“To me, living in L.A. has made me want to write songs about escape,” says Tweak Bird singer/guitarist Caleb Bird. “And travel, and things larger than our existence on Earth. I think Los Angeles is a perfect city for that comparison of humans as tiny ants all busy doing this or that all day, not taking enough time to look up at the sky and wonder what it all means sometimes.”
With the advent of Tweak Bird, Caleb and Ashton Bird's first full-length album, out this week on Volcom, we in Los Angeles may no longer be able to claim the brothers' mind-blowing aural assault for ourselves. It's produced by Dale Crover from the Melvins and Toshi Kasai from Big Business (collectively known as the Deaf Nephews), and there are a number of Tweak Bird's new melodies that the whole country will find itself randomly humming at work or at a stop sign.
We recently caught up with Caleb between gigs to try to decipher the uniqueness of the signature Tweak Bird sound. “Seems like we're always tinkering with our sound,” he says. “Maybe having a unique sound comes from not having any preconceived notion of what you want your sound to be. We just play heavy, sing pretty and stay delusional as to whether it's any good or not!”
While the previously noted KYUSS influence is still pretty clear, Tweak Bird maintain enough of their pre–West Coast, Midwestern roots and crunch to keep from getting too intolerably hippie with their infectious sonic optimism. Caleb's baritone guitar and Ashton's “I hit them hard, that's my trick” drum kit from the Reservations EP are back to deliver their most inventive version of hardcore pop music yet.
“We didn't try to reinvent the wheel on the full-length,” Caleb explains. “We wanted a more genuine lo-fi sound on the LP, so we did the tracking on tape at Manny Nieto's studio in L.A., which was a great experience.”
This lo-fi obsession may explain why that famously dust- and scratch-prone format, vinyl, is so important for Tweak Bird. In fact, before the Reservations EP, you could only get their songs on 45s with handmade sleeves, and the new LP will be pressed as glow-in-the-dark vinyl.
“Vinyl is important 'cause you can't rip it and spread it all over the Internet,” Caleb says. “And glow-in-the-dark vinyl is important, 'cause when you play it in the dark it emits a glow of light energy that will infuse with the sonic musicality, creating a true audiovisual experience,” he adds with mock importance.
Speaking of the sonic musicality: Of the 10 new tunes, “Future” and “Sky Ride” showcase the brothers' evolving songwriting style (which might very well be picked up by a savvy advertiser for a car commercial by next year). Among Tweak Bird's standout tracks, “Beyond” impresses with its concise beauty, the tension between Caleb's lilting vocals and Ashton's thundering backbeat snapping and striking and making the tune anthemic. Caleb reveals that his brother is also a fan of that track (“Definitely a kinetically charged little pop number!”), but he prefers the last song on the record, “Distant Airways.” “I'm a fan of the minimal vocals in the song and the epic jam transitions,” he says.
Their favorite song to play live is also one of their first. “I love to play 'Whorses' live,” Caleb reveals. “We've been extending the intro and doing some interesting new things with it — it's got some really good breakdowns in the end.”
Hoping to gain insight into their history, we ask Caleb what was the first song the brothers learned to play together. “Hard to remember, but we did a lot of slower, simple-chorded songs in the beginning,” he recalls. “I do remember an early jam of 'Fire Water Burn,' by the Bloodhound Gang.”
Their current choice of cover tunes, Caleb demurs, is far more forgivable. “Once at a house show we did [T. Rex's] 'Children of the Revolution.' It was the only time Tweak Bird's done a cover. It was fun but we've never done it since. Not sure why, really. …”
While the Reservations EP and Tweak Bird are great introductions to the Bird brothers, their always-changing live shows are not to be missed. It's impossible to know, however, whether any Marc Bolan numbers will make their playlist whenever they finally decide to give locals a chance to hear the new material live, before they're off again.