Interview with ALEX BIRD & EWEN FARNCOMBE
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
ALEX: I had a bit of a different upbringing. My first bit of luck was being adopted from Romania when I was 6 weeks old. I came to Canada and then started being taken to jazz clubs when I was two years old. And I grew up getting to see jazz greats like Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Cleo Laine, Diana Krall…the list goes on. So that was my initial jump into music. Some people went to school to learn; I went to the jazz clubs.
The schooling I did take was for theater acting and then film acting. I still do it from time to time, but if I didn’t have music I’d probably be involved in the arts through that avenue.
EWEN: I think I got into playing music because I’ve always loved listening to music, as far back as I can remember, and when I decided I wanted to try playing an instrument, my family was encouraging and facilitated lessons for me. If I hadn’t found music I think id be studying something like biochemistry or physics.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
EWEN: When I’m not playing music I like to do all sorts of things, but mostly socialize, see shows, bike, walk, read etc. Everything non music influences and shapes my creativity and musical character but most notably, the memorable and intense experiences. Sometimes I use walking as a tool to help stimulate focus, thought and creativity.
ALEX: Bouncing off what Ewen said, I love to walk. I walk almost everywhere. I find that to be the best way to either clear my mind, or get it going.
When I’m not playing or making music I try to stay open to whatever life brings me, as it will only strengthen my work. I also find great comfort in listening to records. I have a collection I’ve built up for many years, and I love taking the records out, putting them on, cleaning them etc . It's therapeutic, but it can also spark creativity.
How long has your band been around?
ALEX: I met Ewen about five years ago, and it’s been in the last four that we’ve really hit the ground running. Haven’t stopped since. We’ve been lucky to have written and released three albums over the last three years.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
EWEN: We are based out of Toronto. It’s a great city with a lot going on and a lot to offer. Being here amongst so many amazing artists and people doing all kinds of cool stuff really helps motivate one to do something too.
ALEX: Yeah, we’re very lucky to be situated in Toronto. We have an incredible music scene, and it is populated with such a wealth of top notch talent. Some of the best in the country. It really does motivate you to keep with it. There’s always something or someone around to inspire you.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
ALEX: When the band started four years ago it was just “The Alex Bird Quartet” or “The Alex Bird Trio” (depending on our configuration). As our sound started developing and our original tunes came to life I felt we needed to have something a little less plain. I love the old rock n roll names like “Buddy Holly & The Crickets ”. Sounds like more of an event.
One of my old favourite shows is “The Mighty Boosh”, a British series created by Noel Fielding & Julian Barratt. There’s a character in the show named Howard Moon, he’s a bit of a square, but loves jazz. And he calls himself a “Jazz Maverick”…
“Alex Bird & The Jazz Mavericks” sounded right. That is the main configuration of our band, and the group we’ve done our last two albums with. For this new album “Songwriter”, it’s just Ewen & I.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
EWEN: We’ve had a lot of great memorable shows and some not so great memorable shows haha. Our summer was full of some lovely musical experiences at shows and a lot of new experiences for us. We went to Montreal on Thanksgiving weekend to vacation and play the Upstairs club, where we reconnected with Leighton McKinley Harrell to play trio and that was really special
ALEX: Ha! Very lucky over the last little while to have had some really great memorable shows. We headlined The Horseshoe Tavern this past Summer; which was definitely a highlight. We also got to open up for The Jacksons for a charity event in Toronto called, Strangers in the Night.
That Thanksgiving weekend trip to Montreal to connect with Leighton (who was on our last album), and play at the world-class Upstairs Jazz was awfully special. We had two sold out audiences of folks who had never seen us before. Was a beautiful energy that I’ll never forget.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
ALEX: There’s so many great venues in town we get to play at. Two of my favourites would be Reid’s Distillery & Sellers & Newel Second-Hand Books. Two very different and intimate places to hear live music in the city, with owners who have been incredibly supportive of what we’re doing.
My dream is to play Birdland in New York. “Bird at Birdland”.
EWEN: I love playing at the Jazz Bistro. Id really like to play Carnegie Hall but that might not go as planned haha.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
EWEN: If I could play any show with any lineup, the band would be way too large!
ALEX: Ah! Hard one to answer! But, I really want to be on the same bill as Billie Eilish. I absolutely dig what she’s doing in music. She’s my top fave today. And I love that she cites three of her biggest influences as Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, and Julie London. The darker vibes in her music certainly inspire some of my writing.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band.
EWEN: If I were giving advice to someone just getting into playing in a band,
I’d say just try and communicate with each other as effectively and clearly as you can, and have a great time together, and be as patient as you can afford to be.
ALEX: I feel what Ewen is saying too. Also important to leave ego at the door. No one is bigger than the music, and you have to remember you are playing for an audience. Making that connection is key.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
ALEX: This a very simple (in a way) piece of advice I’ve been lucky enough to live ever since I started out. Don’t stop. If it’s really what you want to do, then nothing will stop you. It almost feels like you have no choice to pursue music, it’s just a part of you.
If you stick with it long enough, your level of success can’t be determined, but you’ll be better off and more fulfilled than if you hadn’t tried.
EWEN: If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to take time and be patient with different pursuits. Good things take time and persistence is much more powerful than talent.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
EWEN: I don’t think any one song of ours means more or less to me if I’m being honest. They all kind of fit together to form a picture. I will say though that I’ve Seen The Sun had an interesting birth. Some of the music and words are exactly the same as they were when we improvised the song. We just started jamming, no discussion, no parameters, just free as we often do, and it came out of us. Luckily we were recording so we could go back and see what we did later.
ALEX: Ewen again encapsulates a lot of what I feel about our music. It’s part of a whole picture, a songbook if you will. It’s always sweet when a song can come together almost instinctively, and a lot of our tunes have come that way. This new album “Songwriter” is a very personal one, and it captures and reflects a great moment in time for us.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
ALEX: We’re really thrilled that a lot of the people coming to see us are younger audiences, and they are connecting with our original music the most. One tune we always get requested and love playing is “3:52 (In the Morning)” off our debut album “Whisky Kisses” (2020).
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
EWEN: Sometimes we workshop as a band to get an arrangement happening and we get everyone’s input and see if we can’t come up with something we all like.
ALEX: I love jazz musicians. They are the people I connected with as a kid growing up going to jazz clubs. If you want to do your best work, work with the best. I might have some arrangement ideas on top of the songs Ewen and I write, or ideas about the feel or groove, but it’s just a roadmap for the band. Everyone should have their individuality shine.