Little Birdy - Fly Free
The Little Birdy of 2003’s Relapse is a long way from the Little Birdy of 2009. The Perth band have spent time as the most requested band on triple j, recorded an album in the states and are now channelling the ’60s. 3D’s Cyclone speaks to drummer Matt Chequer during their current national tour.
Perth’s Little Birdy are back with their third album – and Confetti is a very different proposition to 2006’s overtly internationalist Hollywood. Gone is the electronic programming and in is retro ’60s soul-pop. Confetti is rock music that will appeal to Duffy and Sharon Jones fans alike.
Following the popular Hollywood, Little Birdy – Katy Steele (vocals and guitar), Simon Leach (guitar), Scott O’Donoghue (bass) and Matt Chequer (drums) – treated themselves to a mini-hiatus. “We had a few months off after we finished touring the last album,” Chequer affirms. “I went overseas to Canada for a while and Katy had about four months off back in Perth, just getting things together again and writing some new tunes. So some of us had six months off – not to ‘recover’, but just to enjoy ourselves, enjoy home a bit – and then [we got] back into it.”
In fact, all four have relocated from Perth. O’Donoghue is currently in Brisbane with his girlfriend, while the others are in Melbourne. Steele, previously in the electronic outfit The Plastik Scene, formed Little Birdy with Leach circa 2002. Leach, a pal of Steele’s brother Luke Steele, frontman of The Sleepy Jackson (and half of Empire of the Sun), began on drums. The then duo borrowed their name from a Ween song off 1992’s Pure Guava. Chequer was the last to join when Leach decided to switch to guitar. Little Birdy soon generated an industry buzz and signed to the indie Eleven, home to Silverchair. The band broke with 2004’s Big Big Love, the album reaching the ARIA Top 5.
The lead single from Confetti is Summarize, which Steele originally imagined as a country affair, but Paul Kelly plays harmonica (and sings) on the triple j favourite Brother, a track deliberately leaked online. “He’s amazing to work with,” Chequer extols of Kelly. “He’s done it for a long, long time – longer than Katy’s been alive, I think! He’s so easy to work with and knows what to do straightaway. He didn’t really need much direction. We just told him what to sing and then he got it within a couple of takes.
“We’d supported Paul as a band about four years ago. He liked Katy’s songwriting so he invited her on tour opening the night a year-and-a-half ago – which is when a lot of these songs [on Confetti], came about, actually. She needed to write some new songs for the solo set and she had to step it up a bit – supporting Paul Kelly’s a big deal.
“She kept in contact with him from there. We needed a harmonica on this track – and who better to ask than Paul Kelly- He said ‘yep’ and that’s basically it. It was a favour, really – very lovely of him.”
If anything, Confetti signals a return to the spirit of Big Big Love, although the group have indulged in more extravagant arrangements, commissioning strings. “We are probably a bit more content. We’re happy with how we are as a band and the music we’re creating together. We’ve gone for more of a mature sound on this album, making it a bit reminiscent of the classic ’50s or ’60s kinda vibe that we all really love. We love those old records, so we did our own twist on that.”
Chequer admits that Little Birdy’s evolution was partly a reaction to the experience of cutting Hollywood, which they recorded in Los Angeles with Dust Brother John King (Beck). “The last one [Hollywood], we wanted to do something different to our first record, so we went down that path – [it was] electronic and a bit more programmed – and this one we wanted to get back to a more organic sound, which is where we started. When the four of us first got together, it was just us sitting in a crappy rehearsal room and figuring songs out and playing really simple music with great melody and lovely lyrics. That’s what we wanted to get back to.”
Indeed, Little Birdy self-produced Confetti, assisted by Melbourne engineer Steven Schram, rather than hiring another big gun and travelling overseas.
“We’d already learnt our lesson – we did that on our last one,” Chequer. “We went overseas. We learnt a lot from the producer and engineer who we worked with over there. That’s why we did this one ourselves, ’cause we’d learnt enough off other people to be able to do it ourselves – and it was an album where we knew how to create the sound. The last album, we needed a hand to get the sound that we wanted. This one, we knew exactly how to do it.”
The glamazon Steele, briefly engaged to End of Fashion singer Justin Burford, unwittingly eclipses her bandmates as the primary songwriter. An early review of Confetti suggests that she is “an Australian mash-up of Chrissie Hynde, Martha Wainwright and Amy Winehouse minus the ‘issues’”.
“It’s good for us to have the focus on Katy a lot of the time,” a bemused Chequer responds. “She’s a natural performer and she feeds off the attention – not in a bad way, but that’s her personality – so we’re able to just go about our business without having to deal with so many questions, I suppose! She loves it, so it’s easy in that regard. But I don’t have a problem with it [laughs]. I like sitting – and hiding – behind the drums and doing my thing. I much prefer to let the music do the talking.”
With Confetti in stores, Little Birdy are touring solidly. They’ll perform at Splendour in the Grass alongside The Flaming Lips. However, they also have their eyes on the international circuit. “I think the plan is to head over to the US or UK – or both – later on in the year, once we’ve had a good stint in Australia playing this album,” Chequer reveals. “We just need to get the album in the hands of the right people to want us to go over and show us what we can do live.”
WHO: Little Birdy
WHAT: Confetti through Eleven / Universal / Play Metro Theatre / ANU Bar / Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay
WHEN: Out now / Wednesday 13 May / Thursday 14 / Saturday 25 July & Sunday 26