Jade Bird was having a tough time out on tour in 2019, working herself to the point of exhaustion. The British singer-songwriter was on the road in the United States with Father John Misty and Jason Isbell in the wake of her self-titled debut album, not really writing much, when an idea struck her.
“It became quite a premonition out of quite a dark time,” Bird says on a Zoom call from her new home in Austin, Texas. “I was quite low mentally.”
It turned out to be the seeds of “Different Kinds of Light,” the title track and a thematic tentpole for Bird’s new album. Bird took a trip to Japan (“I told my managers I was going on a writing tour, but it was really a massive ploy to get a vacation,” she says) and then decamped to upstate New York to continue writing. The result is a sad, but clear-eyed ballad about two people who’ve been “surviving, not thriving,” and the difficulty of moving on. It’s a nod to Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms,” from Tusk, with which Bird found herself obsessed for a time.
“You know when you have that song that seems to be written for you and only you? That’s how that song feels to me,” she says. “Then the concept actually branched out to be the different phases of allowing yourself to be in love, despite a tricky past, despite having no good examples of it.”
In addition to Japan and New York, Bird spent time writing in Mexico (“I can’t write at home,” she explains) during the pandemic, barely leaving her apartment so as not to jeopardize her health or that of her partner Luke Prosser, who also plays guitar in her band. In spite of the circumstances, Bird managed to write uplifting songs like “Now Is the Time,” a buoyant slice of Seventies FM pop that urges someone to embrace life in a breathless tumble of words.
“There were these strange blitzes of optimism,” Bird says. “With ‘Now Is the Time,’ I couldn’t leave the apartment and I was imagining someone getting out of my bed behind me, maybe my partner, and I was thinking, ‘How do I motivate this person to experience life to the fullest?’”
Eventually, Bird came to Nashville, where she recorded Different Kinds of Light at RCA Studio A with producer Dave Cobb, who had previously recorded Bird’s collaboration with her friend Brent Cobb (Dave’s cousin), the duet “Feet Off the Ground.” Ironically, the presence of Cobb, a Georgia native with an ear for country music, lent a distinct Britpop influence to Different Kinds of Light, especially on tracks like “Trick Mirror,” “Honeymoon,” and the jangling single “Open Up the Heavens.”
“I went to the Grammy country guy and found out he was in a Britpop band when he was young,” Bird says. “Me and my partner were losing our minds — you were in a Britpop band? He was like ‘Yeah.’ We started to bond on all the music we loved. And like Dave, it does go from Blur and Oasis and the Stone Roses to Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn.”
The songwriting on Different Kinds of Light extends outside of the artist herself. In the soaring “Punchline,” which has shades of Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty, she depicts a man in crisis as his partner has to try to keep things together. “He says out loud, ‘I’ve been asleep at the wheel my whole damn life,’” she sings.
“I could imagine this waitress trying her best to get this couple through it,” Bird says. “And I had this image of this guy in his car, really trying to evaluate his life and what went wrong.”
Bird also tapped into her family’s history of military service for a sympathetic song about a struggling American soldier in “Red, White, and Blue.” Part of it stems from Prosser’s experience buying of a guitar from a veteran who needed the money to pay his medical bills.
“He found himself in the passenger seat of this guy who was a Vietnam War veteran and he was suffering from very, very severe PTSD,” she says. “He was having hallucinations, literally in the car. It is a little political, but I don’t think I could have written it if I had not been the product of three generations of army family.”
In November 2020, Bird and Prosser made the move to the States, settling in Austin through a particularly intense, unstable period in this country.
“We wanted to move very badly and there’s a level of commitment it shows there to get across the Atlantic,” she says. “But we said, ‘If things go south, we’re on the first plane home.’ We were worried about rioting, we were worried about so many things, and we still managed to make the move over here. Looking back, it’s completely insane.”
Bird wanting to be in the U.S. makes sense, though: She’s been warmly welcomed into a community of American songwriters like Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile whose work spans rock, pop, Americana, and country music. It’s different from her native Britain, a country whose music she loves, but where she finds herself without a scene.
“Americana, it’s really confusing,” she says. “We don’t have a branch of songwriters that they can run to and create community in. We’re all just pummeled to [BBC] One radio, and it’s quite detrimental for a songwriter like myself that doesn’t fit in a box.”
Bird thinks about the word “Americana” for a second and what it means to her as a non-native. “It’s so funny, I almost don’t like the title because it suggests it’s maybe only for Americans or something, but I’ve never felt like that,” she says. “It almost feels like anything that’s not contrived.”