Exploring human elements
Local multi-instrumentalist Mary-Lee Bird would like to remind us that we are all humans, ones that have a commitment to preserve the world we walk on. This keepsake is present on her latest album The Last Honey Bee, a piano-centered ska folk collection that has Bird reminiscing about human’s damage to earth as well as their own relationships.
“It’s a concept album like, everything I do is a large concept,” Bird says. “It has to do with the destruction of the environment and how the bees were dying, but it’s also a conflict narrative concept.”
When she says “conflict narrative concept,” she is alluding to the traditional narrative archetypes of man versus man, man versus nature, man versus self, and so on.
“Humans in relation to other humans, their mental functions and the environment. I try to have a global inclusivity with my themes. A lot of experiences, as much as they are unique, everyone goes through these sort of conflicts. We all relate in different ways, but we struggle together,” she adds.
Songwriting and music have been a part of Bird’s identity for quite sometime. While growing up in Hinton, AB, Bird learned piano from her father who played in a bar cover band. In early adulthood she began singing and honing her craft.
After meeting various band members from local jazz and blues jams, Bird released her 2014 debut album, Setting Up The Carnival, under the Mary-Lee Bird Band.
Setting Up The Carnival was also a concept album which focused on relationships with addiction, ideology, identity, and saw Bird finding her unique indie sound.
Much of the debut album was rooted in experimentation while The Last Honey Bee is much more consistent and concise.
“Part of it was me evolving as a player and us becoming more comfortable as a band,” Bird says. “There’s more organ and synth and I got more confident as a player.”
Her vocals have also gotten stronger, as heard on “Who’s Your Best Friend,” a jumpy jazz ballad ending in a speedy and boisterous jam that demands dancing.
Another song that stands out is “We Keep Our Guns Young,” an angsty ska anthem that also features an ending jam with steady drums and piano.
“We’re a pretty big jam band, especially for showcasing,” Bird says. “The live show is a lot different than the albums. Our bassist, Angela, comes from a burlesque background so she loves to amp it up with solos and trombone interludes. It’s a journey we didn’t know we were going to take.”
The Mary-Lee Bird Band also frequently collaborates with tap dancer, Barbara Vargas, adding another rhythmic quality to the sound and live show. Since Bird’s main drummer Kris Bridge relocated to Germany, the tap dancing has handled much of the live show’s percussive element.
The album art on both Setting Up The Carnival and The Last Honey Bee features a cartoon clown version of Bird, something she hopes will remain consistent during her evolving songwriting career.
“She’s also a concept, too, and those are still elements of me,” Bird says. “The whole clown thing comes from my study in clown and my interest as it being a part of your inner identity and your inner child.”
Sat., June 17 (9 pm)
Cabeeret (by the Mary-Lee Bird Band
The Forge on Whyte, $10