Birdz (real name Nathan Bird) has had a weird year. After steadily building a name for himself over the years, he released what is arguably his biggest hit to date – “Bagi-La-M Bargan” – as the world started to lock down.
The song’s success meant everyone across Australia was able to appreciate the power and the strength of Birdz’s songwriting on a much larger scale than ever before. But, in a cruel paradoxical twist of fate, Birdz was unable to tour the song.
However, that just speaks to how powerful his songwriting is. Birdz’s success in 2020 was almost solely driven by his craft. His pen is direct and succinct, and he spares no time making sure his words hit hard and hit fast. He’s an artist who commands attention with such conviction that you can’t turn away. Now, he’s returned with his follow-up, “Fly”, alongside Ngaiire. MTV Australia spoke to Birdz about “Fly”, how his family forms the foundation of his work and his thoughts on the future of an industry decimated by the pandemic.
MTV: A good place for us to start is “Fly”, your new track. Talk us through the writing and creation of that track and the inspiration behind it?
Birdz: I really wanted to capture, in the most basic way I can say it, how dope it is to be Black. I think it has an empowering message and a real positive and uplifting vibe that captures that feeling of pride as First Nations people and Indigenous people hold. I think it’s something for young people to look at it and see an uplifting and positive representation of us.
It’s a song full of powerful lyrics. Did you have a favourite?
I think it's the second verse when I'm saying, "Better learn to double down when they doubled up. All we got is faith and love, they don’t give a fuck." And then me and Ngaiire go into a bit of a duet when she's backing up my verse. That, I think is probably my favourite part of this song lyrically just because it's really driving home that point to stand firm and stay proud. To be comfortable and be confident enough to walk into any room and represent who you are, where you're from.
Do you think that inspires you most in your work? What are you trying to achieve with your career?
It's really family for me. It's always been family and I think the big inspiration behind my music has always been my family's story and, in particular, my father's story, and what he came from, and him being able to break the cycle. To give me the life and the opportunities that I have. Now, looking forward, I'm a father myself and I have a young five-year-old son. That's really inspiring my music and I'm really conscious of the legacy that I want to leave for him now and the future generation.
And what was it like working with Ngaiire for this?
Yeah, it was amazing. She's super dope. I think I've said before but I've always been a big fan and I just love what she does. It was really organic and really easy. I just reached out, "Yo, I'm a big fan, I'd love to work with you". I sent her some demos and yeah, we just clicked and connected from there.
That's the beauty about social media and the world we live in, I guess. It's really, really cool and really easy to connect with people that you want to connect with.
The video for “Fly” is beautiful and it was really well shot and put together. Were you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, totally. I just really wanted something that looked dope and represented the power and that uplifting vibe.
With music videos, you have to go in there with real confidence. Do you find that hard to do sometimes?
Sometimes. But I'm getting used to it now, I think, slowly. It can help when we've got a dope crew and there's a lot of preparation that goes into it, behind the scenes, where you get to look at the treatment before you go in there, so you know what to expect.
I guess me as an artist, now I'm really wanting to participate more in that process and really insert myself in the visual side of things, with what I want the visuals to be, and then trusting the directors and crews to take it to the next level.
How do you go about getting inspiration for what you do? There's so much good art out there, how do you continue to deliver songs and music videos that are unique?
I think what makes it unique is my story and my vision. That will come from the music and the music, I think, stands by itself as well, and stands out. Being able to communicate again with the crews and director as much as I can. I try and just word what I really want in terms of the visual, and in terms of the vibe and the overall message of the song. I then interpret that into a full-blown treatment and music video and a bit of back and forth in that process. But it's always really about the collaboration and how to bring that vision to life.
Do you ever feel nervous or worried about sharing so much of yourself in your music?
Yeah, all the time. I think of recent conversations I've been having, and different people that I work with. If you're not nervous, but, you don’t have that kind of feeling that you feel like you really put your all into something – then there might be something missing. I also think you need to look at [vulnerability] like it's a positive. I was really nervous about putting out “Bagi-la-m Bargan”, as well. I always think [that] I better really put my all into it because it's a pretty vulnerable position to put yourself out there and then hope people receive it [the way you want them to].
How do you feel like people are connecting with your work? It really seems like you're on such a trajectory now.
I think the biggest curve right now is just the accumulation of all the work that we've put into it [over the years]. Seeing some fruits from it, it's a really cool feeling ... It all feels like it's coming together and the vision is just getting clearer. I'm excited about the rest of this year.
What has it been like not being able to tour and perform as you normally might?
Mostly it's been hard. I've done so many shows, I had a bunch to do in Sydney, and they all got canceled, or other places outside of Victoria that I couldn't go to. It's really hard and it's really unpredictable. Something could flare up and then all of a sudden your show's canceled two days before. It's a really shitty time in terms of the unpredictable nature of it all. And touring and performing being such a crucial part of our income [as musicians], I think we all took a huge hit.
I think it's slowly coming back and it's just dope to see the artists standing up and getting out there and rebuilding the community back. Bringing it back as we always do. I think it’ll take slow steps towards a new normal of what shows are now. It is exciting to get back on stage and I hope it continues to open up here.
Is there anything that you'll have to do differently now because of COVID?
No, I don't think it really changes how we perform. But everything – all of the restrictions – can make it feel a little bit weird because gigs and shows have always been about connecting with people and getting close and partying and rocking out. I think it can be a bit weird in that respect and we become more aware of that and we try and adjust.
How did you cope last year?
It was kind of up and down to be honest. I made sure I kept busy and I was very fortunate that just before lockdown hit I was in the studio and we worked on some of “Bagi-la-m Bargan” and tons of other stuff that sort of came out during lockdown.
It was kind of weirdly good in that way. The tiny setback again was not being able to tour and so that was a downer because usually we'd be able to capitalise on new releases, just doing shows and connecting with people. But I think I just really tried to keep busy. I wrote and I'm still writing an album currently.
There's been some pretty significant changes to Australia's hip hop scene over the past few years with the arrival of some newcomers like The Kid LAROI, Ziggy Ramo and Tkay (Maidza). How have you felt in being part of those changes?
I think it's dope. I love all the new stuff and I love now that I feel like the scene is flourishing in the sense that everyone is super confident in what they're doing and just being able to bring their own sound, and not caring what anybody else thinks. You've got all these different pockets in the sound. The Kid LAROI is next level and reaching the pinnacle, doing songs with Justin Bieber. Creatively, I'm excited for the scene of hip hop here. There's just so much there now, so many different voices representing where they're from culturally and what they experienced in their own lives.
How was it performing with Missy Higgins and doing Destiny's Child’s “Survivor” on The Set?
Yeah, that was really cool. I loved it. We obviously had never met prior to that. We just spoke on the phone leading up to that performance. Then, we tried to figure out a song. Missy and I come from pretty different worlds musically and we were just trying to find the common ground.
We accidentally stumbled upon “Survivor” by Destiny's Child. It was actually suggested by Trials. He just hit me up one night and he was like, "Hey, you and Missy should do a cover of Destiny's Child". I was like, "Wow, that's mad". I would never have thought of that.
And then I hit her up with the idea on email and she wrote back and was like, "Oh my God, I love this idea". And she loved the song and so from there it was really just convincing the producers that we wanted to sing that song. Her and her team, her drummers and her writers came up with the music for it. And then I just slotted in with the rap.
And, any advice that you give to aspiring hip hop artists looking to make great music and make waves?
Take your time finding and realising what you want to say and what kind of message you want to put out to the world. Don't be in a rush. Just find your craft and work on your craft and songwriting and, again, your message. Once you've got that together, then you're ready to step out. It takes a team, it takes a village, so surround yourself with positive people. Your community, your family, people that have, that share the vision with you and want to take on the next level.
Birdz’s new track with Ngaiire, “Fly”, is out now – watch the music video below.
Each month, MTV zeroes in on a First Nations artist, sharing their music and stories across MTV's music channels as part of our Indigenous Artist Of The Moment series.
Interview by Alice Griffin, editor of this very site. Intro by MTV contributor, Jackson Langford.
Birdz’s 2021 national headline tour dates:
Friday 30 July: The Lansdowne, Sydney
Friday 6 August: The Gaso, Melbourne
Friday 13 August: The Lab, Adelaide