“The common thread in all my music, my lyrics, my shows and my artwork is me,” begins Jade Bird. “I don’t feel like anybody can shift my character.”
Nor should they want to. Jade channels that character — and her creativity — into music that Rolling Stone have described as “a young Londoner’s spin on modern Americana” and which Jade herself calls “kind of country, kind of blues, kind of pop and kind of none of that”. Either way, Jade’s music is passionate, full-bodied commentary that finds this 20-year-old, “funny-on-a-good-day” songwriter singing about the vows we make to ourselves and each other: what it takes to make them, what is required to keep them and what it means to break them.
Jade suggests that the two biggest influences on her work are “experience and idols”, and while she briefly embraced her mum’s penchant for Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson, it was through discovering her own musical heroes that Jade was able to focus her creativity identity, somewhere in the mix of Cat Power, Mazzy Star, The Smiths, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
Jade started gigging at 13, kicking things off with a set of dubious covers on a fairylight-draped stage at one end of a Bridgend pub, before hurling herself into competitionswith her own songs along with gigs anywhere that’d take her, which involved memorable performances in nursing homes and psychiatric wards. “That period was all quite strange,” she smiles now, “but it taught me everything I know today about how to hold a room.” That came in useful on moving to London, when Jade started appearing at open mic nights at Camden’s Spiritual Bar (whose address, 4 Ferdinand Street, she has since immortalised in Jade’s song Lottery). “A lot of my blues influences came from there,” she acknowledges, “but it was tough. I knew as soon as I got on stage that the owner would be shouting at me about all my ‘pop shit’. It very quickly taught me that I had to grow some balls and write some bigger, better songs.”
Spoiler alert: that’s exactly what happened. Jade’s first step was to record a load of demos in the bathroom with one of her mates — those were enough to get her management and access to a modest studio, where she recorded simple acoustic versions that, in turn, were the songs she sent to Simone Felice. But before she could get down to work, there was something she needed to address. “I had a debate with myself,” she says. “And came down to one question: why am I doing this? I feel like I have an obligation with myself to be honest. And it didn’t feel like I was pursuing this for money, because I don’t want excess, and I only really want a roof over my head and there are loads of other ways of achieving that. Ultimately, I realised that my aim was really simple. I want people to look back on me and think I made a great album.”