“The black keys are really hot.”
Late on Thursday afternoon, the temperature has climbed over 30 degrees Celsius at the coastal city of Pori in western Finland, and the main concert days of Pori Jazz festival have kicked off with Jade Bird as one of the definite highlights of Thursday—or perhaps—the whole festival.
Jade Bird is a 20-year-old British singer who defies genre limitations when it comes to playing acoustic music, whether with guitar or keyboards. Now she’s sitting behind the keyboards, having just finished a Kate Bush cover of “Running Up That Hill.”
She’s wearing jeans overalls and a T-shirt under it and her shoes are the color of the silver. Her brown hair is long and her eyes big and blue.
Bird’s music is not exactly jazz, actually quite far from it, but Pori Jazz has evolved into a set of groundbreaking artists, some upcoming like Bird.
“You guys are legends. Standing in the sun,” she says. Then she laughs like she has done many times today between the songs; it’s almost becoming her trademark—a raspy giggle that is tailor-made to set you in a good mood.
From piano to guitar
Bird has been passionate about music since she started playing piano at the age of seven. At 12, she found the guitar and calls it magical. In her hands, it sounds like so. The strings obey every flick of the wrist, tap and slide of the fingers. Chords are crisp and clear. But it’s her voice where the definition applies best.
After her performance, we sit at the table backstage near an abandoned disc golf basket, thick fir trees and tall birches. The shade of the trees offers a momentary relief from the sun.
I ask her about her voice, so well-trained and natural carrying well with the aid of a small echo. I’m trying to find a comparison to another singer, and she fits perfectly between Adele and Alanis Morissette (performing at the festival on Saturday) but she tells me her influences focus mostly on the “old stuff.” “I like old stuff musically. It’s weird. I feel like if you learn from the classics, you can always gain something new in the present day. I love Alanis Morrisette, she’s my favorite. Patti Smith is my other hero.”
At Pori Jazz, songs like “Cathedral,” “Uh Oh” and “Lottery” give a wonderful cross-section of her vocal performance. But Bird’s talent really shines in slower ballads where you can hear the depth of her vocals. Like “Lottery,” for example or the previously mentioned Bush ballad.
Most of her songs are not happy but between songs, she gives glimpses of her happy, energetic spirit. “I haven’t written a good love song yet. It’s kinda strange, I just can’t seem to be able to write a happy song that is any good. It’s always the punchy screw you songs that are the best. I need to work that out.”
” I just can’t seem to be able to write a happy song that is any good.”
She says love is a joyous thing, though, especially with her new partner. “I like the happy melodies of the Beatles and Beach Boys, for example, very bittersweet, very chromatic. I’d like to write something like that one day.”
After dropping an EP Something American in 2017, Bird is preparing to release a full-length album late 2018 or in the beginning of the next.
The songs are almost ready, but according to her, the hard part is picking up the best of the best. She has written between 400 and 500 songs since she became interested in music and “she cuts them down all the time.” She is thinking of 10 songs that could be featured on the album. “I like to think that I have a football league of songs and I’m constantly knocking them out with better songs,” she says, laughing. “I’ve got too many songs. But I’m a really harsh critic.”
Then she laughs again.