In Conversation: M. Byrd Interview

M. Byrd Interview

Hamburg based M.Byrd has already caused quite a stir with his first two releases – each garnering a substantial portion of listens over on the streaming platforms. I’ve been a little bit obsessed with both tracks and admit I’m nearly at the ‘singing along’ stage with both. Considering I listen to an inhuman amount of songs: learning and retaining the words of a song these days (let alone two) means they must be pretty special. M. Byrd’s music is just that!

It was great to chat to the man behind this exciting new German collective last week. Here, I’ll let you in on our conversation: it was insightful and full of good general chatter. A kind soul.

The Interview:

Congratulations on Mountain and Morning Sun: both songs have stuck with me since discovering you about a month ago. Your style seems to be centred in the melodic indie sphere and I especially loved the dreamy instrumental sections towards the end of each track. I tip my hat.

Thanks for the words. Touching on the instrumental aspects of the songs, I like giving people space in music, it’s fun to do that. In my opinion, a listener always figures out if the song they are listening to is good or bad in between the lyrics or in the silence in between sounds. It is so powerful leaving space for the listener to make their own mind up.

Let’s go back in time a bit. I’d love to hear a bit about your background, upbringing and where your undoubted passion for music comes from.

I’ll have to think about this: you see, I’ve been asked this question a few times now and each time I figure out a new layer of what makes me play music so much. My early adaptation to music came during my childhood, growing up in a small town near the French border: it was quite a rural town which meant I was afforded a lot of time to commit to learning and playing guitar through my youth.

The moment that really struck me, where I really found out that music was the right way forward for me, was when my guitar teacher (who sadly passed away three years ago) invited me to take part in jam sessions in a nearby town. I was thirteen or fourteen years old and these sessions were made up of, in the main, middle aged men who loved heavy metal music. That was the scene of the time. I didn’t have many people to call upon to perform with and I figured that these jam sessions, where the men would play together and, in the process, fill the bar with thick layers of cigarette smoke, were the best place for me to hone my craft and learn.

I remember the first time my guitar teacher took me there (with my dad too) and he took me on stage and told me to ‘go-for-it’. It was a wow moment, I had only been playing on my own at home up to this point and now I was up on stage alongside musicians I’d never met, riffing together. The first song they played was a twelve bar blues track and one of the guys took me under his wing and talked me through the basics I needed to join in (placing my fingers on the right notes and explaining the dynamics).

Having this human experience of making music together early on really made me realise that music was a language I could use to say something. I had now found a way to express things that I couldn’t quite express with words previously. Over the last year, during lockdown, I spent a lot of time sitting at home and trying to inspire myself with music but didn’t find the same joy using Ableton etc. The thought of returning to playing music with people again in session form really got me through the solitary moments. The sincerely human aspect of performing is something I feel lucky to have experienced so richly in my early years. I look forward to getting back out performing again.

Did your early immersion to the sessions naturally bring you into wider music communities from there?

Growth in music from that point grew gradually. The first thing I did after those early sessions was gather a couple of friends in my street and start a band- it was a cul-de-sac we lived in and each of us from a different household played a different instrument in the band. One friend could play a solid beat on the drums, another would play keys and I would play too. From there, I started playing music in school and following that, after relocating to Mainz, I got involved in the music scene there. Now I was in a city rather than a small town setting and naturally my musical community grew larger and more diverse. I’m now based in Hamburg and have found my community here.

Did you always know music was for you?

Yeah, it was always there but there were also times when I focused on other things too. I have a bachelor’s degree in Politics and English on the side of music. I finished the degree and I’m really glad I did that as I met some amazing people along the way outside of music. Also, I think the university and all the study that came with it broadened my mind and opened my eyes to completing large scale projects (like my thesis).

All the while I was studying I felt that music was always there in the background and waiting. Although music is what I love doing, I realised over the last two months (writing my record) that sitting down and concentrating solely on making a record is not that easy. It’s important to keep doing other things and hobbies to break up the day. I like to read and I make sure my day isn’t confined to just music making/writing.

Moving onto your experience of touring – I’ve seen online that you’ve already done quite a bit of touring as a bass player with Ilgen-Nur. What was that like and what was this initial experience of touring like on the whole?

I’ll give you an example: we played a gig in Rotterdam to start. The following morning we drove to London and played a show there. The next day, after the London show, we drove back to the Netherlands and played in Amsterdam. The next day, we drove to Paris – from there, to Lyon and back up to the North of France. The first week we played six shows in seven days and spent 9+ hours on the road in a tour bus each day. We got to know each other that’s for sure. It went on like this for a couple of months before I finished the tour in Iceland after taking a three day car ferry there from the tip of Denmark. It was a scenic end to a pretty intensive time on the road.

I wrote some good songs on that trip – I always feel like good songs come when you are in the thick of something as dramatic as a tour. Some mornings you wake up totally ecstatic and others, not so much. The most honest emotions come from these times.

What was your favourite city to play back then?

There are little special moments I remember about every show but I think the show I remember most vividly was in Paris. It was in this club that was packed to the maximum and we didn’t expect it at all. We knew nobody in Paris, we’d never been there before. It was a nice and sunny day and what had happened was, unbeknownst to us, the club we were booked to play had (has) a huge cult following and it gets packed no matter who is playing inside.

It was such a cool scene and gave us first hand insight into indie kids in Paris. It was bursting with people. So cool.

I’ve spoken to quite a few musicians who have toured during my time blogging. A key topic keeps coming up – is the topic of mental health. How did you manage your own mental health whilst on tour? Do you have any tips for others embarking on the same path?

A really nice question and this was actually something I was speaking to a friend about yesterday which is often overlooked. There was a tragic death within my extended music circle recently where a young musician, who from the outside looking in, everyone would have assumed great things were happening. He and his band had signed to a big label etc.. tragically he took his own life at the age of twenty-five last month and his death came as a shock and reiterated just how dangerous the music industry can be sometimes.

Musicians have to maintain their stamina whilst on tour to impress and fulfill their own visions of what they are doing. This is why I think it’s important people ask these questions and take an interest in the mental side of things.

Travelling was tough at times: managing life on the road alongside having management and figuring day-to-day stuff out too – it is a lot to absorb sometimes. One thing I’ve found that helps relieve some strain is meditation. It’s given me the opportunity to find a quiet spot and a chance to release. I started it two years ago and do two twenty minute sessions every day. It’s given me calmness and a good state of mind in the more stressful situations. It is a technique that’s helped me and it could be beneficial for others too perhaps. I find it important to have rituals that help me avoid being caught up in so many things that can be distracting on the road.

However, in saying this, I found being confined to home, waiting (due to the pandemic) for things to happen, was a lot more challenging for my mental health than when we were on the road.

A friend of mine is just about to embark on her own touring schedule this summer supporting ‘Glass Animals’. She told me she has stopped drinking alcohol – do you think this is a wise move?

I tend to go slow with drinking and I’m fortunate that I don’t really have an addictive personality when it comes to things like this. Sometimes it’s important to say no. When it comes to touring, it’s important to remember that the audience and people you meet backstage are out on a big night – they are only there for one night and don’t have to travel and do it all over again the following night. Learning to say no and watching yourself is important to keep up the energy levels for a tour. It’s challenging.

Have you got any gigs lined up or festivals?

There are some shows happening this summer with a band from the same management as me. There’s something special happening next year – but it’s not finalised just yet…

There are some concerts planned and I think they are planned in a way that they will go ahead unlike last year, where nothing went ahead. I feel like there is a way to go now and it’s exciting.

What music do you have in the works for us?

There will be an EP this year – probably late summer, August or September even (not getting into too much detail on specific dates). We are already starting to work on the album for next year. I’m looking forward to being in a room with people and recording again as there has been a whole arsenal of material gathering up inside of me and I need to get it out and put it down now.

Who is in the band with you and can you explain the idea of the M. Byrd moniker?

It’s funny because people assume it’s only me on my own and a solo project because of the promo
shots and stuff but to me, it’s more of a collective. We started out as just ‘Byrd‘ and we felt it was a little too broad and the M was added later. I haven’t been able to perform live with the band yet so that will be really cool soon. The band are a unique bunch of individuals that play in a way that I’ve never played with anybody before. I’m really looking forward to bundling it up and going on tour. Everyone is super committed and maybe sometime in the future the collective may morph into a visual project too.

Visuals seem to be important for you judging by the two music videos you’ve put out. Expressive dance seems to have a close affiliation to your music – where has this fusion come from?

The director of the videos (Marcel Izquierdo Torres) and the two dancers and choreographers (Nana Anine and Rose Marie Lindstrøm) of both videos are close friends of my girlfriend and I. Right across the road from where we live now is an international dance school and there is a community within it that’s totally in tune with interpretive dance. My girlfriend is also a dancer and through her, I’ve been given a glimpse into this world since moving to Hamburg four years ago.

Using your body and watching performance art, I have no idea how it works myself on a technical level and have no real way to understand it fully, but that’s what makes it so special to me. I respect the language and felt its power, even though I couldn’t understand it directly. Dance has been very inspiring to me.

When you write a song and get stuck: performance art and the use of the body is a way of mirroring emotions in a new and expressive way. Dance is similar to music in terms of the creative process. Both channel emotions and there are no set boundaries – neither know exactly what they are doing but both are a medium to portray emotion. It’s magical and it had to be a part of this M. Byrd project.

About ‘The Sound Sniffer’

The Sound Sniffer is a music blog that’s still only a baby – Founded in early 2019 by Kevin Coakley, a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists found in the blog’s submission inbox.

Check out my Interviews HERE

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