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The PV Q&A: Birdy on Covers, Originals, and Working in an Adult World

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Interview by Tom Lanham

"Sure," admits 16-year-old British wunderkind Jasmine van den Bogaerde, her performing moniker of Birdy is indeed somewhat unusual. “But it’s a nickname I’ve always had since childhood,” she sighs. “My parents gave it to me because when they’d feed me, I’d open my mouth really wide, like a baby chick.” Now when the kid opens her beak, people listen. At age 12, she beat out 10,000 other contestants to win England’s Open Mic UK competition with an early original, “So Be Free.” Soon, she was wrapping her soulful, unusually-adult pipes around covers of Bon Iver (“Skinny Love”), the xx (“Shelter”), and Phoenix (“1901” — all featured on her new Live in London EP), before tracking an eponymous debut disc last year for Warner Brothers. People can’t get enough of the prodigy — her “Just a Game” was recently featured on The Hunger Games soundtrack and “Learn Me Right,” performed with Mumford & Sons, made it into Pixar’s recent  Brave flick. That Birdy can sure warble, alright.

PureVolume: You were just on vacation with your folks. Where did you go?
Birdy: We went to Sicily. It was really nice, right by the sea and really pretty.
PV: Did anyone recognize you there?
B: No. I got a lot of strange looks, but I think that was just because I was really white and everyone else was so tan there. And I’m not recognized so much at home, either, because everyone kinda knows each other since it’s such a small town. I live in Lymington, in the New Forest, on the South coast. But when I go shopping in Southampton, which is a bigger town, I think some people recognize me and I get weird looks. But it’s all fun.
PV: And you’re enrolled in a performing arts school there?
B: It’s a local estate school that I did go to — I just left. And it was meant for art and not really music. So now I’m on summer holiday, and then I’m going to college in September. I’m gonna do art — painting and drawing. And I’m also gonna do French and I think English literature. But I’m not sure yet. I still haven’t decided. But I love art. I like things that are quite creative. But it takes me ages and ages to finish a painting because I’m such a perfectionist. So it’s hard to get it right. But usually I’ll paint from a photograph of people, and usually it’s just of my family.
PV: Speaking of which, your great-uncle was the actor Dirk Bogarde? You probably haven’t seen Death in Venice yet…
B: No, I haven’t — I’ve heard that it’s quite dark. But I never got to watch any of his films. Actually, I remember watching one when I was quite young, but I can’t really remember it. I do remember just sitting there and thinking ‘He looks like my dad!’ which was quite funny.
PV: And your parents actually encouraged you to pursue music?
B: Well, it was just something I loved doing, and I started doing it when I was eight. I just started writing and singing, and my mom was a concert pianist, so she taught me to play the piano. My parents have always been quite encouraging with music. But they’re both really cautious with decisions and stuff, so they’ve been telling me all the time how important it is to keep your feet on the ground, and what can happen if you don’t have people around like family to hold you down.
PV: Is it weird working in an adult world?
B: Yeah, it’s definitely weird. I missed a bit of school and I started to notice the difference, just being around more adults, really. But I’m really enjoying it. They’re all great people and they’ve all become my friends, so it’s fun.
PV: Do you feel like an old soul?
B: When I’m singing, I feel like I’m in a completely different place, somewhere I can escape to that just feels very natural. And it’s just lots of emotion, especially when I’m writing, because I love it so much. And even when I’m feeling sad, sometimes a happy song comes out of that. Or if I’m happy, I’ll write a sad song. Either way, it’s just a really nice feeling. A lot of my songs didn’t have lyrics when I was writing them, and sometimes I wonder how the words just came out, different words that don’t even make sense. It’s really strange.
PV: How was it performing the London Tabernacle concert that’s featured on your EP?
B: I was terrified! It was very scary. But I was also so excited at the same time, and I just loved the feeling, the buzz you get afterwards. And plus, I was with my band for the first time, so it was really nice, having people with me onstage.
PV: How did you hook up with Mumford & Sons?
B: They needed a female vocalist, because the main character in Brave is a girl. So they contacted me and said that they’d heard me on the radio and really liked my music. And I was so excited, because I’m such a big fan of them, and so are all my friends. But they were all really funny, and I just felt so relaxed when I got there — we did a run-through, and it just seemed quite natural, recording with them. And they gave me some good advice. I’d just done my show at the Tabernacle, and I was saying how I was scared I’d made a mistake. And they said not to worry, because they always make mistakes when they’re performing, that it’s just a normal thing and you should just get on with it and carry on with the show.
PV: Why did you start out doing covers?
B: The covers were because I was at school, and I’d just done “Skinny Love” and it did really well on the radio. So it just seemed like a good idea, because it wouldn’t use up as much of my school time.
PV: But your own songs are even better.
B: Well, yeah. But I’ve been quite nervous about that, because I’m writing the second album now and there’s an…an expectation. So I hope people will like my new music as well. So far, the songs are just about my past year and my experiences. Well, some of them are about love. Uh, not that I have much experience with that!
PV: Have you met any other idols over the past year?
B: I met Ed Sheeran, and I did a cover of one of his songs. I met him at a show I did, and I was just completely speechless and starstruck. It was very, very weird.
PV: Are your folks proud of how far you’ve come at 16?
B: I hope so. I think they are. But they’ve been so supportive and amazing, and they’ve given up so much time for me. My dad’s coming with me to the States [for three recent shows in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco] and then I’ve got a European tour, as well, and my mom will be coming along on that one. So they take turns and switch.
 

 
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