, and came to Canada. I was one of the lucky ones and was given a second chance. My dad was a big Jazz fan, and my first Jazz show was to see Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass at a Toronto club called The Pilot when I was two years old. Everything took off from there. I got to stay up late in smoky Jazz bars, into the wee small hours of the morning, seeing the likes of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Diana Krall, Joe Williams, Freddy Cole, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Cleo Laine, Tony Bennett... I was able to see so many of the old school greats before they left us. I should have been getting ready for bed, or for school, but instead I was making my way into the world of music. It was my musical training without me even knowing it.
I started to sing just before high school, shortly after getting heavily into Frank Sinatra, and then Bobby Darin, and subsequently so many other different singers and styles of music. I eventually started to develop my own voice and story within my music and began writing and focusing on lyrics and melodies and not just singing the old classics.
Something else that helped my start was taking piano when I was a kid with a sweet old Jazz player named, Alf Coward. He played with Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Dorsey, and a lot of others. He was also the house piano player at George's Spaghetti House in Toronto for many years. I didn't really have a knack for piano, it was more just something I was put into it, but it helped develop my ear, and Alf also taught me an awful lot about life. He used to say "Practice doesn't make perfect...practice makes permanent". And I never forgot that; if you're not doing something correctly, it'll be that much harder to ever get it right.
AB: Thank you so much! That makes me incredibly happy to hear that. I'm a bit of an audiophile, and I'm obsessed with how music can sound and the way artists achieve their sound in the studio. As we were putting everything together, I mentioned how I wanted the album to sound full, warm, and old-school, to Charlie Angus, who I wrote the song with, and co produced the album with. We really hit the jackpot in being able to record it all with Jeremy Darby at Canterbury Music Company. Jeremy Darby has mixed and engineered for so many giants...Tony Bennett, U2, Pink Floyd, Keith Richards, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Ella Fitzgerald...So to be able to have an ear like Jeremy's helping me to reach our goal, was the ultimate gift. The sound I was trying to capture was made up of as much live off the floor recording as possible. Jeremy is magic.
We only had two days in studio, and we had very limited funds. This meant capturing the live power of the band in the studio in as few takes as possible. Before each track we sat down to discuss the feel and spirit we were trying to capture. It also meant doing things that weren't expected of us. I kept hearing some Hammond B3 organ behind "The Way She Moves", so we tried it out, and now I can't imagine it ever being played with anything else.
I wanted to blend the new age with the old age, so instead of placing myself in a booth, like a lot of singers would do today, I requested that I be placed near the centre of the room. Bass was in a booth, drums in a booth, piano was partitioned, but I was able to look around and see everyone, at every moment, and move within the space. That allowed me a freedom and an intimacy while singing, that I wouldn't have had if I was in a booth. I wanted it to feel like a live performance. We tried to recapture that live electricity in our music video too, which I think comes across as well...due in part to the fabulous filmmakers and friends who helped me put that together: Aref Mahabadi, Dan Wood, and Greg Frankovich.
JM: Your band also has a distinctive style... How did you go about putting the group together?
AB: That's another thing that's come together from being lucky. I don't say it lightly when I say the three gents that I get to work with are some of the brightest upcoming stars of the Jazz world. Ewen Farncombe on Piano/B3, Eric West on Drums, and Scott Hunter on Bass. I'm constantly in awe of them. They make me better, and I am lucky enough to also call them friends. For the longest time I told myself, and others, that I was a Jazz singer, but I wasn't doing anything about it. I recorded YouTube videos, I did the odd gig (to backing tracks), and that was about it. I had never even really performed with a band up till that point, outside of sitting in for a number or two with various musicians.
3 years ago I was booked as part of a "Vintage Prom" in Toronto. It was an annual event, where adults get together and dress up like its the 40's/50's. As part of the entertainment, I was booked as one of the singers for the Jazz band. Ewen and Scott were in the band, and another killer drummer I still get to work with, Louis Baranyi-Irvine.
After the performance, I was kind of shy to ask the guys if they wanted to collaborate, I was dreadfully intimidated. My darling partner Lola gave me a swift kick in the pants, the one I needed to go ask them, and that was that. I started working a lot in particular with Ewen Farncombe, and he's become my songwriting partner, my partner in 4/4 time. I also do some of my songwriting with the great Charlie Angus who was the first to inspire me to find my own voice. Eric West came on drumming with us a little while after that and things kind of sparked from then on.
I've affectionately dubbed my guys, "The Jazz Mavericks", and we have some honorary members step in from time to time too.
It should be noted that Ewen really helped shape my songwriting. He is my musical interpreter. Whenever I have a song in my head, I map it out, sing it for him, and he immediately starts playing it like he's played it a million times before. We work off one another so well, and together we've brought a lot of new music to life. He adds his own ingenuity and musical voice to the process. He started off as someone I was just lucky enough to be working with, and now he's an equal partner on this journey.
I think a large portion of our sound and style has come from developing this new music, having confidence in it, sharing in the creation of it, and infusing it with my many different musical influences along the way. You can't do that without incredible support from your band, and if you're even luckier, a partner like I have in Lola.
AB: They are both so rewarding for me. Performing live is the opportunity to leave an impression on a listener right in that immediate moment, being able to see a listener's face as you sing to them is so special and you don't usually get to see that while they hear your recording. However, recording in a studio is a chance to make those moments last, conceivably for a long long time, and the listener is taken back to those moments each time they put it on.
You can also transform a song from studio to live performance. For example, the title track of our debut album is called, "Whisky Kisses", and over the past year we've been performing it live at our gigs across Toronto and it has taken on a completely different life than the recording we made in the studio. You have to be interpreting not just others, but yourself. When I recorded the song, I was in a different space than where I am now performing it. We've evolved with it.
Studio or stage, I'm happy.
JM: Why do you think we are still collectively so in love with the Great American Songbook?
AB: The Great American Songbook bred the perfect match of songwriters and performers. The songs were complex, unique, and the interpreters of the songs were cut from that same cloth. The music may not be the popular standard anymore, but it always manages to find ways to be current all over again, and that's because of the timeless and genius nature of those songwriters and performers. The songs were written for everybody, and they were sung for everybody.
There's an intimate quality to them, whether it be in a happy refrain, or a devastating line. Take a song like, "The Night We Called it a Day", written by Matt Dennis and Tom Adair, it'll send you right into a pile of mush. The song is simply stated, the images are strong, and anyone at any moment in time could sit down, listen to it and say, "Yeah. I know that". The Great American Songbook is full of that, so many times over, it's really quite astonishing. It'll outlive us all.
JM: Not only do you have an exceptional and distinctive voice, but you are also an accomplished actor. I have to take a minute and talk about your successful acting career. Episode 6 on "Natural Born Outlaws," CBC's Frankie Drake Mysteries, Canada, "The Story of Us" and others. How are you able to manage and perfect all these surprising talents?
AB: Thanks for bringing that up! I went to theatre school and then film school for acting. (Singing I taught myself) I started acting in high school and knew it would be part of who I was moving forward. I've gotten a few little amazing breaks along the way. Acting can be such a crap shoot, it took me almost three years out of school to finally book my first acting gig, but if you don't stop, and you stay open and ready for opportunities, something will happen. I definitely get pegged for a lot of vintage type roles, but I'm quite happy with that. On CBC's "Frankie Drake Mysteries", that you mentioned, I got to play a young Al Capone. I am very grateful to have Teri Ritter as an agent and to have her be such a supportive role in that part of my life.
Last September I got super lucky and appeared in my first feature film. I booked a very small role in It: Chapter II. When I found out I booked the film I kept telling my girlfriend Lola that I wished the scene was with Bill Hader (one of my all time favourites). Time passed, I kept saying it, I finally got the script and saw I was in a scene with him and I immediately broke into laughter and wept. It was one of those moments.
The great tie in for me with singing is that it all comes down to the story. The lyric. The line. Singing is very much acting.
JM: Do you have the concept all set for your upcoming Album, "Whisky Kisses"? Will it consist of Covers? Originals? Or both? Give your fans a little sneak preview on your upcoming "Whisky Kisses"?
AB: The album is about ready to go, we're just in the process of doing some final pitches to people, building off the buzz of the single, and seeing if we can get any distribution on it. That's such a tough thing to be able to get these days, but that won't stop us from getting the album out. Come rain or come shine, I'm looking to release it at the end of Spring/Early Summer. We've been doing this without the help of any official backers, just a lot of love from family and friends.
The album itself is comprised of 12 tracks, 11 of them are our new originals. For the longest time I thought my way to give back to the music I love so much, would be to just do my own versions of the classics. I didn't know I had a voice within me, or that it would ultimately be my way of saying thank you. At gigs, most of our repertoire is now original music, with choice standards along the way. And the standards now...stand out more. I can take a moment to tell someone why a certain song is important to me, who wrote it, or why they should go discover the music of Bobby Darin. And then we tie that all in with the new music we're putting out there.
"Whisky Kisses" is me trying to write a new chapter of the Great American Songbook...that sounds ridiculous but I'm going try to do it anyway. I think when people hear "Whisky Kisses" they might be surprised with some of the sounds we are working with. If you think I'm just another in a long line of crooners throwing their version of "Fly Me to the Moon" into the hat, you will not find that here.
There are only two standards on the album, which I've combined into a medley with, Ewen Farncombe. It was my way of telling a story with two beautiful narratives, and saying thank you to the two singers who sent me on my way...Frank Sinatra & Bobby Darin. The medley is made up of, "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" & "Once Upon a Time".
I think the album is a great representation of the beginning of what's happening for us. We're already working on the next album. We're constantly developing.
We also have a documentary tie-in coming out, by the filmmakers who shot the music video. Aref Mahabadi has followed us around the past three years, filming my journey from singing at home, alone to backtracks, to finding my band, developing my sound, getting gigs, and recording the debut album. It's a short doc, entitled "Because One Day" and it will be making the rounds at film festivals this year. It had a small debut last year at The Ridgefield Film Festival, in Connecticut. The soundtrack to the doc is made up of songs from our debut album, "Whisky Kisses."
JM: Where do you see Alex Bird 5 years from now?
AB: 5 years better. The dream would be a couple more albums out, touring the globe and a place to call home. Sharing my music with many different people, letting them know where it came from, and why I'm singing in the first place. And I'll also be collecting royalties from Tom Jones' beautiful version of "Whisky Kisses".
(Seriously, I wrote it with Tom Jones in mind...please Sir Tom, give it a listen!)
We finished 2018 with 9 gigs, and we closed out 2019 with 28, while also releasing a debut single, recording a debut album, and capping off filming on a documentary. To see what we've accomplished in a single year, I can't wait to see the next five.
Thank you so much for this opportunity!