NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. An American businessman has been charged with paying kickbacks to win reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Philip H. Bloom is a US citizen who lived in Romania. He's alleged to have paid more than $600,000 to US officials.
And attorneys give their closing arguments today in the case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali. Abu Ali was a US citizen who went to Saudi Arabia to study. He was arrested there and allegedly confessed to plotting to kill President Bush. He now says the confession was tortured out of him. You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.
Tomorrow it's "Science Friday," and Ira Flatow will be here with a conversation with undersea explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle about the state of our oceans and a global plan for ocean conservation. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday."
Musician Andrew Bird defies easy categorization. He mixes violin, guitar, glockenspiel and whistling with witty lyrics. Following his formal training as a violinist and a stint in the hot jazz swing revival scene, he's found a home playing solo in rock clubs across the globe. His latest album is "The Mysterious Production of Eggs," and he joins us now here in Studio 3A to perform and talk with us.
Welcome to the show.
Mr. ANDREW BIRD (Musician): Oh, thanks for having me.
CONAN: If you have questions for Andrew Bird about his music or about life on the road, give us a call: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, Andrew, why don't we begin with a song?
Mr. BIRD: OK.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BIRD: (Singing) My skin is white as parchment driving downtown office building where the air is tight. There's time spent resting on her bones waiting for the telephones to ring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring, brrring. Na da da da. My skin is cold as the tiles on a bathroom floor. Run up to bed and slam the door. Oh, what a lovely sound. How it shakes the ground. What a lovely sound. What a love. Oh, what a lovely (unintelligible) that's the only thing that doesn't really fly in my land, and love alone, is my love, is that the only thing that butterfly (unintelligible). They print it on every T-shirt in this land, on the finest of cottons and the hippest of brand ...(unintelligible) letters down to capital R, and it's the only thing, it's the only thing, it's the only thing. My skin is white as parchment driving downtown office building where the air is tight. There's time spent waiting for the macrame bird of prey to come down and sing. La ling la ling la ling la ling la ling la ling. That's what they sing. La ling la ling la ling la ling la ling la ling. Oh, what a lovely sound. How it shakes the ground. What a lovely sound. Oh, what a lovely sound. Oh, what a lovely, and how it shakes the, what a lovely sound, what a love, what a lovely sound.
CONAN: Andrew Bird here with us in Studio 3A live, and normally we'd have to be upstairs in 4A to fit all those performers and all those instruments.
Andrew Bird, how do you do that by yourself?
Mr. BIRD: Well, with a little help from technology, but mostly everything--well, everything's live. I'm just playing a phrase that pizzicato phrase...
CONAN: On the violin, yeah.
Mr. BIRD: ...and looping it and, once I set that parameter, I can layer several layers and get a bass down from an octave pedal and...
CONAN: You've talked about a wall of noise or a wash of sound. The old '60s producer Phil Spector used to talk about the wall of sound. Is that any inspiration to you?
Mr. BIRD: It is. I've often been fascinated by kind of a more static wash of sound, of--you hear it in a lot of film music, like when everything kind of slows down in a scene, you know, music can help create that slowing down of what you're seeing.
CONAN: You work in an interesting fashion. You have a--you live in Illinois?
Mr. BIRD: Yeah.
CONAN: And you work--you set up a studio in a barn.
Mr. BIRD: Yeah, yeah.
CONAN: And as I understand it, one of the things that you wanted to do was try to move away from this idea of performance as something unique or extraordinary and change it into something that you do every day.
Mr. BIRD: Yeah, which is almost literally what I've done this year. I mean, I'm coming up on, like, 220 shows this year, so...
CONAN: Good Lord.
Mr. BIRD: Yeah.
CONAN: If you'd like to talk to Andrew Bird, our number is (800) 989-8255, and our e-mail address is email@example.com. Let's get a caller on the line. This is Matt, and Matt's calling us from Boone, North Carolina.
MATT (Caller): Yes. Hi. How you doing, guys?
Mr. BIRD: Hey.
MATT: I was just wondering, Andrew, what you thought of the impact that a lot of the more recent classically trained kind of alternative or I like to call them independent rock artists, stuff like that, like yourself and Rufus Wainwright and his sister, how big of an impact do you think they're having on the music scene, and do you see that as a trend or do you see a lot of people that you work with being classically trained?
Mr. BIRD: No, I've had very little contact with the whole classical world since I left it over, like, 10 years ago. And I don't necessarily see a trend towards this. I think there's always been musicians who leave the classical world and use it in their music, but I feel like I'm on a trend away from the concert hall toward something more just elemental and basic, and as far as performers like Rufus Wainwright, I think he has a different--he does different things with his classical training, and I just--I use the violin--I have no--I don't think of it as the instrument I grew up with anymore. It's just sort of something I pull sound out of, and I take my classical training completely for granted.
CONAN: Matt, thanks very much.
MATT: No problem.
CONAN: Why don't we hear something else?
Mr. BIRD: OK.
CONAN: This, I think--the next song on my list is called "Why?"
(Soundbite of "Why?")
Mr. BIRD: (Singing) Why? Why'd you do that? You shouldn't have done that. If I told you once, I told you three times that you'll get your punishment when you show me your crimes. And it's not a spell or a curse you put on me, or the way you make me smile so tenderly. How I wish it was your temper you were throwing. Oh, damn you for being so easy going. Oh. I (unintelligible). My sins that provoke you to ...(unintelligible). Ooh. Ah, ah, ah. Not a chance. I mean, whatever happened to fine romance. I wish it was your temper you were throwing, dishes you were throwing. Damn you for being so easy going. Oh. Why'd you do that? Oh, why'd I do what? I haven't done anything. I'm just standing here, you know. Everything's cool, right? OK. That's just it, isn't it? Why'd you have to go ahead and do nothing. Oh. I ...(unintelligible). My sin would provoke you to ...(unintelligible). Ooh. Don't give me that line. Don't try to tell me that an action's not a crime. I mean, can't you see. Can't you see what kind of seed you're sowing? Damn you for being so easy going.
CONAN: Andrew Bird.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Andrew Bird's most recent album is "Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs," and we have an e-mail question from Julie. What a strange title for an album, but what's the story behind it?
Mr. BIRD: Well, like you were saying, I've lived in a barn out in the country for the last four years, and I got some chickens, and they became sort of part of my daily routine to go out and get the eggs from the chickens and make an omelet and coffee, and then I'd work all day on music until the sun went down. And plus, deserving chickens, they're such fascinating creatures that we don't really think about how bizarre they are, and so anyway, it also came out of a magic catalogue. So it's just different things were pointing towards that being the title.
CONAN: Well, we just have a minute or so left, so let's see if we can squeeze one more caller in. This is Andrea. Andrea calling from Royal Oak in Michigan.
ANDREA (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead.
Mr. BIRD: Hi.
ANDREA: OK. Thank you. I actually just saw your show in Ann Arbor and really enjoyed it, and I never realized before that you're actually whistling on some of your albums, and I was wondering where you picked that up and how that became part of your show.
Mr. BIRD: I didn't start doing it until the last couple of years because, you know, I'm used to things that I do being so difficult and painful, you know, playing the violin and whatnot, and here was this thing I do every day and so I tried it at a show, and it--I discovered it had--it could really get people to pay attention actually. If the crowd was talking, if I just held a note out, it kind of draw people's attention, so I started using it.
ANDREA: Awesome. Very cool. Well, I very much enjoyed it.
Mr. BIRD: Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Andrea.
ANDREA: Thank you.
CONAN: Andrew Bird joined us live here in Studio 3A.
Thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.
Mr. BIRD: Yeah, no problem. My pleasure.
CONAN: He and drummer Martin Dosh play at the Black Cat here in Washington, DC, tonight, then take their tour westward. You can hear an encore performance of Andrew Bird here in Studio 3A later tonight on our Web site at npr.org. We'd like to thank Andrew Bird and his people for making this happen, as well as our engineers, Michael Schweppe, Kimberly Jones and Chris Nelson.
Ira Flatow is here tomorrow with "Science Friday." I'll be back on Monday with guest co-host Liane Hansen and guest Will Shortz, crossword editor for The New York Times. By the way, if you have a puzzle to stump the puzzlemaster, send us an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.