Having listened to Edmonton-based singer/songwriter Kaley Bird’s latest album before our interview, it was clear that the honest voice on the album was the same one talking to me on the phone. Bird released her second album, Don’t Say You’re Sorry, on Jan. 10, 2014. The 10-track record was inspired by the experiences, and particularly the struggles, that defined her career since her debut self-titled release in 2008.
Bird’s producer Russell Broom compares her style to a prairie-folkie Morrissey, and each track focuses on themes of personal growth and moving forward. The record is classified as alternative country, or contemporary folk, but she is not limited to those genres.
Her unique vocals and varying arrangements and melodies create a unique atmosphere for each song. Bird’s willingness to be honest with herself and her audience about her personal experiences make for a solid record.
Bird’s musical career started with small open mic opportunities throughout the summer following her first year of university, which led to a radio-funded grant that financed her debut record.
“After my first record I toured for three years non-stop and I had been across Canada a couple times. After the last tour, I ended up producing a successful festival called SOS Fest,” Bird said.
As the primary director and driving force behind SOS Fest, Bird built the Canadian music festival from the ground up, with the help of artists and collaborators. After a successful first year, Bird pursued other contracts and opportunities outside of the festival. Her resignation caused the festival to crumble.
“I’ve had bad breakups and been hurt before, but when I was no longer able to work with that project, it was really hard on me. I was like, ‘This is worse than any breakup.’ It was something I had worked on so hard, for so long,” she said.
Her experience with the festival inspired “SOS,” the seventh song from the record, and a definite highlight on the album.
Following her heartbreaking experience with the festival, Bird moved away from her hometown and took a well-deserved break from the music scene. Her own favourite track from the record, “Not Feeling This,” reflects her desire to move on.
“When I was writing it, I was in a bit of rut, and I just knew I was in need of change, and not to get caught up with myself. It speaks really true to me and how I approach things,” she said.
During her time abroad, she continued to write and began entering casual pre-production sessions for her record with Broom. It took her two years, but when it was completed, she knew she was ready to re-enter the music scene.
“We work on the songs and we get them up to where we feel the arrangements are really good, the keys are really good, the tempos are right. Sometimes you have to sit with that for a little bit in order to really know if that’s the right direction for the song or not,” Broom said.
He describes the recording process as done in spurts. They met regularly during the course of a month, but did not see each other for six weeks following their sessions. The result is a perspective on the recorded material that may not have developed otherwise, “a deeper sense of if the song feels right or not,” he said.
Bird admits the order of the songs on her album have definite purpose. She wanted to grow from her resignation at SOS Fest, move away to rebuild herself, and come out in the end with an ultimate passion for music and a love for her hometown.
The closing track for the album, “Song for Matt,” is dedicated to Matt Cook, a high school friend of hers and a promising junior hockey player. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the same cancer that cost Terry Fox his leg, Cook transitioned to sledge hockey after his own leg had to be amputated. He had hoped to compete in the 2010 Paralympic Games, but his cancer spread and he died a month after the Games were finished.
Cook serves as an important source of inspiration for Bird. “Whenever I feel sorry for myself and my ‘poor touring artist lifestyle,’ I always just think of how lucky I am and how there is no reason for me to complain,” she said.
Overall, her album represents “moving on to the next best thing,” she said. The mix of acoustics, guitar, and soothing vocals makes for an honest, emotional listening experience.
“Every single song I write is about me—directly or indirectly related to an experience I had. It’s therapeutic for myself, and helps me reflect on it and deal with it.”
Bird plans to continue touring throughout the summer, and finding a balance in her life in the midst of pursuing music actively.
“I always feel like the best is coming. The songs reflect where I was, not where I am now. I don’t find it hard to be public about it, because those experiences don’t define me. It’s liberating and exciting.”