interview with Joe Waldbillig
by Teri Barr
Bird's Eye at the High Noon Saloon
photo by BMB Graphics
This is one sneaky band. Bird’s Eye lures you in with its positive energy, which is driven by some great live musicians. Then, wham; you are hit hard with a positive hip hop vibe, delivered with a funky, fresh beat. You’ll get the chance to check out this group at this year’s two-day AtwoodFest. Bird’s Eye plays the Alchemy Stage on Sunday, July 26th. I recently asked guitar player Joe Waldbillig what to expect during the band’s AtwoodFest show, how they find time for music, and why their busy lives have led to a divide and conquer attitude.
Maximum Ink: You have some multi-talented musicians! Six people singing and playing almost ten different instruments?
Joe Waldbillig: Yeah, Bird’s Eye consists of Ra Fury, and yes that is his real name! He is our emcee/vocalist/lyracist. I’m on electric guitar, Evan Nelson plays bass guitar, Lauren Johnson covers vocals, saxaphone, and piano. We have Sean Peyton on drums, and Hannah Larson is also a vocalist, plays piano, and auxiliary percussion.
MI: How do you describe your music?
JW: Bird’s Eye is a six piece live hip hop group with heavy soul and funk influence. We like to think we sound like The Roots. Here’s how someone else wrote our description for facebook: “The rhythm section—featuring Evan’s explorative bass, Sean’s refined drumming, and Lauren adorning the mix with keys, vocals and sax—builds a groove-driven foundation for Ra Fury’s cutting lyricism, Joe’s wah-wah counterpoint on guitar, and Hannah’s soulful lead-singing.”
MI: What’s the band’s background?
JW: We’ve all been interested in music as long as any of us can remember, and I helped start my first band in high school. “Dream Inspired By Flight” is how I met Evan, and Alex Roberts (drummer for local band legends “Steez” and “The Central”). I went to college and studied nothing related to music, but instead focused on molecular bio and biochem. Still, a lot of my friends in college were jazz majors, so we did jam at some of the bars. I came home to Madison after graduating, started another band with Evan called “Xanadu,” while Evan was also in an early version of “Bird’s Eye.” Guitarists left, and Evan asked me to fill in. I’d never played in a funk, soul, or hip hop group in my life, but thought it would be good to play outside of my comfort zone. Eventually, the old “Bird’s Eye” disbanded, and a new lineup was formed. The only original members, Sean and Evan, asked a bunch of friends with musical ability to get together. Ra, Joe, Lauren, and Hannah all joined, and we started from scratch, song-wise.
MI: And after all that effort, are you a full-time band?
JW: No, for the most part, we all have jobs or are in school. I’m actually using my bio and chem education, working at a tincture lab in Madison. Ra is a waiter and bartender at Tutto Pasta on State Street, Sean works at The Great Dane downtown. Hannah is a graphic design student and interns at a local company, but-also works part time at Side Door Restaurant and Bar downtown. Lauren is an interior designer at Nonns Design showroom, and Evan is a student majoring in German and education Plus, we are a self-run band, so we split up all of the work related to Bird’s Eye: Ra, Joe, and Lauren get the shows booked, and handle band inquiries. Ra and Joe also handle finances. Evan does a lot of the social media and updates to Soundcloud, while Hannah does all the original artwork, and is working with a friend to build our website. It’s our divide and conquer mentality!
MI: What about Bird’s Eye makes you proud to be in this band?
JW: We have quickly built a relatively large fan-base of great people who are always there to support us. This is also the first band I’ve been with that isn’t playing all dive bars. (Hey, nothing wrong with those!) But just the fact a lot of the local venues know who we are, and ask us to play, and we don’t have to try and squeeze our way onto a show’s bill. It feels good.
MI: Does the band have short, and long-term goals?
JW: Sure, and at #1 is HAVE FUN! Our second, and every-show-goal is to make people dance!
Third is to write music that is thought-provoking and interesting, from both a musician and non- musician point of view. We want it digestible, but not watered down. A longer-term goal, to record an LP, is actually happening at the end of this summer; and for our final, immediate goal, refer to #1!
MI: Why should people check out Bird’s Eye at AtwoodFest?
JW: When it gets right down to it, we love to provide a show that will make people smile and have a good time, which usually involves dancing. We have an energy we give off with different songs; from super energetic and fun, to more serious and somtimes somber subject matter that points the looking glass at real issues. Most of our songs are originals, but we do have a couple renditions of songs. The word cover leaves a sour taste in our mouths so we instead break apart some popular songs, and rearange them in new ways, to breath our own air into them. Sometimes we mashup two songs together. It is fun to add your own personal flavor, and the crowd likes to hear some of their favorite songs with new surprises. We also involve the crowd in some songs. We’ll bring people on stage to lay down some freestyles on certain songs!
MI: Anything people may not know about Bird’s Eye?
JW: Well, before all the new, current members; the band used to sound like Lincoln Park. We find it funny now, just based on how much our sound has changed. I guess it makes sense if you basically get all new band members?!