Zack Green of the Nashville band Birdtalker said it best when he said, “The only thing we try to do is to continue to explore what is means to make art as a group. And it feels really damn good.” Zack, along with his wife Dani and friends Andy Hubright, Brian Seligman and Jesse Baker, has formed one of the most refreshing bands in the city. These members of Birdtalker write more than music and lyrics, they scribe the tale of natural love and somehow capture the peace of that natural love in the most romantic manner. One of their latest songs, “My Lover,” reminds listeners of the lyrical essence of The Civil Wars while touching on the harmonies of She and Him. Though these metaphors show a glimpse of Birdtalker’s talent, simply comparing them to past bands does not do the band justice. Altogether they resound with dynamic harmonies and a stunning stage presence that far surpasses their band’s age. With and EP coming out at the end of this summer, There is a distinct and unanimous feeling within the city that Birdtalker will take the music scene by a very natural storm.
Zack, Dani and Brian sat down with The Repertoire and explained their history as friends and band mates and shared their greatest desires for the future of Birdtalker. As promised to them, I will allow this article to exclaim their stories, and I will narrow their band description to one phrase: “Honestly? Birdtalker is groovy and vulnerable.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado I present Birdtalker…
Repertoire: Where did you lay your musical roots?
Zack: Before Dani and I got married, we had no intention or awareness of wanting to be a band at all. We never talked about it or even considered it. We had never really even sung a song together, except maybe in the car very gently and in a silly manner. I was on the couch in our one bedroom apartment writing a song that was pretty terrible, or melodramatic rather. The motive for writing the song was not cathartic at all, but more imitative. She [Dani] is an English major and I am not, so I asked her to help me write the song. We finished the song that night, and I thought, “Damn, that felt really good.” At the moment, I thought the song was really good, and more than the song being good, the feeling I had writing with her was very present and what one might consider magic. It felt very unintentionally important. So that happened and we kept writing. I’ve known the drummer since college; I’d known him for about eight or nine years. He had always been pushing me to do music. I was always passive about it. We played him one of the songs we wrote and he wanted to join in. So the summer of 2013 we got a gig at Shakespeare in the Park and opened for Twelfth Night. We played some cover songs and a few originals. We were very nervous and uncomfortable being in front of people.
Brian was in the audience watching, because he was a friend of my sister’s boyfriend. Brian came up to us afterwards and said he wanted to jam sometime. When I heard him say that, I immediately felt pang of insecurity. I didn’t know how to jam; I could set the rhythm maybe. The four of us got together and started working through some of the songs we had written. It was such a new process for Dani and I. We were so thankful for Brian who had experience being in bands where he lived before, and papa bear-ed the organization of how a practice should go and laid some options for us to choose from on how the practice should go. We rehearsed in Andy’s room for about a year and a half. It was a secret music club, but after a while it was time to start sharing what had been locked in. Jesse was the final person to join our band. I knew Jesse in college as well, but the first communication I ever had with him in my whole life was before I ever went to college. He sent a message on Facebook and said, “Hey, we have similar interests. We like the same kinds of bands. We should start a band.” That just dissolved into nothing for ten years and now we are in a band together. Jesse was our biggest cheerleader for a long time and loved what we were doing. He works in a position where a lot of time is demanded of him, so when we playfully proposed the opportunity of being in the band to him, he initially could not commit the time to it. However, four or five months later he jumped in.
R: Where does the name Birdtalker derive from?
Birdtalker: The band naming process took at least six months. Birdtalker is a playful homage of St. Francis of Assisi. At the time we were reading about St. Francis, and just reading about that approach to life was inspiring to a lot of the stuff we wrote early on (and still does now). He is the patron saint in the Catholic tradition of poverty and nature, and the specific story we are quietly referencing is when he was walking in Italy with some of his monks and walked over to a flock of birds and starting thanking them for what they did, and was preaching the gospel to them. The story taught about respecting and learning from the things that are natural around you, and just taking the time to recognize their importance. The story was so whimsical to us, and we wanted to pay homage without the name being explicit and overly religious.
How does the organic cultivation of your band members lend to your sound?
BT: The tone in our practice and writing is very open-handed. Everyone has their own influences and preferences, but there are not clearly shot down ideas. We explore almost everything that we thrown out. We allow everybody to be who each of them have become because of their experiences and explore that on purpose to learn from it.
Let’s talk about your upcoming EP…
BT: We are going to do three singles and then release the EP in mid-August. We recorded in at The Glass Onion recording on the east side. It was cozy because we recorded it with a friend, John David Tiner. I knew him in high school and we caught up about nine years later. He knew we were doing music and offered his services, and about two years after that moment we re-touched again and ended up recording it.
What is the one word or phrase you would want people to describe Birdtalker as?
Dani: If it had to be a word, I think the word I continuously come back to in the creating process that I hope comes across in the sharing of our music is “honest.” Not necessarily that it sounds any certain way, I just hope that it always sounds like we are being honest with ourselves. When I listen to music, try to explore any type of art or want to have a conversation with someone—basically everything that I can hope to do in life— I hope honesty is a part of it.
What is your favorite venue to play?
Zack: I’ve really enjoyed playing the High Watt. In our experience, the space, the crowds that has been there and the friends that have shown up. In my memory of us playing music publically, I have very potent experiences there.
Brian: I think it would be Mercy Lounge, but probably because it has a green room. Mercy has fairly spacious and not heavily guarded back room. You can walk your friend back there if you want, but at least it is just a place to grab a breath of fresh air without someone asking you a question eight minutes before you’re about to play a show. You don’t have your family member asking you about your tax return, which happens more often than you think. Being able to emerge out of a pseudo-private space onto the stage sets your headspace and mentality that you’re ready to present a show to the audience.
What would you have done professionally had you not gone into music?
Dani: We would probably be running our videography business that we have now. But there isn’t really anything else. Our lifestyle and what we are doing right now is supporting our space for this, this being music. I would say if we are looking to go toward one thing with the most energy, it is music. I don’t think we will ever stop doing this in some capacity, so I reject the premise of the question!
Brian: Because I went to the University of Toronto for Music Studies for Performance, I would probably be teaching at a post secondary level. That is actually still something that I want to do anyway, when I am too old to move around. Just put me in one of those scooters and put me in front of the classroom.
What is your favorite instrument that you own?
Zack: I like my guitar, my Martin. When we jumped into this we picked the instruments we wanted and we bought them. We paid a lot of money for them, which was very silly. But now we own them, and I love the tone of it, and the feeling I have when I play it is great.
Dani: I love my keyboard. It’s a Nord Stage 2, and I still feel intimidated by it. It was almost maybe a good decision to get instruments that were out of our league because it made us excited to play them and really respect what we were doing even more.
Brian: I am a bit of a gear junkie, and I buy stuff every three or four months. However, I think my favorite two instruments are the ones I play the most: the Fender ’72 Thinline Telecaster and my new Loar mandolin. I also love my banjo and just recently played that. I have fifteen instruments and they all get a nice rotation. They are like my children.
Which album(s) could you play on repeat without getting tired of it?
Dani: Oh, that’s easy for me. I love Father John Misty’s album I Love You, Honeybear, because we do listen to it on repeat. It is just the most perfect thing. I love it. Also, A Thousand Kisses by Patty Griffin. That’s an album I would never get tired of.
Zack: What I would listen to right now over and over again is My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall. I think it’s so great. I wasn’t exposed to them early on, so that is really my first taste of a whole album of theirs. To My Morning Jacket junkies, that is probably grotesque to say, but I really dig it. I have a very nice memory attached to it: we drove out west at the end of winter. We were driving through the tundra of snow and the song “Believe (Nobody Knows)” was going on. I feel quietly, emotionally attached to that album; it is musically satisfying.
Brian: Right now it would be The Milk Carton Kids album NPR’s Live From Lincoln Theater in Ohio. I think over the last ten or fifteen years it will be Jeff Buckley’s Grace. There are a dozen other records that are long term and I would never get sick of them.
Which movie resonates with you the most?
Zack: Dani’s favorite movie would be Alice and Wonderland. The movie that made me feel more than anything was Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. I totally recommend seeing that movie. Charlie Kauffman is probably my favorite director right now. I like how silly but intelligently cerebral he is with doing plots within plots within plots, and when it is all over you are left with a great taste.
Dani: We also appreciate Wes Anderson a lot. If I had to have an answer in my adult brain it would be Darjeeling Limited.
Brian: I have so many answers because I do love movies and watch them all of the time. I also feel a strange contextualization because I am with Birdtalker right now. My answers would be Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Waking Life. That’s perfectly Birdtalker. On a silly level, I love Best in Show, The Mighty Wind and Spinal Tap. Completely detached form Birdtalker, I have always said my favorite movie is Pulp Fiction, and it was/is my favorite movie. But then within the last few months Pulp Fiction finally got toppled over by The Departed. I watched The Departed again and decided that it has taken the throne. One of the reasons why I love that movie so much is that when I watched it for the first time, I had no clue what the premise was. Somebody told me it was a great movie and I like the actors involved, but I did not know it was a crime movie at all. The way the story unfolds and all of the performances are insane. Now I will never just say The Departed, I will always talk about Pulp Fiction first.
What is your favorite movie soundtrack?
Zack: My reflex—and I have not even thought about this since I was eleven—is to say this short film called Rupert and the Frog Song. The music is so beautiful. I think I even cried when I watched it. I think I was crying because my mom was crying, but it is a really great soundtrack.
Dani: I haven’t spent a lot of time with soundtracks, but I do have the Dirty Dancing soundtrack on vinyl. It is the only soundtrack I have ever latched onto, but I latched onto it really hard.
Brian: When someone says, “Soundtrack,” Forest Gump and Dazed and Confused are the ones that come to mind.
Where do you love to hang out in Nashville?
BT: Mostly Baja Burrito. Wherever there is pizza, we will go there. We have friends that work at Mafiaozas, so we go there. We spend a lot of time on 21st Avenue, especially when the Belcourt was up and running. We would to a movie every week. That place was such a comfort.
What is your go-to word in the English Dictionary?
Zack: I like the word “rad,” because someone said it to me a couple of years ago and I hadn’t heard it in a long time. It made me feel excited like a kid, so I latched onto that word. Selfishly I want someone else to feel that way when I say it. Here’s the thing, in moments of extreme silliness and in our stream of consciousness we used to just say things. I got really good at just saying words that made no sense together as an exercise to flex my brain.
Dani: Zack got into a rut of using the words “bug” and “backpack” together in that certain stream of consciousness.
Brian: I haven’t said this aloud I don’t think, but I have been stuck on it since you asked the question. It’s “Fremulon,” which is a production company that produces Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation. There are some clever, comedic minds behind it, and it’s associated with some of the SNL people. It’s just a great word, and Andy Samberg is hilarious, so the association with “Fremulon” is delightfully funny all of the time. What’s great is while never having said it, and with no need to ever say it; the word is in your head and has a great association with it.
How wrong have you been about a famous song lyric before?
Brian: There is still a Birdtalker song that I think says, “Regal.” The real lyric is, “Take a closer look at our ego other.” There is a song on the Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York album, “All Apologies,” that I thought said, “I can see from shame.” However, the real lyric is, “aqua seafoam shame.” Also, just about every lyric off of Radiohead’s The Bends album is just syllable sounds. You can sing along to that whole record without really knowing any of the words.
Dani: I used to think I was getting Neil Diamond’s “Crunchy Granola Suite” wrong, but it is right. It’s actually the lyric [and song title].
Zack: I always thought the song from the original Robin Hood said, “Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest, picking up the garbage men and taking them away.” The real lyric is “laughing back and forth at what the other one has to say.”