Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. This week Jordan Darville speaks to wandering psychedelic David Lineal, AKA Bird Names.
or someone who subscribes to “all that fuzzy new age stuff,” David Lineal enjoys rigorously defined, even quantitative music. His psychedelic bedroom solo project Bird Names may evoke R. Stevie Moore and other spaced-out eccentrics, but Lineal insists that it draws energy from “old professional arrangements, where amazing musicians are shredding and playing something super written and composed, arranged with all these different instruments.”
The reason his 2013 album Naming Names transcends the deluge of psychedelic revivalism is because Lineal's ambitions for the music don't exist in a time that's already passed. Instead of spoon-feeding you heaps of comforting, empty nostalgia, his songs are acutely present; each swirling layer of crustied third eye instrumentation rejects passivity outright, urging listeners to make their consumption a unique journey.
Is Vermont a nurturing city for musicians?
Yeah. I moved here pretty recently. Bird Names was a band in Chicago for six years. We were a fixture in our small experimental scene. Then I moved to Georgia for a bit and then up here to a small town. There’s a crew of musicians that moved here from other places that are making cool stuff. I’ve been feeling it.
What do you do when you’re not writing or recording music?
Just walking in the woods around here, getting into no good in Vermont with all these weirdos and hippies up here. Pretty, pretty bucolic, relaxed, small town lifestyle. Nothing too fancy really. No kind of legitimate work or anything.
Do you share a connection with the “hippie” community?
I do. I love it. Sometimes people call me a hippie and I love it. There’s not many hippies or hippie culture in Chicago; it’s all novel. Plus, I love peace. I love love. I love marijuana. I love psychedelia, or the limits of awareness and consciousness. I’m down with the hippies. I hope that they’re down with me.
So would you describe yourself as a spiritual person?
You could. That wouldn’t be the first 20 words I would use but yeah, I would say so, definitely. I think about my values and how it relates to music and my life, a lot.
How do you feel about collaboration? Does that not suit your vision for Bird Names?
Not at all. I’ve always wanted it to be collaborative and it’s been more collaborative at different points. [But] I had this fanatical vision, and it’s hard to get people to sign onto that necessarily. But I just got together a new live band here. I’m hoping that it’ll spill over to the studio. I don’t think it’ll make music less pure if you’re working with other people’s visions. It’s all about getting people together to use intuition together to see the same thing. I think that really sharpens music generally.
The album has this rambling free association feel, but at the same time doesn’t feel improvised.
Yeah. You want it to have some kind of tension there. You want it to be intuitive, wild, and sounding organic like a living thing, following some kind of logic like that, but at the same time to think critically about it and not review or judge every little decision on the way. Just try and put as much thought into each of the countless little aesthetic decisions that you have to make. That’s what I was trying to do to make it really deliberate. It’s possible for the lyrics to become an afterthought. I tried to make it so I wasn’t saying anything I didn’t really mean.
You can pick out certain words and phrases on repeated listens. You have to put in more of an effort and it’s quite rewarding when you do.
I’m glad you can understand the words. I’m not much of a lyric listener with music. I love vocal music so much, that’s my main jam. I love singing in harmonies and stuff, but I tend to pay less attention to the specific words.
Could you talk about your influences and the traditions you invoke?
I guess attitude wise, the influence was the DIY and punk culture of the past 30 years. It’s fair to call that a big influence even though it’s abstractly stated. The attitude of you can do everything yourself, just have the will, and not be afraid of all the barriers to making something and putting yourself out there. And the style of the punk rock bands when I saw when I was a teenager and the college bands of the 80s like Beat Happening in particular.
In terms of musical sounds influence, I generally like a lot of old music, a lot of old country music and vocal jazz like Boswell Sisters and swing music too. A lot of that old music, pre-60s, music was even more corporate and centralized than it is today, but it was more professional. And with folk in a more abstract way, coming from the people, porch music style. With that stuff you get raw [sounds], soul, like an old blues record. I think there’s something to be said for the accomplished, less completely intuitive style of making music, like composer-ly, considered, or deliberate.
And having knowledge of history, knowing the roots of what you want to make?
People that have vision are inspiring. People that know what they want to be doing, they have the straight goals with music or an ideology. That’s something I’ve been striving towards more in my music, making it clear to people why I made this and this is the use for the music for you. This is the reason why it exists.
That kind of explains why it’d be more difficult to have a full band.
Totally. But it can also be a source of power for a band too. We’re all on the same page, this is what we’re about, this is what we represent, these are our values and we’re embodying it in our music. That holds bands together, we’re about expressing this basic attitude towards the world and that’s the function of the music for people listening and the musicians too.
Do you have a good handle for what you want the Bird Names ideology to be?
I think the type of music I’d want to listen to is something that’s interesting, that you can lose yourself, and meditate in it. It has a lot of texture, different nuance, and listen to it a lot of times in a row because there’s a lot of little details and little sections of music that you might not notice while listening.
Like a scavenger hunt.
Something that’s sort of fun that you can engage with. The listener is the active party in the music. Music only makes sense to the person that’s listening to it. It always requires the context of a particular set of ears that know a particular background of music, or have music they like, and certain emotions that they’re feeling. That’s a part of what music is, like if you see a band a bunch of times, part of what they’re music will mean to you is all those memories of all those shows splattered across time, having a good time. Sort of building up local connotations or it’s all connotative basically.
What can fans expect watching Bird Names in concert?
I just got a new live band together in Vermont. It’s super exciting for me because I just got a lot of pent up energy to rock out on stage. The performances are raw, upbeat, and really bringing the weird energy. Bird Names has had a lot of live incarnations and there’s been periods of time where we’ve toured three or four months of the year. We’ve had some stable live bands for awhile and usually they span as many as 6 piece bands. I think this three piece band, I’m really excited about. It does justice to the songs. I think creating atmosphere is pretty important. Playing a show and being really passionate people can understand that and be inspired. It’ll make them dig deeper.
Bird Names has been active since 2004, so you’ve probably gone through a lot of ups and downs.
We’ve never had the types of problems that come with too much success. That’s like a good and bad thing. There was no way it could ever be too much of an ego trip or something or self-indulgent. It kept us pretty humble. It was hard to make this album, in some sense, a high and low point where I felt like I was living in total isolation in a vacuum, confronted with silence because I had been making something, which was challenging to feel. In general, we’ve always kept it DIY or on the circuit and dealing with people who are in it for the music. Where it’s not ever a question of becoming a rock star. Any stuff like that is off the radar.
Where did your album Metabolism: A Salute to the Energy of the Sun come from?
With that album, basically all the energy that takes to make a song or 40 minutes of music, all of that energy is ultimately coming from the sun. It’s getting filtered through plants and animals and my metabolism and whatever expressed through energy in doing stuff I want to do. Ultimately, those 40 minutes represents however many thousand of hours, the sun had been burning in outer space. I thought it was a nice way to think about it. You can take all this sunlight and translate it into this other form. You can carve it into this sound.
You were giving it a name. Making it explicit.
Yeah exactly. This is what sunlight can sound like. Or you can do this, by the medium of your own life.