The music community is a tight-knit one where people are constantly helping each other to get music made on stage or in a studio and out to those who chose to listen. Lucky for me, when I found myself at an Allison Weiss show this past Fall, I was introduced to her bass player, Liam McCormack. After a short conversation about the pop-punk bands onstage and how the feel of the evening and the other bands playing were very reminiscent, a group of us got to talking about music we once listened to and what we were into now. This became my introduction to McCormack’s solo project: yellowbirddd.
yellowbirddd came from transitional time in McCormack’s life that many of us find ourselves going through - up and moving from an area that you’ve grown-up in and called home for so long to find yourself in a new place, sometimes a new city, in search of different adventures. During this transition and while making these changes, yellowbirddd was given a real chance to become more of a priority and presence in McCormack's life. Though keeping busy with other projects and even while on the road with Weiss, McCormack has always found the time to write for yellowbirddd, and “highway birches” marks his third album and his best work to date. “The reason that I share my songs is because I really want people to hear them, and if I know that people are listening and relating and sharing them with their friends that might like them, that makes my day. It makes me so happy. I’ve gotten emails from people or talked to people at shows and they’re like, ‘yeah, my boyfriend and I, we listen to your record in the car,’ and that kind of blows my mind - it truly warms my heart. That’s [the same reason] why I also love music and songs - that connection, that relationship, those moments.”
It’s refreshing how humble and modest McCormack comes across while talking about his project, making nods to those who influence him and those who have helped him along the way, and to be honest, it’s the same air you feel while listening to his music. “highway birches” is just right - nothing is overpowering or taking away from McCormack’s guitar lines and heartfelt stories, as a fair amount of music these days can feel a bit too overproduced and overdone. This is something that McCormack takes into consideration when going into the studio to record, “I realized that I dig the minimal sound and keeping things simple.” It’s paid off, for sure. This latest album gives you the feel that you’d get listening to classic Bright Eyes songs, which the project’s name is an ode to, along with downright beautiful storytelling that you’d find from the likes of Kevin Devine, Andy Hull, or Owen. The stories that you’re listening to are full of relatable themes that resonate with people - love and heartbreak, missing and needing, and traveling throughout whatever life hands you.
each day i'm getting older
but sometimes i feel so young
and in my ear you whisper,
"this is what i was afraid of"
breathing deep through weeks that i can't handle
bring a coat and the flame from every candle
and take me away in an air balloon
where i will stay always safe beside you
When asked about “air balloon,” McCormack explained that this particular song was originally a part of his photographeddd series, where fans would send in pictures then he would write based around them, he especially liked the song and it later became a strong enough track for the latest album. When talking about the photograph itself, McCormack made a spot on observation: “The photo kind of struck me, there was kind of a loneliness - a melancholy and a beauty to it, which is kind of my musical aesthetic too. Even when my songs have a happier lyrical content or vibe, there is usually a sad quality or tone present as well.” Now, by no means should this steer you away from listening, as there’s a comfort and a calming that comes along with tunes like the ones from yellowbirddd; it’s a realization that you’re not alone in your feelings, which is something we all need to remind ourselves of more frequently.
what's all this moving done to my traveler's soul?
now i'm looking for a reason, i'm looking for a home
what's all this bleeding done to the heart on my sleeve?
now it's as hard as armor, and i do not believe in you
what has this culture done to my attention span?
now my brain feels like a broken hand
it can't hold anything
Those lyrics are from the title track of the album, which proves to be one of the highlights, starting out simply with McCormack warmly singing along to the picking of his guitar sharing the vulnerability of all the thoughts going on in our heads. “It was an old recording that I kept going back to. I see that song as having three sections with those three verses: the first being about how I had spent a year and a half on and off touring and not really living in a certain place and how I was looking forward to hanging out in one place for awhile. The second one is about a relationship that ended and how I healed and moved on from it while it also made me a bit more guarded. The last one is a bit more universal and cultural.” As we get to that third verse, there’s an addition of echoing background vocals that brings us to a crescendo leading into the song’s conviction, the purpose - the statement which pulls it all together, not as multiple thoughts, but as one realization: “not like what i felt with you.” This track encompassed the big ideas that McCormack wanted to share from the album, where a lot of his travel between Boston (which is near where he was raised) and New York (where he lives now) brought him time to think about decisions and transition that he was faced with, that we’re all faced with, thus why it became the title track. “You can write a song about somebody and it can mean a lot, and then time passes and it’s just a song, or maybe it’s something more than that. Or regardless, it could mean way more than that to some other person. That’s an interesting thing you find as a songwriter, my songs can come from random places sometimes, but you don’t know how somebody else is going to grab onto them.” As a listener I can assure you that these are songs that pull you back time and time again.
When not out on the road, McCormack enjoys spending time listening to his constantly growing record collection, which is a something he takes rather seriously noting that he likes to be able to own an album just on vinyl as versus other mediums, especially the ‘older’ records. “One of my favorites is ‘Cold Roses’ by Ryan Adams, that’s just such a good record and he did a lot of that live in the studio, and that was one of the first vinyl records that I bought. I have Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde,’ which I bought in Montreal the one time I was there, so that’s just kind of a special record for me.” Some of his other noteworthy records he mentioned are an old Bright Eyes 7” with ‘Motion Sickness’ on one side and ‘Soon You’ll Be Leaving Your Man’ on the other, which is a purchase that has me jealous, and The National’s ‘Boxer.’ Bright Eyes was mentioned again, along with Kevin Devine and Andy Hull, as artists that McCormack would feel truly honored to possibly open for one day when he was asked about his dream show line-up; I must say he twisted my words around on me, when I first mentioned that he’d be hypothetically headlining said gig. It says a lot when a person who creates music also truly has an appreciation of the same art by others.
As always, to finish my conversation with McCormack, it all came down to the final question I ask everyone I speak to. A Metric song has a very specific question in its lyrics that I love to borrow, “Who would you rather be - The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” McCormack quickly responded that he’d rather be The Beatles. Once stating this he mentioned that even though he may not have grown up having had a proper Beatles phase, he’s still standing strong with his response.
yellowbirdd has reached a sound that McCormack is truly happy with on this latest album “highway birches,” and he’s hoping to keep working in this direction while watching this project grow. His positive outlook on this project and, as previously stated, the fact the music keeps listeners coming back for more, makes me believe that yellowbirddd has truly passed the test.
|"highway birches" - artwork by Rob Baird: www.birdflewstudios.com.|
If you’d like to listen to or find out more about yellowbirdd, please follow the links below:
Photo credit: Esty Stein.