After completely slaying the UK & Europe on their recent May 2010 tour that saw them call in at The Great Escape, Stag & Dagger and a superb you’ll-claim-you-were-there showing at Brixton’s The Windmill, the mighty Tweak Bird announce their debut album for release in August 2010.
“I’m pretty excited about the positivity and heaviness of it,” says Tweak Bird’s drummer Ashton Bird about his band’s self-titled album, “Because we’re happy and we’re playing heavy music. And it doesn’t seem like people are doing that very much.”
Ashton and his brother Caleb make up the Illinois-based duo, sometimes expanded to a three-piece, and even they have trouble explaining whether they fit into any scene. “When we play with heavy bands, in my mind I’m thinking ‘what a great bill!’” says Caleb, the older of the pair, “But we’re not that heavy. Play with a pop band and I’m all ‘hey, they write pop songs like us’.”
Yet no one writes pop songs quite like Tweak Bird. Take single ‘The Sun/Ahh Ahh’ (due June 7). Kicked forward by a nagging, tough riff before peaking halfway, then gently spiralling away in an extended saxophone solo by the featured John McCowan, it’s a scream to a whisper, an inversion of the usual formula. ‘Flyin’ High’ adds the unexpected colour of a frail flute. More conventional is ‘Beyond’, Ashton’s favourite track, a rush of pure excitement that, like most of their songs, doesn’t even scrape the three-minute mark. “We have short attention spans and big ideas,” laughs Ashton, “We like to get our jobs done.”
Their sound is different too. Caleb plays a baritone guitar, pitched (and sized) halfway between a regular guitar and bass and most often used by early surf bands. “I didn’t even know they existed when we started out,” he says, “But I always wanted something heavier.” Now he regularly faces questions from curious fans, laughing at the suggestion that he might start a trend.
Alongside him the powerhouse Ashton knows that drums are not for tapping. “The secret’s in my arms,” he jokes, “Most drummers are into having a good sounding drum set, but to me most drums sound good if you hit them hard. That’s my trick.”
Tweak Bird, produced by regular collaborators Deaf Nephews- Dale Crover and Toshi Yasai of the Melvins, who also worked on 2008’s mini-album Reservations- features beats as tough as the Birds’ fraternal harmonies are ethereal. Recorded in less than a week, the record regularly returns to themes of space travel and escape, the raucous astral optimism of ‘Lights In Line’ and ‘Sky Ride’ evocative of lost sixties psychedelic dreamers like KAK and Population II.
“For the last year we were touring, and it was inspired by moving round a lot, concedes Caleb. Another influence is less obvious. “I was listening to a lot of T Rex,” he confesses, “I love Marc Bolan’s songwriting technique- pretty much a guitar groove with weird little ditties on top. Pop music at its purest.”
They are less convinced by perennial Black Sabbath comparisons. “That never bothers me. Why would it?” says Ashton, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t really believe it. The Bird brothers are self-effacing to a fault. Yet brothers they are, responding to cues onstage with expressions that range from delight to fury. They’re just as unpredictable offstage. “When we’re not playing music we’re arguing about something,” says Caleb. “We bring friends along on tour which brings the tension down.”
But it’s the tension that makes their sound so intriguing. Clad in one of the great mock-heroic sleeves, Tweak Bird defies easy categorisation, sometimes frenetic, sometimes ominous, always joyous. “Don’t look back. The future’s coming,” goes the jokey/boastful, speaker-stretching opener ‘The Future’. It’s pop alright, but not as we know it.