honeybird & the birdies: Don’t Believe Your Gynecologist

As if often the case, the inspiration behind honeybird & the birdies’ latest work of art was something “honeybird” was told by her gynecologist… honeybird is Monique Mizrahi and...

As if often the case, the inspiration behind honeybird & the birdies’ latest work of art was something “honeybird” was told by her gynecologist… honeybird is Monique Mizrahi and her band’s latest album is entitled You Should Reproduce [For the record, the advice was in regards to her age (35), not some creepy pickup line.]  The album was released last October and is a popularly quirky romp through some relatively heavy stuff, such as the ownership of one’s own physical mass and state funded genocide… among a handful of more delicate topics.  The album is a bizarre and I dare say, even “unique” blend of the festiveness of Tropicalia, the orchestration of musical theatre, punk’s attitude toward craft, and the lighthearted playfulness of indie pop (I’m often reminded of the best of the brilliant minds to barely break into the world of the “popular” for about an hour and a half sometime in 1993.)  The album was also the first from Italy to be funded by Kickstarter.

honeybird & the birdies are comprised of Monique, Paoloa “p-birdie” Mirabella (drums), and Federico “walktietalkie bird” Camici (bass).  The project began shortly after Monique moved from Los Angeles to Italy and the trio began writing the most bizarrely danceable (and beat-heavy) folk music you could imagine (Their press release describes them as “think The Jungle Book meets Pocahontas meets Iggy Pop”) that embrace ambiguity and the communal: they share vocal duties… which are carried out in English, French, Portuguese, and German… The band are yet to make a huge splash in the states, but they’ve gained quite a reputation in Europe, which they’ve toured several times over.  I recently got a chance to chat with Monique Mizrahi about honeybird & the birdies, in hopes that we can get that splash started.

Izzy Cihak: What are your most significant influences and inspirations, both musical and otherwise?  You are quite an eclectic and interesting amalgam of artistic movements and mediums.

Monique Mizrahi: Thank you! My most significant musical influence is expressiveness without holdbacks and hiccups, such as in the music of Perry Farrell, Tom Zé, Charles Mingus, Paul Simon, Os Mutantes, Violent Femmes, DEVO … those never afraid to be direct, honest, and risk it with their music, lyrics, and sounds. My most significant inspirations are the climaxes we can reach when energies are shared in concert, in nature, in creating. I find inspiration in courage.

Izzy: So you’re still relatively unknown in the US so, I have to ask: What is it that’s most important to know about honeybird & the birdies?

Monique: Good question! Well first off, know that we’re sweet like honey and quirky like birdies! Second off, know that the vibes onstage are off the hook – and off stage they’ll hook ya. We do look forward to becoming less relatively unknown in the US… with time…

Izzy: And what have been the highlights of the project, thus far?

Monique: The highlights have been the audiences, the lighting up of people’s faces, the dancing, the surprises, the colorful flower-and-boa-drenched stages, the reactions to our shenanigans, the puzzled faces to all the languages we sing in, the glow when we sing in someone’s language or dialect when and where they least expect it, the tasty sound and intensity of touring. Other highlights have been performing at Primavera Sound, alongside Tinariwen, Blur, Mulatu Astatke, The Breeders, and Grizzly Bear; performing in front of 700,000 people for May Day in Rome; and recently performing a song in Catalan on the national radio station of Catalunya (ICAT).

Izzy: Your latest album, You Should Reproduce, was the first album in Italy to be funded by Kickstarter, so I’m curious what you thought of this fan-funded process.  Was it exciting?  What you expected?  Would you do it again?

Monique: Ah, yes it was immensely exciting and also, of course, nerve-racking. This had never really been done in Italy (crowdfunding of an album) so we were really risking rejection by the Italian public at large. Our bass player, Federico, had done university research on crowdfunding, so he was gung-ho on trying it out, even with us as the scapegoats (or rather, scapebirds). And so, with an enormous amount of time, energy, and patience we made our Kickstarter video presentation, created some wacky wild rewards, and off we were. We surpassed our expectations with 150 co-producers and a campaign that got a ton of press here in Italy. Would we do it again? Keep your eyes out for the response in the coming month… We hope Philthy Mag and you, Izzy, can also partake!!!

[youtube http://youtu.be/jzzJre9V4L4]

Izzy: How do you feel like the album compares to your last LP, Mixing Berries, both sonically and in terms of the writing and recording process?

Monique: Well, Mixing Berries is more masturbatory (and perhaps a tad more psychedelic), whereas You Should Reproduce is more like a cosmic musical and sonic orgy. Meaning, for Mixing Berries, I was the main songwriter, recording engineer, mix engineer, publisher, “crowd” funder, and played nearly all of the overdubs. This was a beautiful growth process, of which much took place in my headphones in the wee hours of the night.

On the flipside, You Should Reproduce was recorded in six days live in a warm house in the mountains near Verona, then mixed in five days in Milano, primarily with no click track and no editing, with a few choice overdubs; the album is more the capturing of a performance. The songwriting process was also shared, often based on my initial idea/songstructure/lyric, followed by group rehearsing, arranging, and experimenting. The icing on the cake: the album was produced by someone we so admire and respect, Enrico Gabrielli, who helped bring out our maximum expression, both musically and sonically.

Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite album track, whether one you’re most proud of, one that best signifies where your future sounds might be headed, or just one that’s most fun to play live? I really love “Elastic Stares.”  It reminds me of ‘90s badasses like Liz Phair, Luscious Jackson, and Veruca Salt, filtered through a very DIY punk aesthetic.

Monique: Hey man, Liz Phair is awesome. You’re the first to ever compare us with her, thanks! Hmmm, as of today I would say I’m most proud of “You Should Reproduce” because I remember the gynecologist telling that to me. It was cathartic to write.  The most fun to play live? I’d say “East Village” with its turbo-charged ending in Yiddish.

Izzy: Your sound is so diverse that I would be perplexed to fathom what kind of stuff you actually listen to, so I’m curious if there are any other contemporary artists that you find to be especially interesting or inspiring, whether or not they are doing anything similar to yourselves.

Monique: Absolutely!  The new Cibo Matto single is exciting. I also quite like Nils Frahm, Akron/Family, tUnE-yArDs, Micachu and the Shapes, and a band called OY out of Switzerland/Ghana.

Izzy: And, finally, what are you planning and hoping for 2014?  Any chance of any US dates?  If so, what can be expected of the live experience?

Monique: Planning 2014 to be the most musical ever, with songs, lyrics, live performances, desires, and meanings resonating amongst the people. Yes, there is a high chance of US dates! The live experience is fresh with ginger chants and garlic charango in a tropical Pad Thai Percussive Melange. Look forward to a fine birdies’ concert and tasty Philly cheesesteak someday in your fine town!

Cheers and Grazie!!!

Band Interviews

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.