I meet Kellie (AKA Birdwoman) in her apartment on a Saturday afternoon. Her newly released album And Then The Day Came (2019) is a folk, bluesy and gypsy rock journey. It brings us deep inside the mind and heart of a songwriter with amazing talent and a huge soul. It’s just us in the living room, but the presence of Kellie’s daughter is everywhere, embraced by Birdwoman’s musical instruments, CDs, art tools and artworks. This is the home of an artist, but also of a mom and her kid.
Who is Birdwoman?
“I am a hopeful human/ this is my religion/ nothing can bring me down/ Not when I’m the glorious soaring Birdwoman”. I went through a particularly difficult time after I recorded And Then The Day Came. I had an operation and for months I couldn’t sing any of the songs I had written. When I listened back to these lyrics from the song Birdwoman I realised that she is who I want to be as a presence in the world. I don’t really separate who I am and my artistic self, they’re very much the same person. Birdwoman is an emblem of hope, an emblem of community, in a world with a lot of cynicism and I like to really chat to my audience in a vulnerable way. There are still parts of her that I need to grow into… she’s a work in progress. Birdwoman is an artist who wears her heart on her sleeve and isn’t afraid to share it with the audience and create a very intimate experience with them.
What are the major obstacles faced by women musicians/artists today?
The problem isn’t arising within the women themselves. We make art, we’re in the arts. We know we deserve this space and we’re taking it up. I think we struggle because the industry has been so male dominated for so long and there’s a very male energy there. Women are already in power and they’re creating amazing work. There are so many women in music now. We’re taking over but we’re still not getting the headline slots.
Society still tends to impose motherhood as the inevitable/obvious life model for women. What is your advice to fellow artists in that regard?
I spoke recently with a musician who would like to have kids but she’s terrified she’s gonna forget herself as an artist. What I said to her is that she will forget herself for a couple of years, but she will be happy. Women who really want to have children are still afraid of losing themselves because the balance of raising the child is never equal. I think women feel so much pressure and turn away from having children because it’s very hard for us to have a career break in our thirties, we’re just about to begin climbing up and then we have to start again. It’s not easy for women to come back on the ladder afterwards. I think this is another example of how things are very unbalanced in society, and some women don’t want that, that’s not the life they want.
Has motherhood transformed or changed your approach to art?
Motherhood changes everything. Absolutely everything. But it hasn’t changed the way I create my art, I just have a lot less time to make it! [laughs]. That’s the truth. In terms of time, motherhood has affected my ability to go out there on the scene a lot, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m not gigging as much. For a while I thought I needed to stop making art and just focus on my daughter, but then I got depressed and I realised that if I’m not making music I’m gonna be a shit mom. I can’t live that life. It would be easier, but not really in the long run. And I know that the more art I make, the more fascinated my daughter is with what I’m doing and the more art she starts to make. The more exposure she gets to it, the more she sees it as a way of life. And that was kind of my big goal as a parent: I just want art to be like breathing for my daughter, I don’t want it to be a big thing, but just what we do. And what strength points/gifts has motherhood given you that you didn’t have before? Being a mother is the greatest journey I have ever gone on as a human. As an artist I am constantly drawing on my humanness and my weaknesses to create my art, and being a mother I am constantly finding myself completely out of my depth, I’m constantly being challenged, constantly raising my own bar to become a better and better human. It definitely made me more confident as a person and as an artist and it’s also teaching me to be more prolific because I have to grab every moment I can to create. It’s like “you have two hours, GO! GO!”
What is the relationship with your daughter approaching your work? How do you communicate it to her?
It’s complex, because when I really get into a project, my daughter becomes more needy. She knows that there’s something coming up that maybe, for a little bit of time, will feel more important than she is to me. She’d start creating more messes, more noise, so it’s about constantly trying to find the balance between wanting to lose myself in something for a few hours but also having this child going “she loves that work more than she loves me right now”, which is true because for that moment this thing is all I’m seeing. I want my daughter to know that that doesn’t mean I don’t love her, it just means right now, this thing is the only thing my brain is thinking of, because I love it and it makes me really happy, and I’m like “if I’m happy, who’s happy too?” and she’s like “me?” and I’m like “exactly”. I kind of have to neutralise my art with her, to show her this isn’t a threat, she’s still really important to me. Sometimes she starts to mirror what I’m doing, she’d go back into her room and come back and she’s like “I’ve written a poem, do you wanna hear it?” and I’m like “YES! More than anything!!” cause she knows I’ll put all my tools down to listen to that. So the more art I create, the more art she creates. I have a kid who I know will be very much into joining me on tour and probably come on stage with me at some point. My dream is her side by side with me.
What are Birdwoman’s plans for the future?
I really want my next music project to be a comedy punk album about Motherhood [laughs]. I am also in the process of creating a night called “The Birdbitch Art Bash”, which is going to be a night of live art. It will be a way to present the artwork from the album, but there will also be other artists creating visual art during the show. The music industry is so saturated at the moment that it’s hard for a woman to break through anyway, so I’m trying to find new angles of doing performances and to bring all the elements of what I do as an artist, not just the music, into play. I write theatre, I make films, I make visual art, so it’s a whole night, a happening, an evening with Birdwoman. If you had to sum it up, what are you ultimately trying to communicate in your music and art? You’re fine. You’re human. And everything you’re feeling is completely fine. We’re all feeling it. Stop freaking out that you’re a weirdo. You’re not. You’re fine.
Birdwoman’s latest album is available on Bandcamp at: birdwoman.bandcamp.com
Words: Chiara Viale