How Andrew Bird was asked to join a whistling jam session with Mariah Carey : Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Singer-songwriter and world class whistler Andrew Bird plays our game called, "Put Your Lips Together and Blow" Three questions about referees. Joining him are panelists Adam Burke, Tom Papa, and Zainab Johnson.


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How Andrew Bird was asked to join a whistling jam session with Mariah Carey

How Andrew Bird was asked to join a whistling jam session with Mariah Carey

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Andrew Bird Rich Fury/Getty Images hide caption

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Rich Fury/Getty Images

Andrew Bird

Rich Fury/Getty Images

Andrew Bird grew up north of Chicago. He's a student of violin, but he didn't really love classical music. Instead, he devoted himself to playing folk, then swing and pop, then eventually his own style, which has been called a lot of things but is really just Andrew Bird.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Peter Sagal: I spent a fair amount of time trying to find somebody who would define your style, and I couldn't. Can you say "Andrew Bird's music is...?"

Andrew Bird: I wish, it could get me out of a lot of awkward elevator conversations.

Conversations like, "Oh, you're a musician, what do you play?" And you're like, "You don't want to know."

I guess it's kind of... experimental songwriting, pop-indie rock.

Just keep adding hyphens, and you'll eventually describe it! You were a student of the violin when you were a young kid, but you didn't actually groove the classical music too much?

Well I did, I learned the Suzuki method from an early age.

That's when you play violin riding on a motorcycle.

Exactly, violin is hard but doing that is harder. Yeah, I just wanted to write my own music.

Do you have your first songs that you wrote back when you started writing your own songs?

Yeah, the first one I wrote was, I think it was called "Nuthinduan Waltz," and it was about a dog with a nasal disease.

I'm going to say right there, I mean, that's just branching off from the typical path, because most guys and girls write their first songs about love or loneliness or homesickness or something like that. And you were like, dog with a nasal disease?

It was about loneliness and love. The dog was a subplot, I suppose. But it's the most memorable thing about the song.I think the line was "I'm just an old yout / with a cane made of root / and a dog with a nasal disease."

Beat that, Billie Eilish! I have to ask you about whistling. You are truly one of the great whistlers. If there's a better one, I don't know it. Did you have to devote as much time to learning to whistle as well as you do know, as you did the violin?

No, that's the thing. The violin is so difficult and there's all sorts of contortions, takes years to master it. And then the thing you do when you're doing the dishes becomes where the money is.

Right, isn't that funny! It occurs to me that you have a certain disadvantage. Most musicians are not walking around carrying their guitar. So people won't say, "Oh, wow, it's you. Can you play me a song?" But you are always ready to whistle. So do you get requests from people who recognize you in elevators or other places?

No. I did find myself at a fancy party in New York that was thrown by Vanity Fair and Interview magazine and it was a music people party. And I was at the indie rock kids table. So it was me, and Joanna Newsom and Peaches.

Those are cool people, was it actually like a little small table at the side of the room, like in the kitchen?

It felt that way. I felt like the kid's table because the guests of honor were Jon Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey over at the big kids table. So I had a few drinks and I went over to talk to Mariah and she said, "Oh, what do you do?" And I said, "I'm a songwriter and violinist, and I whistle." And she goes, "Oh, I whistle with my throat." And I said, "Yes, you do, Mariah Carey, you whistle with your throat." That's her thing, That super high, like squeezed... and then she said, "Hey, let's jam." And we started, I don't know, we just started with "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay." And we were sort of trading fours, and she would do four bars whistling.

Ever since that day, I always thought it'd be great if I could reach out to Mariah Carey and we could do a slow jam duet. And all I know is in the video, there's going to be lots of candles and lots of soft cheese.

This is an excerpt from Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, NPR's weekly news quiz. Have a laugh and test your knowledge with today's funniest comedians. Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or listen on NPR One, and you can find us on Instagram. Want to come out to our live shows at our new home at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, IL or on the road? Just check out nprpresents.org.