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Quick Q&A With Andrew Bird

You began your career playing classical, and you’re returning to those roots with a tour of orchestra collaborations. Why now?
I’ve been considering this for a long time. I’m classically trained, but I haven’t really looked back at that world since I left music school 22 years ago. It’s complicated, my relationship with classical (laughs). But I’m very attuned to tone and texture, and the orchestra is the ultimate instrument.

Are there songs that naturally make sense for a set list in a show like this?
Certain time signatures lend themselves better to the orchestra. I do “Weather Systems” every night, and it has a lot of Debussy and Ravel in it. The groovier, backbeat kind of songs—you’re never going to be totally happy with how those sound in that setting. So we’ll string six or seven songs together with some interstitial music to expand on the themes. Hopefully, it will feel like a long suite of music. But honestly, I don’t know what it’s going to sound like.

You’re known for employing a lot of electronic looping in your shows. Is that possible to do in front of an orchestra?
We’re going to try! I have, for instance, an octave pedal that generates lower frequencies so I can get a cello sound, and it sounds pretty good. But there’s nothing like five double basses and a cello section playing pizzicato. It’ll be a trip to finally hear that. We’ll experiment with passing the loop off to the orchestra and playing through a spinning speaker. I’ve been developing that technique for almost 15 years now, and it’s become an extension of how I play. I’ve never grown tired of it.

What finally made you decide you were ready to do this?
I’ve been approached by a lot of orchestras in the last five or six years, and I kept putting it off, thinking, You know, that’s a big endeavor, and I’m not ready right now. I’ve got my own thing, and I’m happy with that. But in another sense, it seemed obvious that I’d do this eventually, and I wanted to have it come from my own curiosity. It’s a bigger project than just merging an indie band with strings and getting an arranger. We’re using the orchestra as the band. I think of it like, Imagine Joshua Bell sings his own songs.

Comiskey joined the magazine in 2006, shortly after completing an MA in journalism at Indiana University. During graduate school, he served as arts & culture editor of the Indiana Alumni Magazine and wrote for newspapers throughout the state. Comiskey’s long-form features have won a number of Society of Professional Journalists Awards, and have taken him inside sperm banks, across the country in a semi, and to the home of the world’s smallest books. He lives in Zionsville with his wife and three children.

Email him at [email protected]