This August, Birdy traveled to Asia to perform in cities she had only ever dreamed about. In Taiwan, several hours before flying to Singapore, she spoke about her recent adventure: “I went to the night market last night where they have lots of strange things that they cook. I think it’s basically like your pets. It was quite amazing,” she says, laughing.
Before Taiwan, she was in Japan, the country that inspired her latest studio album, Beautiful Lies. She is far from home. Her native land, Lymington, is described as being a seaside town on the west bank of the Lymington River on the Solent (the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England) in the New Forest district of Hampshire. Jasmine van den Bogaerde aka Birdy describes it as a fairytale. “It was great there, really beautiful place in the middle of the countryside. Very secluded..”
Her music, she says, is “dark and kind of dreamy” and attributes some of its deeper tones to this magical place where she was born and raised. “It’s very reflective,” she says. “There are lots of wild horses everywhere and I grew up in this old mill house which is kind of falling apart.”
Her mother, a concert pianist, taught her how to play the piano and infused her with a classical music education.“Lots of Chopin,” she says. “I thought I would do what she did,” she says of her young ambitions. Her father, a writer, also had a significant influence on her creative development. “When I discovered writing it was like a completely different thing and I couldn’t stop myself.” Birdy, the singer/songwriter, seems to be perfectly symmetrical amalgamation of her parents’ talents.
She began writing her own songs at age 8, the year most kids are digging in the dirt or discovering video games. “My songs, they’re always about love and heartbreak,” she says, laughing. Even as a young writer, before personally experiencing the emotions, she was weaving elaborate tales of romantic woe. “They were really sad and really troubled.”
Famous in her homeland for winning Open Mic UK in 2008 at 12 years old, Birdy beat out over 10,000 other competitors. She wrote 'So Be Free' specifically for the national competition. “It is definitely is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written,” she explains, “Because it’s got so many memories. It’s very nostalgic when I hear it.”
She says the song is about letting go of someone who doesn’t return love. Though she doesn’t give the song enough credit, it is actually much more nuanced than that. Her young voice sings: “You don't love me/ But you won't let us be apart/ It's because you know/ It will break my heart.” For most people, it takes maturity brought by experience (and years of therapy) to gain the emotional acuity to unravel the intricate dynamics of codependency in love, yet Birdy was a compassionate love therapist before she even reached her teenage years.
Now, at 20, she has been singing about love and heartbreak, exploring incredibly heady, emotional concepts in a careful and forgiving way, for years. Having just released her third studio album, she is an old hand. When you listen to her impressive oeuvre en masse, it is easy to wonder where this prescient talent comes from. “I don’t really know,” she says shyly. “I think I had quite the imagination. Or I still do, I think. It’s not something I’ve experienced.”
Many writers are told to “write what you know” and encouraged to stick to personal anecdotes. The idea, in fact, is drummed in. Birdy’s success, however, disputes the efficacy of that advice. “I think I just always felt things so deeply,” she explains. “When something upsets me it really upsets me. I think that feeling comes through in my music.” That it does.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the inspiration Beautiful Lies released in March of this year, through Atlantic Records. She says that the idea blossomed after reading Memoirs of a Geisha, a historical novel by Arthur Golden set in 1940s Japan. “It’s so cinematic and so beautiful,” she says. “I kinda felt like I was there and I’d never been to Japan before this trip.”
On this recent tour, she didn’t get to see the countryside where the novel was set and instead toured Tokyo, which she calls “a crazy city.” She hopes to one day go back and see more of Japan and experience in real life what she has only read and written about.
Birdy’s talent is impressive, especially since she is still a very young person. “I’m hearing melodies in my head all day and I don’t know where they come from, but it’s like it’s a constant,” she says. “It does take a lot of work.” Her writing process always starts with a melody and her at the piano humming some refrain that has been haunting her. “I usually find meaning in the music somewhere. The music kind of feels like what it means, if that makes sense.”
On her latest album, she describes the challenges she faces when writing ‘Keeping Your Head Up’ an upbeat song that goes against type. “I really love that one because it pushed me out of comfort zone,” she says. The song is a rousing anthem, but with Birdy’s singular, resonant style. The upbeat chorus bears a familiar theme of love and strength. “Hold tight; you're slowly coming back to life/ I'll be keeping your head up.” She says she had re-imagined the instrumentation for that song in order to break out of character. “Having drums or writing to a different instrument, sometimes that really lets me write something completely different, which I love.”
Birdy has matured a lot from her live album of cover songs. She taught herself how to write music by recording other artists’ songs like 'The A-Team and the ‘Skinny Love’ for which she is most famous. Her artistry grew with her fragile, self-titled album Birdy and second studio album Fire Within and you can chart that growth in songs like ‘People Help the People’ and ‘Wings.’ Her expanding artistry is also evident in her ever-growing and devoted fan base, with social media followers currently in the multi-millions.
“I feel like on this new album I’ve been a lot more confident. I really knew what I wanted from the outlook, to the production, to the writing--which was really freeing to me,” she says. It is a progression that speaks to her passion of exploring and challenging herself. “This album feels much fuller. It’s dreamier. It’s kind of more pop-y but at the same time more to the roots of me, which is just me at the piano.”
Written by Brooke Nasser
Photography by Olivia Bee