Austin Roa – Jade Bird Hotstar
A few years ago, British singer-songwriter on the rise Jade Bird was sitting in a pub in Camden, North London, with her managers Sam Eldridge and Chris Kasa of UROK Management, plotting out dreams.
Sign with an American record label. Work with producers like Nashville’s Dave Cobb. Move to the U.S.
Check, check and check. If it seemed like a fairytale at the time, it’s all come true now for the 23-year-old artist who has since recorded two albums with Glassnote Records, the latest produced by Cobb, and moved to Austin, Texas, where her American story comes full circle.
“It is a dream come true when you think that myself, Chris and Jade sat in that pub and said, ‘All right, we’re going to go and do this, and do it in America,” Eldridge tells Pollstar. “For all that to have come true over the last few years is so inspiring and something we’re really, really proud of.”
Jade Bird performed in her first South By Southwest showcase in 2017, returning the next year for shows all over the city and ultimately winning the festival’s Grulke Prize as best developing non-U.S. artist.
Within a year, she’d released two hit singles: the debut “Uh Huh” and “Lottery” from her eponymous debut that followed an extended EP fittingly called Something American. “Lottery” topped Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart and earned airplay on such tastemaking platforms as KCRW in Los Angeles, Minnesota Public Radio’s extensive network of stations, KXT in Texas, and elsewhere.
Bird acknowledges that the radio breakout, particularly on public radio formats, raised her profile beyond influential early fans like Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Hozier and Father John Misty, all of whom brought her on tour soon after arrival in the U.S.
“I love radio there. And I’m a huge fan of the NPR format,” Bird tells Pollstar. “I think it gives artists who are either new or, like me, British, exposure in astounding places like Minneapolis. One of my favorite shows was at First Avenue. It was one of the highlights of my life, let alone a touring show, because of the local support.”
Radio support might bring new fans through the door once, but only a compelling live show brings them back. Minneapolis is a good example of Bird’s artist development in the market: Her first show in the city, at the 591-capacity Fine Line Music Cafe, sold 535 tickets for a gross of $7,763 on Oct. 6, 2018. Almost a year later to the date, she returned to Minneapolis, headlining that First Avenue show and moving 950 tickets for $17,250.
Though she was only the ripe old age of 19 at the time, Bird had already developed a stage presence and live show from the time she was barely in her teens.
Gary Miller / Getty Images – Jade Bird
FULL CIRCLE: Jade Bird tapes an episode of “Austin City Limits” at ACL Live on June 14, her latest performance in the Live Music Capital Of The World, where she now lives.
“Yeah, I was 13, 14 when I played my first show,” Bird says. “Oh, my God, I used to have to play competitions because they wouldn’t let me play pubs and bars because I was too young. Competitions were always a bit demoralizing. So I was playing very, very sad songs at that point. And I always got turned away from the rounds, like you do basically, which is fine.”
There’s sad songs, and then there’s the blues. Bird, who’d always led something of an itinerant life between a military father and, after her parents’ divorce, moving around England with her mother and grandmother, moved to London at 16 and began her real-world musical education.
“I got a residency in a blues bar,” she says. “And that’s really how I got my higher register, and my whole belting, shouty songs, I call them in jest. They all came from watching big burly guys do it on a Friday and Saturday. And I wanted to be on a Friday, and Saturday was the biggest night.”
It wasn’t just the influence of the “big, burly guys” – she’d also learned she had to project her voice to be heard over the typical din of the pubs.
She gigged for two years while attending the BRIT School, which counts alumni including Adele, Amy Winehouse, FKA Twigs, Imogen Heap and Jessie J among its numbers. It was during her last year at the BRIT School that she recorded a demo that landed in Eldridge’s hands.
“I was very ambitious as a kid, and still am, to do it and to work for it,” Bird says. Eldridge heard the demo, met Bird and saw those qualities. In turn, he called his friend Daniel Glass, President and founder of influential Glassnote Records in the U.S.
Glass was won over instantly by the brash, precocious young singer. It didn’t hurt, either, that Glass had long been an admirer of Eldridge, whom he considers to have “great taste.” And it also didn’t hurt that he considers himself a bit of an Anglophile, developing his ear as a DJ and with his own formative years at Chrysalis Records. But those factors didn’t necessarily mean Bird was an automatic signing.
“Sam has brought me music before that I didn’t think could spread to the world and be global. And I remember the first time, I believe Jade might have been 17 or 18 when I first heard her music, I found it hard to believe she was from the UK and not from Tennessee or Mississippi. She just felt like a kindred spirit with that.
“So she came to my office and played,” Glass continues. “And that’s normally a very uncomfortable, somewhat artificial scene because I think it’s unfair to the artist. And it was pretty special when she played for us. I asked her, ‘Why are you so utterly uninhibited and where does this fearlessness come from?’ When she was like 14 or 15, her mother brought her to clubs in Camden and in various parts of London and said, ‘Go in and play.’ And I think if you can get over that, the bars and the pubs and the scene of hecklers and people talking and doing all that stuff, I think you could overcome anything.”
With a label signing secured, Eldridge’s team at UROK went to work finding Bird agency representation. They reached out to Paradigm Talent Agency’s London office that, in turn, called on Keith Levy in what was then Paradigm’s Nashville office (Paradigm’s North American business was sold to Wasserman Music earlier this year). Levy’s reaction to Bird was much like Glass’s.
“Two colleagues of ours in London, Alex Hardee and Olly Hodgson, represent her in the UK and Europe and, really, the rest of the world,” Levy says. “They sent us a couple of YouTube videos. And they were kind of amateur videos of her at some random club. She was 17 years old and had just secured a really strong management team. UROK works with Liam Gallagher and they’re really great. So they sent those videos over to us and Alex just said, ‘You have to sign this girl.’
“Usually it’s a dialog like, ‘We just found this act we’d like for you to check out. What do you think?’ But this was like, ‘You have to do this.’ And I had never had them say that to me. We hadn’t heard any of the music, it was almost sight unseen. We just had these two videos. We were like, ‘All right, if you’re that passionate, sure.’ And we got lucky.”
After performing only sporadically during her school years, Bird and her team told her new agents she wanted to start working right away.
“I just basically said, ‘You get me as many gigs as you possibly can.’ And I think we did three gigs a day for seven days,” Bird says, laughing. “Young adrenaline carried you through because we literally did three or four gigs a day. But it was one of the best weeks in my life. It was so much fun.”
Bird and her managers decided it was important for her to have autonomy over her music, which is another reason they approached Glass.
“I didn’t want labels to have creative control,” Bird says. “So I asked for a bunch of producers. They always joke because I wrote them a list of everything I wanted, producers and who I wanted to tour with. And I brought all these colored pens to our first meeting. They always kind of laugh about it and they really admired how even then I knew what I wanted to do.”
On her wish list was Simone Felice, who has produced records for The Lumineers, The Felice Brothers and Bat For Lashes, among others. Bird recorded some of her first demos and her first EP with Felice.
Terry Wyatt / Getty Images Americana Music Association – Jade Bird and Daniel Glass
AMERICANA DREAM: Glassnote Records President/CEO Daniel Glass and protege Jade Bird participate in an Americana Music Association panel, “Breaking Through the Noise: A Conversation on Artist Development,” during AmericanaFest on Sept. 11, 2019.
“And then I went and met with people like Daniel Glass and Rob Stringer from Columbia and tried to work out who was best for me,” Bird explains. “And it just so happened that my work ethic and ambition aligned with Glassnote. And I loved who was on the label. I loved Daughter and Mumford and Sons. And I thought it was a really good home for me at that point.”
After first putting Bird on a European tour with Tom Odell, Levy and the team began booking her at “tastemaker” events in the U.S. including SXSW and Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion. She was quickly embraced into a circle of friends that now includes early tourmates Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile, and felt the pull of America as her future home.
“Usually, when we’re booking a global artist, there’s always a discussion about who gets the first bite of the apple. Are you going to go do the first big tour right when the album comes out in Europe and the UK? Or do you do it in America?” Levy says of their early touring strategy. “The answer for Jade has always been America. They’ve always prioritized this territory, which is really unique for an artist that isn’t from here, and I think is also a really smart strategy for her and her music.
“It’s the stuff she loves,” he continues. “The first time we met, she was talking about Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow, but also Chris Stapleton. And she was in awe of Dave Cobb and everything he was doing, Sturgill Simpson, Isbell, Brandi. Then they met, and he’s now produced her latest record. She knew she wanted to be here, and it was all very intentional. She wanted to take in everything that happens here. And I think that informs how she sounds.”
Nashville and Austin are integral to the Jade Bird story. She’s steeped in American music whether it’s artists she loves like Shakey Graves, Chris Stapleton or Dolly Parton – who she’s met and sang with – or those who helped create opportunities for her at places like Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe or by introducing her to Dave Cobb and his brother, Chris, who plays on her new record, Different Kinds Of Light, which she recorded with the help of the Cobb brothers in Nashville.
“One of the first things we did before she was even signed was we spent a lot of time in Nashville and in Austin writing, meeting people there. And that’s actually where we met Keith Levy. And I really felt like they took her under their wings, and it’s been a dream for us,” Eldridge says.
So it came as no surprise to her team when she decided to move to the U.S. last year, despite the fact that the COVID pandemic was beginning to rage globally. After an unexpected quarantine-related layover in Mexico City, Bird has settled in Austin.
“It definitely seemed like a logical next step and a big part of the reason was to get over here during COVID to avoid any obstacles in terms of going back and forth. So whether those be visa issues with Brexit or COVID issues with quarantines, she wanted to be here,” Levy explains. “For me, it’s felt lucky because this is the territory where I am responsible for her and we don’t have obstacles in our way that we do for other artists that are based here in Texas. So it’s been very helpful from that perspective.”
But the move did not come without drama. At one point she was visiting Mexico City and wound up in a quarantine there. But eventually she set up a home in Austin, where it all began for her in the United States, and comes full circle with her appearance on “Austin City Limits” that will air on PBS stations Oct. 9.
In the meantime, Different Kinds Of Light was released Aug. 13 to critical praise, topping the UK Americana charts and spawning three singles to date: the title track, “Open Up The Heavens” and “Now Is The Time.”
After a run of festivals and other soft-ticket shows including XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, N.J.; Trans-Pecos Festival Of Music & Love at El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas; Ohana Fest in Dana Point, Calif., and Bluebird Festival in Denver, Jade Bird hits the road Sept. 28 at The Independent in San Francisco and visits markets including Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., and a homecoming visit at Austin City Limits Festival.
She’ll wrap her North American leg at Old Settler’s Music Festival in Tilmon, Texas, Oct. 22 before taking a break. Then it’s off to the UK beginning March 19 at O2 Forum Kentish Town in London and running through March 31 at O2 Academy in Leeds.
Bird and her team are anxious to get back in front of live audiences, where she thrives.
“The strength of Jade Bird, besides her music, is Jade live – whether it’s in concert, doing a livestream, or an appearance in your conference room,” Glass says. “There’s nothing like that. She has been hampered during the pandemic by not being the full Jade Bird.”
Glass acknowledges she’s been strong with her newly released music and doing very well in the Americana world and on non-commercial, alternative radio, but she can’t be truly appreciated until she’s out there playing live whether solo with a guitar, in a duet situation or with her full band. Her shows will showcase all three.
”I’m noticing with her going back out there, it’s all going to perk up, which is why we’re going to be adding songs to the album as it evolves. So you’re going to start seeing songs in addition to this, perhaps a duet, perhaps a remix from this record as it evolves,” Glass says. “We’re very happy with the way things are going … it’s a reflection of what’s going on with her life.”