Bird Streets – Lagoon (Q&A)

‘With the circumstances surrounding this record, there was no choice but to go even deeper. ‘, says John Brodeur, and because the past few years have been difficult, Bird Street’s Lagoon has become a very personal, darkly colored, and intensely beautiful album.

Regrets, Addiction, Lost Loves, Despair. You don’t shy away from singing about the dark side of life on Lagoon.

I’ve always tried to be honest in my writing–to tell the listener something about myself, even when singing through a character or addressing another person. A lot of the “you” in my older songs could be sung into a mirror. With the circumstances surrounding this record, there was no choice but to go even deeper. A semi-conscious decision was made to write the majority in first-person and I think that makes it feel even more personal. This album is about some heavy adult shit. I tried my best to convey that gravity in my writing. As my marriage was breaking up and my life was flashing before my eyes, I remember having the self-effacing thought, “At least I’ll get a good record out of this.” If the measure of good is truth, I think I did ok.

Was it liberating to write “Ambulance”? I feel the emotion of that song all the way here in Utrecht.

It’s liberating just to put feelings into words; to put those words to music is a gift. The struggle is to tie complicated emotions together into neat little rhymes, and to weave them into a story without it just being verbal diarrhea. “Ambulance” very easily could have gone in that direction–it has a lot of phrases that run together without any real breaks, which can invite filler. I think setting that song in an unusual time signature helped keep me from overwriting. It’s good to create within limitations. Each line had to have a certain shape and rhythm. Part of the arc, for me, was trying to make every line hit harder than the one before it. By the end of the song, “harder”  means I’m screaming the same line over and over. That was some uncharted territory but it felt like the right move–what the song needed.

I think that with Bird Streets you have a unique sound, yet Lagoon has a completely different sound than the first album you made under this name. Was that the intention?

I rarely start a project with a particular style or sound in mind. The sessions for this record took place over three years, with a bunch of different producers and players and studios, versus just two guys in a room. So the sound is expansive by nature of there being a much larger cast of characters and ideas in the mix. Lagoon is definitely more of a “singer-songwriter” record than the last one. My only real goal was to stay out of the way of the songs and I think I did a decent job of that. It’s actually the first album I’ve made where I don’t play any drums! Stylistically it’s all over the place but the common thread is my voice, and this album has some of the best vocal performances I’ve ever recorded.

“Positively will only get me so far. And it’s a pretty low bar. When I am positively drowned, in tears, confirming my biggest fears.” That sentence jumps out from the first listen. How satisfying is it when you find the right words?

It’s such a rush when it all comes together. I’m always searching for a better way to say what I mean. Something like the line you quoted, from “Let You Down,” is really just a lucky break, a matter of where rhymes needed to happen to make the melody work. I don’t remember struggling too much with that song’s lyrics. But it took more than two years to get “Unkind” right. I wrote seven verses for “Sleeper Agent.” And the more succinct lyrics, like “Leave No Trace” and “SF 1993,” were a fantastic challenge, to try to say a lot with relatively little. I’m prone to editing and rewriting all the way into the vocal booth, which happened a bit on “Unkind,” and a lot on “Ambulance”–though that was more of a mathematics problem. On the first Bird Streets record, I changed the lyrics after a song was “finished” on more than one occasion, much to Jason’s chagrin. Whatever it takes to make the song better.

Your emotions or the emotions of the people you sing about have now gone public. That’s exciting, don’t you think?

“Exciting” is one way to put it. I was actually a bit terrified for the last few months. The fear I speak about in “Sleeper Agent,” of confessing something personal because it will make that thing more real, is a fear I experienced for months leading up to this record. Every day, it was me wondering if this was something people would want to listen to, trying to decide how much was too much when it came to guts-spilling. There are really only two people in these songs, and one of them is speaking to you currently, while the other one hasn’t heard the record, though they are aware of its existence. I was on the fence about including a few of these songs until the very last minute, because of how direct they are. But now it’s all out in the world for anyone to hear–which honestly feels like a relief. It’s like a form of closure.

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