bird of youth
Gig Seeker Pro

bird of youth

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Pop


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Bird of Youth: Defender"

Bird of Youth's debut, Defender, was reportedly shaped over a period of several years, and the band's careful patience resulted in knotty, intelligent, and verbally dense songs, which reverberate with unironic emotional expression and wordplay. Frontwoman Beth Wawerna writes the kind of long songs that stretch across five or six minutes, requiring repeated listens to fully digest.
But Defender is often as musically anemic as it is lyrically vibrant. There are clear exceptions to this imbalance, like the rousing bounce of "When My Wings Hit the Shed," with its ebullient keyboard hook, but many of these songs are words with not enough music to back them up. Opener "One Hand Able" is a confident, slow-burning introduction to the album, but it's also kind of a slog, wobbling along with no notable increase in energy.
Produced by Okkervil River's Will Sheff, Defender has an unobtrusive, easily appreciable charm, despite feeling musically underwhelming at times. It comes pre-endorsed, with an impressive pedigree of artists vouching for Wawerna's talents, including guest spots from members of the National, the Wrens, and Nada Surf. Of these outside collaborators, Okkervil River is the most obvious comparator; songs like "A Boy Well Dressed" are clearly influenced by that band's method of slowly peaking through the piling up of individual elements, and "Stop Sharing" works off a spunky, spat-out chorus with Sheff himself barking out vocals in the background.
Vocally, Wawerna often recalls early-aughts groups like Azure Ray, who often had similar difficulty matching their evocative vocals with equally strong music. Yet despite all these comparisons, the songs on Defender are all her own, identifying a gifted songwriter whose words beg for stronger backing.
- Slant Magazine

"Bird of Youth - Defender"

Brooklyn's Beth Wawerna is the designated driver of this slightly ramshackle but fuel efficient vehicle for her stark, rock-edged indie pop songs...almost three years in the making, the debut was produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River and Phil Palazzolo (The New Pornographers, Neko Case) with members of The Wrens, Nada Surf, The National and Okkervil River as featured players...Release: Defender (May 24) // Sounds like: Wawerna takes some stylistic cues from The Pretenders' Chrissi Hynde with crisp, jangling guitars, dry vocal delivery and brisk rhythmic wallop that doesn't shy away from a touch of feedback here, galloping drum kick there... // Quote: "When we made this record I didn't really have a full live band there's kind of thirty musicians on this record..." // What we like: Wawerna is first and foremost a songwriter not a stagehound, so songs like the gloriously street wise "new wave" anthem "Bombs Away" have some serious melodic chops beneath the disheveled appearance...Sheff and Palazzolo keep the sonic ends frayed and loose, Wawerna's dispassionate singing the perfect foil for the swelling choruses of "The Great Defender" and raucous modern girl group feel of "Stop Staring"...
- Direct Current Music

"Bird of Youth MP3"

Bird of Youth – “Bombs Away, She Is Here to Stay”
Yes, yes, yes, yes — I’ve found the first sunny-day blast of gorgeous, insanely catchy (yet smart and bitter) pop of the summer, right freaking here. I defy anyone at all to reach that chorus, with those pounding, Northern Soul-esque drums, and not feel a grin creep across their face; it’s just impossible to resist. The whole thing’s shimmery-shiny and beautiful, with grin-inducing guitar melodies roaring along below Bird of Youth frontwoman Beth Wawerna‘s flat, seemingly disconnected (yet still impressive) voice.
This track (off the band’s forthcoming Will Sheff-produced full-length, Defender, due out 5/24) comes off like Palomar if they smiled less and listened to more Belle & Sebastian or — better still — a resurrected Velocity Girl, come back from their mid-’90s grave to rescue us all from the horrific, vapid glut of female-fronted squalling that passes for “pop” these days. - Space City Rock

"MP3 at 3pm: Bird of Youth"

Bird Of Youth is led by Brooklyn-based musician (and former MAGNET writer) Beth Wawerna, whose band will issue debut album Defender on May 24. The LP was produced by Will Sheff (Okkervil River) and Phil Palazzolo (Ted Leo, New Pornographers) and features members of Okkervil River, the Wrens, Nada Surf, the National and the Mendoza Line. But before you start thinking that Wawerna deserves your immediate attention because she is pals with members of great bands, let us just say this: We have friends in most of those groups, and they want nothing to do with making an album with us. Wawerna has such an amazing supporting cast because she is the real deal, a first-rate songwriter with a singular voice. Download album track “Bombs Away, She Is Here To Stay” below, and hear for yourself.
- Magnet Magazine

"Here's Something New From Bird Of Youth (Free Download!)"

Beth Wawerna's voice caught my attention right away. It's so no nonsense and stoic. I hear this a lot with male vocalists, but rarely female. It works for Bird Of Youth. However, my appreciation of this band doesn't stop there: the full band accompaniment is awesome. It makes each of the tracks I've had the pleasure of hearing truly great. If you're looking for some new indie rock, you've found it.

Defender is due out May 24th. To tide you over, here's a download of "Bombs Away, She is Here to Stay": - The Ruckus

"Bird Of Youth – “The Sound Of One Name Dropping” [Live]"

A Cluster 1 Premiere!

For certain songs, the simplest ideas work best. Bird of Youth recently spent a day at Seaside Lounge studios, recording acoustic versions of their songs. They brought a camera crew along as well. The end product is their video for “The Sound Of One Name Dropping,” a gentle, acoustic number that lets the harmonies between Beth Wawerna and Clinton Newman shine. Recorded in one take, this performance is worth both a watch and a listen.

Bird of Youth’s debut album, Defender, will drop on May 24th. It was produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River and Phil Palazzolo (The New Pornographers, Ted Leo, Neko Case). It will also feature a number of guest musicians from The Wrens, Nada Surf, The National, Okkervil River and The Mendoza Line.

Directed by: Johnny North
Engineer: Ray Ketchem - Consequence of Sound

"Hear Me Now: Bird of Youth"

Bird of Youth may be from Brooklyn, but don’t assume this local group is yet another super-trendy low-fi band.

Instead, count on unpretentious indie-rock filled with jangly ’90s guitar-pop, Americana melodies, and front-woman Beth Wawerna’s deep, steady voice.

For the production of their upcoming album, Defender, Bird of Youth enlisted indie-rock heavyweights, including members of The Wrens, Nada Surf and the National.

But despite its studio polish, the resulting music feels organic and passionate.

In other words, these are experienced musicians who really know what they’re doing.

Check them out here, and catch them live when they hit the road this summer!

– REBECA ARANGO - Nylon Magazine

"A Heart Is A Spade Exclusive: Bird Of Youth – One Hand Able"

Defender (produced by Will Sheff & Phil Palazzolo) will see daylight on 5/24. Like Bird Of Youth on Facebook. Follow Bird Of Youth on Twitter. Visit Bird Of Youth at their official site. Catch Bird Of Youth @ Brooklyn’s Rock Shop on 6/9. - A Heart is a Spade

"Jennifer O'Connor + Beth Wawerna on BTR Live Studio"

radio interview/live performance:

00:00 Tower of Song
01:14 Interview
05:10 Already Gone - Jennifer O'Connor
07:56 Yer Copout - Jennifer O'Connor
11:23 Interview
13:01 07/12/09 - Jennifer O'Connor
16:06 Swan Song (for Bella) - Jennifer O'Connor
19:17 Interview
23:42 Right on Red - Beth Wawerna/Bird of Youth
27:47 When My Wings Hit The Shed- Beth Wawerna/Bird of Youth
32:13 Interview
36:03 Sex Blood and Fire - Beth Wawerna/Bird of Youth
41:21 Interview
42:23 Sons and Daughters - Beth Wawerna/Bird of Youth
47:08 Finish
- BreakThru Radio

"Bird of Youth hones her craft"

The influx of women in rock, especially within the independent circles of recent years, has been well-documented. As has the rise of southern fragmented singer songwriters—some of my colleagues like to refer to it as "alt." Yet there has been a notable lapse when it comes to a crossover of the two, and despite a few exceptions, the singer songwriter landscape remains a male-dominated terrain.

Don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into some sort of pseudo-fem diatribe, but the question does deserve to be asked; where have all the cowgirls gone? They are out there, so more importantly, why are they not as widely accepted as their noisier counterparts playing the DIY rock clubs?

Maybe this explains the tired rasp behind Beth Wawerna's melodies. As the frontwoman and main songwriter for Bird of Youth, Wawerna exudes a quiet confidence that is worn with experience. Her publicist calls it a "cool stoicism", but there is nothing on BoY's Defender debut to imply it's anything but natural. There's a strength within that belies the withdrawn nature of her delivery; this isn't Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, this is Elvis Costello playing "Radio Radio" on SNL.

Maybe with a self-released (with help from Secretly Canadian distro) debut LP and a supporting cast that includes production by Will Sheff of Okkervil River, and an indie-rock who's who of players from The Wrens, Nada Surf, The National and the Mendoza Line, people will take notice. Then again, I don't think Wawerna will care. At least her cool stoicism won't let us on if she does. Bird of Youth's Defender is available now. - Impose Magazine

"LIVE REVIEW: Bird of Youth @ The Rock Shop, 6/9/11"

A thick, hazy heat lingered over from a late-night thunderstorm, leaving the Brooklyn landscape condensed in a sticky fog. The Gowanus scenery boasted no obvious markers of its decade, unlike the anxious scribbles of a generation that coat the nearby Bedford. Under the guise of nightfall, it didn’t speak of any age, it could have been many. It could have been 1998, when Beth Wawerna traded in her Austin (by way of Atlanta) boots for New York kicks, immersing herself in the city’s music scene as a writer for Spin Magazine. It would have been easy to imagine a younger Wawerna running in through the glass doors, full of enthusiasm and perhaps high levels of caffeine; a young music writer evolving within a city coming to terms with its own incoming millennial status. But, of course, this scenario now could exist only within a foggy, misguided daydream. Instead, on this night, over 10 years later, Wawerna is no longer behind the stage. She’s on it.

Wawerna took to the stage with a collection of melodies composed under the veil of secrecy for much of the last decade. As a double agent, living the life of musical observer coming to terms with her own abilities as a leading musical force, her songs often grapple with the complexities, similarities and full on hilarities of the role. Of course, regardless of her occupation, her experiences and musings play universal. Unsteady relationships (“Make no mistake, old friend, you can cheat me, beat me, I’ll pretend all the trysts and quips at my expense did not cut and grind me, bruise and bind me”), self-confidence, defeat, ecstasy, disappointment and an unwavering acumen paired with razor-sharp perception all flow from Wawerna’s mic.

Although adorned in simple black tank-top, Wawerna wore many of her influences on her sleeve, though their stitching never lay perfectly straight. It is easy to spot the culprits, the hint of Malkmus, the dash of Phair. Neko, Veruca Salt, Squeeze, Hynde, they’re all guests around the dinner table. However it is Wawerna who is clearly the host.

There’s quite a bit of wooing in Wawerna’s tunes, both in vocal tendencies and alluring lyrical prowess. But this isn’t a performance of batted eyelashes. If anything, Wawerna is raising an eyebrow at the absurdity of it all, taking a jab while still providing enough inconspicuous hopefulness to balance the sting. Paired with the infectious joy and occasional jumps of guitarist Clint Newman, a live performance of BoY expresses the same dynamic in which the songs were written: the battle between growing up and feeling left behind, the exuberance of youthful awakening and the harshness of lost oblivion, between between staying in the comfort of backstage or the challenge of getting front and center.

While contrary to much of what has already been said, it would be lazy to only understand Wawerna as a product of some sort of duality; jangle pop versus monotone detachment, writer and musician, on and offstage persona. Humanity in itself is a complexity of many layers; Wawerna should be no different. But it is the space between, the various layers that she occupies, that makes her compelling. Within her dichotomies lay a wealth of stories, a lifetime of experience and what could be seriously daydreaming fuel for any audiophile. And Wawerna has her tales backed up by some heavy hitters. Once outing her decade long secret of musical talents, the first nudges of encouragement came from Timothy Bracy and when the push to produce became a reality, Will Sheff and Phil Palazzolo were there to help. This comes along with record guest spots from those who have names like Nada Surf, the Wrens and the National in their resume. But the brilliance of Wawerna is that she need not rely on any of that. Her songs, scribbled , are exactly that: her’s. While Bird of Youth may have been helped by those who came before, Wawerna soars on her own. - The Owl Magazine

"Q&A: Chris Mills And Bird Of Youth's Beth Wawerna"

Tonight two Brooklyn-based acts, Chris Mills and Bird Of Youth, will celebrate the release of their new albums at the Rock Shop. Mills is commemorating the release of The Heavy Years: 2000-2010 (Ernest Jenning), which chronicles the past decade of his resplendent, Americana-tinged pop; Bird Of Youth, which began as the project of Beth Wawerna and blossomed into a band, will honor the release of Defender (Jagjaguwar), a sultry, harmony-rich record full of indelible hooks and whip-smart one-liners. Over oysters at Walter Foods, I spoke to Mills and Wawerna (who, full disclosure, are pals of mine) about their influences, what it's like to look back, and the idea that non-New Yorkers have of Brooklyn.
I like that this show is honoring Chris' retrospective album and Beth's first record.

Chris Mills: It's like Baby New Year and Father Time.

If you wanted to give Beth advice, Chris, what would you tell her?

CM: Tough it out. Don't stop believin'. Entering the music business and being in the music business is not an easy thing to do at any age, or at any time. Honestly, I think the main thing, and it's gonna sound super-cheesy, is to make sure you're having a good time. Make sure you like doing it, because all the business stuff and all of the trying to get shows, working with distributors and labels and agents and managers, at some point that stuff is going to lose its charm, I would say. Music is a really fun thing to do; it's a really awesome thing to do; it's a really important thing for people to do. But it's really easy to forget that and get frustrated by all of the roadblock—no matter what level you're at, there's always going to be shit that comes up that makes you want to pull your hair out and stop doing it. But hopefully you're in it because it's what you want to do, and you have something you want to say, and you understand the value of communicating with people inviting them into your experience and becoming part of their lives.

Beth Wawerna: It took me so long to have the courage to share anything, or even tell people that I was playing music or writing songs at home. In a way, it happened very quickly—I turned 30 and I was like, oh, shit, now I have to do this, I have to jump off the cliff and send people these demos. Lots of my friends were musicians that were pretty successful, and in touring bands. It was pretty scary. In a way, I got very quickly into the stuff that you're talking about, Chris—you need a manager, you need to book a million shows, you need to go on tour. A lot of that stuff was very positive in a way—I got to work in a great studio with a wonderful producer; my first show was with Carl Newman. All of these wonderful things came out of it, but in a way, it was very, "Hey!" And now I'm coming down from that and I have to step back and go, "OK, why am I doing this again? It's because I always wanted to." And I'm not going to worry about what people say on the Internet. Even though I am.

CM: But you always do.

BW: I got to make this record with Will [Sheff], and Matthew from Nada Surf, and these are all longtime friends of mine, over 10 years. I grew up in New York in my 20s watching them all do this stuff, and kind of studying it internally and taking mental notes. I've been here since 1998.

That's a long time to watch the "New York" music scene change, too.

BW: Yeah. It's funny—the whole Brooklyn scene, how I perceive that now, it's something I don't fit into, necessarily. In a way, that can be a little intimidating. I'm not putting myself down—I just think my music is pretty songwriting-based. I don't really wear hot pants and do this and that on stage. It's intimidating, you know?

CM: I do that.

BW: When I first moved here, I was friends with the Mendoza Line and Nada Surf, and that was a very insular scene at that time. So I felt very much a part of that, but I wasn't making music at that time. It's weird to view it now, when the Mendoza Line isn't even a band anymore. It's hard to know where you fit in.

Chris, you've been doing a lot of collaborative work around the city at song clubs and the like. Can you talk about how that fits into the perception of "Brooklyn music" in the popular media, which seems imposed on the borough by extra-Brooklyn factors?

CM: For a long time I was kind of getting fed up with music. The music business can be really frustrating, and while a lot of good things have happened and I've always had a record label and been able to get publishing stuff and tour after a while, especially being a solo artist, you get kind of tired of doing things on your own, and being in charge of steering your own course 100%. Your label, or manager, or booking agent, they have other things as part of their priorities; when you're a solo artist or a bandleader, you're the only one who's thinking about it 24 hours a day. When other people aren't, you get frustrated. It's like, everybody shares in your successes, but you fail alone.

So I got invited to go down to a songwriters' night by Niall Connolly, a pop songwriter from Ireland. All he does is play music, seven nights a week. He runs open mics, and songwriters' clubs. For a long time, I dismissed that avenue for what I do, because I'm a self-important asshole [laughs] and I thought I was better than that. [Laughs] And I met someone who's created a scene that's really super-supportive in a way that I hadn't been exposed to in the New York rock scene, where people really care about what they do and are really focused on being songwriters and sharing their ideas and helping each other write better songs and book tours and get shows. I've met some really great songwriters and really sincere people, and that's really changed the way that I look at a lot of stuff. I've also been collaborating with these well-regarded session guys in Oslo who have been really open and into making things happen.

I came out of Chicago, which is this incredibly collaborative scene, and went to Brooklyn, which didn't really work for me that way at first. I've now found this group of people I really like hanging out with and playing music with. They've helped me become more accepting of the idea that everybody can play, and everybody can do it. I know some people might read that and dismiss it as some hippie version of how music should be, but I would much rather hang out with people who are nice.

Do you think the two of you would work together at all?

BW: I would!

CM: We've worked together on Thanksgiving dinner.

BW: I did this show recently with Jennifer O'Connor, who does that Tower of Song series at the Rock Shop. It was collaborative in a sense—each person plays three of their own songs, and you have to write a new one based on a theme for that night. It was good to jog my creative juices. This record took three years to put out.

When did you start writing the songs for Defender?

BW: I started writing when I moved to New York, when I was 22 or so. I'd play guitar. At that time, there was a scene I was in, but I wouldn't necessarily participate in the creative part of it; it was more like we'd all hang out and stay up until 4 a.m. singing Neutral Milk Hotel songs, and then I would quietly go home and write songs. When I decided to make this record and really do it for real, I hunkered down.

I went back through a lot of old stuff I recorded, demos and stuff, and I pulled a little bit from some of those recordings. I'm definitely not saying the songs on the record are from 10 years ago, but there are interesting little snippets—a part of a melody, a lyric—from then. These songs are really cool, in a way, because of the molting process they went through. I'll never have that again. It's exciting to move forward and have different ideas about what I want to do, but the first album is very personal and chronicles 10 years of my life.

And Chris' record chronicles 10 years!

BW: It's a theme!

Chris, did you have a narrative in mind for your retrospective?

CM: It's a combination of songs that I've always kind of liked and the crowd-pleasers. I just wanted to give people a taste of what they would see if they came to see a show where I played something from every single one of my records. It was really fun to do; it was really weird to think about where I was and who I was back then. I'm glad that I'm not that person now, but I'm glad that I was that person then because I really love those songs. Like, the songs from The Wall To Wall Sessions make me think of the best three days of my life, with Kelly Hogan and Nora O'Connor. But that happened for all the songs, when I was looking back and thinking about what it was like when I started working with Brian Deck, or when Andrew Bird came in and played violin. It made me appreciate all the great people I've gotten to work with, and all the things I've figured out along the way. It reminded me that I'm really lucky. People write to you and tell you that this song helped them, or that this song was played at their wedding.

BW: I look forward to that!

CM: It'll happen—I think if you do something creative and have that be your profession, you're really lucky. I know I sound really sappy and sentimental in this whole thing. But I just watched these kids that I taught.

How long have you been teaching? Do you think that's affected the way you make your music at all?

CM: I don't know if it's affected the way I make it, but it's affected the way I view the purpose of writing and making songs. We all grew up with bands that changed our lives and made us believe in ourselves and reminded us we weren't the only people going through the things we were going through. If you're a musician, and especially if you're a songwriter, your job is to remember that and to try and be that person for other people.

Beth, what bands did that for you?

BW: I had a brother who was 14 years older than me. We weren't living in the same house for very long—by the time I was 3, he was off in college. When I became an adolescent I started going through his old LPs; he had a box in the attic I would go through. I would go to whatever apartemnt he was living in, and I was 12 and he was in his 20s. He was a big influence on me, introduced me to like Elvis Costello and the Reaplcements—those were his two big ones, and they became my big ones. The Pixies, Squeeze.

CM: We went to see Squeeze together last summer with Cheap Trick!

Do you think your aesthetic has changed over the 10 years of you working on the record?

BW: To be honest, I'm not sure that it has. That may sound strange—obviously there are current, contemporary bands that I love. But I always go back to the touchstones in my life and hold those up.

Did any of your experiences as a music writer inform the making of your record?

My foray into music journalism was a little different. I was an assistant at Spin—I was an assistant, and that went on for about a year. My first real job was getting hired by the web site. Andy Greenwald and I got money and a digital camera and were told, "Go!" Nobody was policing us or anything. So my experience as a music "writer" was different, because I could do whatever I wanted to do. Not to paint myself as an idealist, but I think Andy would agree that we did mostly everything out of love. We were doing a lot of video features at that time, of performances in our conference room. I remember that time really fondly.

CM: I was one of those people!

BW: But we really only covered bands that we cared about and wanted to help.

CM: Awww.

BW: No, I'm serious! I never really was comfortable criticizing people who were trying to make art, and I think that's partially because I knew deep down that I wnated to do the same thing. I was like, "Who am I to tell this person what they're doing?" That's not to say that I won't say anything negative, because I probably did.

Well, there's a difference between criticism of things that you want to see better and the sort of LOL-culture snark that's so prominent online.

BW: Right. There's a place for music criticism in journalism. I just got to a point where I didn't feel comfortable, especially when I started really writing. But how it informed me; it's how I met most of the people currently in my life, like Chris. I got to investigate things that I was curious about, and it was a really great time. I still have a lot of good friends who are musicians or other people in the industry who are now in my world. It's a nice sort of cyclical thing.
- The Village Voice

"Q&A with Bird of Youth"

Bird Of Youth has no business being this good. Really. If writing and recording a really beautiful album was as easy as Beth Wawerna and her crew made it look, wouldn’t everyone do it? That’s sort of the story here. For most of her decade or so in New York, Wawerna was, in the words of her pal Timothy Bracy, “the consummate green-room insider.” Her background in journalism and her unerring taste had led to a number of indie-rock acquaintances who eventually became friends. It sounds like a pretty good time, hanging out in Brooklyn with the Mendoza Line’s Bracy and Pete Hoffman, Will Sheff of Okkervil River, Carl Newman, Charles Bissell of the Wrens, Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws and others.

But it turned out Wawerna had a secret stash of her own songs, which she’d worked on and demo’d and never, ever let anyone hear. Eventually, as she explains below, she decided it was time to set those songs free. Her pals not only liked them, they helped her form a crack band—guitarist par excellence Clint Newman, drummer Ray Ketchem, bassist Johnny North, keyboardist Eli Thomas and accordion player Elizabeth Bracy Nelson—and recorded them. Sheff and Phil Palazzolo (New Pornographers, Ted Leo, scads more) produced. Bissell contributed a terrific guitar lead on one song. Caws sang. Members of Okkervil River and the National played.

If the result had been an Okkervil River record with a warm female vocal on top, that would have been hard to complain about. But Sheff and Palazzallo put Wawerna’s songs and voice first, adding touches and flourishes that add to the power of the songs without ever overwhelming them. The finished album, Defender, was released in May, just in time to give your summer a worthy soundtrack.

Wawerna will be guest editing all week, and some of those same friends will be dropping by. We caught up to her in the swirly days between the album’s release and some East Coast tour dates.

“Bombs Away, She Is Here To Stay” (download):

MAGNET: Let’s start with the moment that fascinates me most: when you decided to go ahead and share these songs with your friends. That’s a big step for anyone. But when your friends are Will Sheff, Timothy Bracy, Charles Bissell—whom I would argue are three of the best American songwriters of the last 10-15 years—that step seems especially daunting. How and when did it happen?
Wawerna: It was definitely daunting. I had essentially been writing in a vacuum for almost 10 years. A lot of self-doubt and fear and apprehension has time to build and multiply in that time. It can feed on itself. But at a certain point, that stuff turned into fuel. The whole time I was writing (in relative secrecy), I was watching a lot of my friends that were in bands, and they just kept putting out records and playing shows and working hard and they had fans, etc. And here I was, still sitting at home with a notebook by myself. And eventually it was just a now-or-never kind of thing. I thought, “Well, I guess it’s time to find out if I suck at music. Because if I do, I do. I suppose I should be putting my energies elsewhere.” I just could not bear the thought of looking back at my life and saying I never tried. Anyway, in the beginning all I had were these lo-fi demos I’d made on ProTools at home. I was a little insecure about my voice, because I’d never really sung out loud for anyone, so I’d doubled and tripled and quadrupled it to the point where it sounded like a chorus of Beths. It makes me laugh when i think about it now, but I just wanted to hide any imperfections. Anyway, I’m fairly certain that Tim Bracy was the first person I sent them to. I met Tim in my early 20s when I first moved to New York. He was playing in the Mendoza Line at the time, which is/was without a doubt one of my favorite contemporary bands. I remember us all getting together back then and getting drunk and singing Gram Parsons songs and Neutral Milk Hotel songs until 4 a.m. And there’s this wonderful energy that Tim has when it comes to music. He genuinely loves making it and playing it, and he is all-inclusive in that he unquestionably believes anyone can make music if they have the desire. It doesn’t matter how experienced or inexperienced you are; he will encourage and support you just the same. I think it’s one of his best qualities. So anyway, I think when I was ready to share these songs, I started there. And I remember hitting “send” on the email and then just wanting to barf. It’s like jumping out of an airplane. But once it was done, a huge weight was lifted. And Tim responded and was very enthusiastic, and he said, ”Beth, you must record these songs.” And that gave me the courage to then send the demos to Will and a few other people, and it just sort of grew from there. The other thing is that I didn’t have a “band” at that point. And here’s where Tim’s benevolence comes in again; pretty much immediately he was like, “Well you’ll need a guitar player. Have you met Clint? May I send him these recordings?” Clint was the latter-day guitarist in the Mendoza Line, and I think we’d met once at that point. I said, “Well sure you can send them to Clint, but I have no idea why a total stranger would want to play in my band based on these demos.” But he did. And I owe Tim for that, because Clint has since become an invaluable partner in this band, both on the Defender recordings and as part of our live show. He’s just one of the most talented musicians I know, and I’m honored to play music with him.

Here we offer a dispatch from Bracy with his recollections:
Bracy: In the summer of 2008, my dear friend of many years Beth Wawerna wrote to me requesting that I have a listen to a “couple of her demos.” This was something of a surprise- I knew her well as a superb and insightful critic of music and culture, and I knew she played a mean guitar. But I hadn’t known that she had been writing, and indeed “demoing,” a series of new remarkable new tracks that happily echoed and rivaled the best work of her stated musical inspirations: Nick Lowe, Squeeze and especially Elvis Costello. Beth took such care to undersell her efforts that I felt nearly required to manage my expectations. Well, turns out the joke was on me. Suddenly my inbox began overflowing with great song after great song—songs I wish I had written on my best day: “The Great Defender,” “Spearfish,” “Sex, Blood And Fire.’ It was one after the next. Fully formed, catchy, immediate and ambitious. By the time I heard the ingenious, barrelhouse stomp of “Stop Staring,” I knew full well I had found amongst my quietest friends a truly great American songwriter. Naturally I could not wait to spread the word. “Son of a bitch,” thought I, “this woman has solved music.”
We return now to our chat with Beth Wawerna …

These also happen to be really nice people, so they would have been polite to anyone. When did it become clear that you were really in the club? I mean, these guys didn’t just say, “Hey, nice work there.” They were enthusiastic enough to help turn these demos you had into a fully realized record.
Am I in the club? Ha. I’m not sure. Those guys have been doing this for years and years. They have lots of fans and records and tours under their belts, and I have a lot of work to do to catch up to that. That said, all I can do is take their word for it and believe that they heard something in those demos that was worth pursuing and putting out there. But it took me a while to get to that point. At first, I did think they were just being polite and patting me on the head and then turning around and rolling their eyes at each other. But in reality, they weren’t just saying, “Oh, that’s nice” and then changing the subject. They were genuinely encouraging me to get into the studio—and what’s more, they were offering to help. And I thought, well, if they’re just blowing smoke up my ass, that’s some pretty time-consuming and expensive smoke, so they must believe in these songs. And once I came to that conclusion, I gained a lot of confidence, and it became a lot easier for me to move forward with the record.

Backing up a little: Did you always write songs? As you were reviewing music and interviewing artists for and MAGNET and other publications, were you always working on your own music? Or did that come later?
When I was in high school and college, no, it never really occurred to me that I might write and play music. I loved music, I was a huge fan, but it was never something I ever thought I would do myself. I’d played the piano my whole life, so I did have some musical background, but I was playing classical music, not pop music. And for whatever reason, no, I never thought about writing songs at that time. But when I moved to New York after college, I got a job with Spin magazine working for their website. Now, at that time, websites weren’t a big deal; they were still just sort of the ugly stepchildren to the print publication. The rise of music blogs hadn’t really happened yet. We had a tiny staff and one digital camera, and we really didn’t have to answer to anyone. We could do whatever we wanted. Imagine being 22 and having free rein to run all over New York City interviewing bands. Anyway, we wanted a great deal of our content to be audio and video based, which believe it or not was a new-ish idea at the time. We had bands coming in and out of the office constantly, and we would tape interviews and acoustic video performances in our shitty corporate conference room. I met so many amazing musicians during that time, and I think that’s when the seed was planted in my head. I was so inspired by these people and so enthusiastic about music in general, and I started to think, “My god, why didn’t it ever occur to me to play music?” I think maybe that’s what I always wanted, it just took me a while to figure it out. And it was around this time that I met Tim and the other Mendoza Line folks. And as I said earlier, I was just having the best time being in New York and being a part of this scene. And one night Tim and I were hanging out at my apartment, and he said, “You know, you should really brush up on your keyboard playing. Or why not learn the guitar!” I said OK, and I’m pretty sure that night he taught me the chords to “Fuck And Run” by Liz Phair, and it was the first song I ever learned to play on the guitar. And that was when I started writing songs. I only knew about five chords on the guitar, but I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I’m sure the songs weren’t really any good, but at least I was writing. And throughout my 20s, I kind of kept at it, though sometimes I’d go a year without writing a note. It was really cyclical that way, and I wasn’t sharing anything with anyone. But at a certain point, I got really focused, and I started sifting through all these old notebooks and revising and re-writing and really working hard to mold these songs into something I thought was worth sharing. So some of the songs on Defender actually contain little snippets of these older songs, whether it’s a few notes of a verse melody or even just a lyric line or two. And that’s what’s really cool about this album to me. In a weird sort of roundabout way, it’s a scrapbook of my 20s and a living, breathing document of the long, winding road I took in terms of writing and playing music. Like these songs underwent this protracted, painstaking evolution—almost a molting process—into what they are today. And I think that’s what makes this record special. It captures a really unique part of my life and my experience in New York in a way that nothing else ever can or will. It’s very personal.

You reached a summit of cool recently when you sang with the Wrens at Maxwell’s while wearing a Squeeze T-shirt. How did you come upon some of these bands that clearly shaped your taste and your sensibilities? I mean, I was and am a huge Squeeze fan, but I’m the right age. I was 15 when they hit.
Ha. That Squeeze shirt makes a cameo in one of my guest-editing posts this week. Also there’s a video floating around of me singing that song with the Wrens, and if you listen closely, as I’m walking up to the stage, you hear some guy go, “Is she wearing a Squeeze shirt?!” But he’s not saying it with excitement, he’s saying it with revulsion. It’s pretty hilarious. I actually have a whole blog dedicated to this very topic, so I won’t ramble on too much about this. But my music taste has a lot to do with my older brother, who was 14 when I was born. Since he was so much older, we really didn’t even live under the same roof very much at all when I was growing up. But I always remember visiting him at whatever apartment he was living in at the time, and he’d tell me about certain bands he liked. I also liked to rifle through his old LPs, and I’d pull out whatever I thought looked interesting and then play it. That’s how I discovered R.E.M., the Pixies and a ton of other stuff. Squeeze in particular is funny because the cover of that Singles album is seared into my brain. I swear seeing that cover is one of my earliest memories of being a kid and looking through my brother’s record collection. Same with NRBQ’s Tiddlywinks, Exile In Guyville, They Might Be Giants’ Flood and many more. But his absolute favorites were the Replacements and Elvis Costello, and he passed those two down to me in a huge way, along with other stuff like Nick Lowe and Big Star. But again, I’m gonna save some of this because I have a whole blog piece about my brother and his influence on my music tastes.

Connect some dots for me. You’re from Atlanta, went to college in Austin, wound up in New York. How did all that happen, and what role did music—writing about it, being near it—play?
I grew up in Atlanta, yes. When I graduated high school, I had it in my head that I wanted to be a writer of some sort. I had no idea where I wanted to go to college; all I knew was that I absolutely did not want to go to a small liberal-arts school. I wanted to go to a big school, in a big city. That was non-negotiable. So my dad researched a bunch of state schools in cool towns with good journalism programs, and the University of Texas at Austin was one of them. I’d never even been to Austin. But my brother told me it was the coolest city ever and that I had to go there. So my dad took me there to visit one weekend, and I fell in love. I went there knowing no one. It was actually a really exciting time. I think I dropped acid during freshman orientation with a bunch of strangers. But yeah, I knew I wanted to write when I went to college, but I hadn’t really considered being a music writer just yet. In fact almost all throughout college, I worked for The Daily Texan student newspaper as a news reporter and editor, and I went to the state capitol every day to cover higher education policy. That’s a long way from indie rock. But it was invaluable training for me as a writer and observer. I learned more in that Daily Texan basement than I ever did in a classroom.
But my junior year I took a small feature-writing class. At that time, I had just started to get into stuff like Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Elliott Smith, the Spinanes: contemporary indie rock. And I thought, “This is way more fun than politics—maybe I should write about music!” I told my professor this, and he just so happened to know the editor of Spin at the time, who was about to be in town to speak on a panel during SXSW. My professor told me to take my resume and some writing samples, go to his panel, introduce myself and tell him I wanted an internship. I was mortified, but I did it. And I ended up interning at Spin in New York the summer between my junior and senior years, and then they hired me full-time after I graduated.

How did you feel about music writing in general? I eventually stopped doing reviews for MAGNET because I just didn’t feel good about ripping some artist’s work. If I didn’t care for it, maybe that was my problem, right? And at least they were working at it. Maybe the next one would be a breakthrough. Why piss on that? At the same time, I had the chance to have really good conversations with some terrific artists. What did you like and dislike most about it? What were some of your best experiences? Did anyone really let you down? That’s the other big danger. As a sports writer, I’ve found I don’t consider many athletes to be real heroes.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t really enjoy writing about music now. I stopped doing it years ago. For many of the same reasons you did. I loved my job at because our goal was first and foremost to help and promote bands that we genuinely loved. We had 100 percent editorial control over the website, and that job was all love. And that felt really really good. I met people back then that are still my great friends, and it was a wonderful experience. But it only lasted a couple of years; eventually they dissolved the website and laid us all off. I was devastated. So I started freelancing a bit for some other music magazines. Writing features was OK, that could be kind of fun, but writing reviews, I did not like. I didn’t feel right sitting up on my high-horse magazine masthead and publicly criticizing someone who is trying to make music. And in retrospect I do think that coincided with my starting to write my own music, while simultaneously befriending a lot of musicians via my job. I just saw what they went through and the shit they had to eat to even get noticed, and I saw a lot of them get ripped up in the press, and I just hated it. Eventually it got to a point where if I had to write a review, I would be very strategic about it and try to only review albums I knew I was going to like. Maybe that made me a pussy in some people’s eyes, but whatever. I don’t think I was ever cut out to be a “music critic” for that reason. And I’m OK with that.
But to your other question, yes, I absolutely had some amazing experiences at the website. I got to interview Elliott Smith in person, and it was one of the most intense and moving conversations I’ve ever had with someone. I was shaking the whole time, I was so insanely nervous, and I had pages and pages of interview questions. I wanted everything to be so perfect. That was the thing: I wanted so badly to learn from the musicians I interviewed, not pick them apart. I wanted to soak up what their lives were like, how they made their art and what inspired them. I had no desire to be adversarial or ask “the tough questions.” Because on some level I knew maybe that one day I would muster the courage to put my own music out there, and I was just so curious about the process.
But yeah, that Elliott Smith interview was really incredible. It felt very real to me in a way that’s hard to articulate. It was a full press day for him, and I was his first interview of the day. And at the end of it, he kind of looked out from under his cap and shook my hand and said, completely stone-faced, “That’s probably the best interview I’ll do all day.” And at the risk of sounding completely corny, moments like that are what made my job as a music writer worth it. Also when we hosted a live chat with Snoop Dogg, and he smoked out our entire office. That was also cool.

In High Fidelity, Nick Hornby ponders whether certain people are obsessed with music because they’re “miserable”—I think we can extend that to cover anyone with a kind of introspective or introverted demeanor—or if listening to all this pop music makes people depressed. Where do you fit on this spectrum? And do you think it would have been easier to be someone who liked what was on the radio and didn’t care quite so much about this stuff?
I think it depends on whether I’m answering this question as a music fan or as a songwriter who is trying to put themselves out there. I think the main character in High Fidelity was miserable. But I’m not wholly convinced that’s because he was obsessed with music. But to speak for myself as a songwriter, my relationship with music began to change a little bit once I started writing my own songs and was attempting to get noticed for them. As a teenager and throughout most of my early 20s, I genuinely believe that my love of and fascination with music was essentially pure. I listened to music because it made me feel good. I was excited by it. I wanted to learn about it. I wanted desperately to discover new things, whether it be a contemporary band or an artist from 40 years ago. But once I started to write my own music and share it with people, I hit this little glitch where my relationship with music got a little complicated. I started having these moments where I realized I was looking at music a bit differently—in a more analytical way that sometimes made me question myself and my own work. By that I just mean I started comparing myself to other bands/artists out there. I would read all the blogs and look all the buzzy bands and try to figure out what they were doing differently than me and why they were successful. But thinking that way is just poison. It leads to really counterproductive thoughts like, “Maybe I shouldn’t wear pants onstage anymore. People seem to respond to that.” You know? It’s just poisonous and pointless, and it will destroy any ambition you have and shatter your self-confidence. And once I realized that, I was able to find a healthier middle ground. I still pay attention to what’s happening and what people are listening to, and I read blogs and all that, but I’ve also found a way to distance myself from that. It’s the only way I can continue to write and be productive and stay true to myself and have a healthy relationship with music. And believe me – it’s not always easy, but I do try.

Tell me a bit about making the record. Will produced along with Phil Palazzalo, who has worked with Neko Case and Ted Leo and the New Pornographers. You had some of the aforementioned friends chipping in. Was this like rock fantasy camp after being around music and musicians for so long? Was it daunting to step in front of the microphone? One reason I ask is that your singing is so assured and distinctive, this sounds like maybe the third or fourth album by a really talented, evolving artist.
Making the record was a great and surreal experience. Obviously, I’d been in and around studios before, but it was my first time making my own album. It was very intense and it forced me to face a lot of my fears and insecurities in a very short period of time. You say fantasy camp—and it was—but at the same time, it was also like boot camp. I mean, I’d hardly ever even sung in front of people at that point, and here I was cutting basic tracks with half of Okkervil River as my backing band, and I’m having to sing scratch vocals and it was just incredibly weird. But at a certain point, it goes from just being these little songs that you wrote in your bedroom and never shared with anyone to being a legitimate album. And once that transition starts to happen, the fear sort of washes away, and it gets replaced by a sense of excitement and energy and pride.

The next step, then, would be live performance. You’ve been to a million shows. You know half the crowd is just there to have a beer or because a friend wanted to see someone else on the bill. I guess the analogy would be someone who was always shooting spitballs and talking in class suddenly having to teach a high-school class. Was it tough to get up there at first? And did that make it more gratifying to do well? I’ve been to a couple shows and the room goes silent when you start singing. Even for the quietest songs.
I have definitely been to a million shows, and I have definitely been that person that stands at the bar and talks over the opening act. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. So yes, leading up to our first live show, I was really, really nervous. Obviously I knew that we were going to have to start playing out at some point, but I think I was sort of intentionally putting it off a little. It was just such a new world to me. I’m not very comfortable in my day-to-day life being looked at or being the center of attention, and here I am about to walk on a stage? It was crazy. But. I’m good friends with Carl (AC) Newman and his wife Christy. And one day I got an email from Christy asking if we wanted to open for Carl at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Clearly I could not say no. So that was the moment I just sort of held my breath and jumped off the bridge, so to speak. And yes, every experience I’d ever had at a show came rushing back to me. My brain was saying, “Everyone in the audience is either not listening, talking to their friends or silently judging you.”
But despite all my fear and anxiety, that first show was really fun. I couldn’t have asked for a better room to play in, better bands to be playing with, and everyone was just great. And after you get that “first show” out of the way, you never have to play a “first show” ever again. That’s the reward. And now we’ve played a lot of shows, and honestly it’s hard for me to even imagine a time in my life when I didn’t do that. And yes, that is most definitely gratifying.

That brings us to your voice. Who are your favorite singers? I thought of people like Chrissie Hynde or Aimee Mann: strong, authoritative voices even when they’re vulnerable or heartbroken. When the words matter—and they clearly do here—do you think it’s more important to get them across than to yodel or warble like some pop singers of recent vintage?
My favorite female singers, well, you mention Chrissie Hynde, and that’s a big one. She has this way of being tossed-off and flip, but still very musical and melodic when she wants to be. The way she marries those two things and often switches gears between the two over the course of a song is really cool. There’s also a toughness to her singing style that I aspire to a lot. Recently, I’ve also become obsessed with Judee Sill. I have never in my life heard a voice like hers. There is so much emotion and feeling just inherently present in the natural god-given tone of her voice, and there is just zero affect. She can hold one note for 30 seconds, and in that one note you can hear sorrow, joy, anger, anguish—all at once. It’s just remarkable. Her voice is like a knife.
People often say that my singing sounds detached and matter-of-fact. And I think that’s true. Why? I don’t know. It’s just the way I sing. Or maybe it’s just the way I sing these songs. Regardless, I think it pairs well with my lyrical style on this record, and that together they convey a whole, complete personality and point of view. And that’s what I wanted this particular collection of songs to have. They are telling a very specific story, and I don’t think it’s one that would necessarily benefit from a lot of vocal histrionics and showmanship or, conversely, from that sort of sweet, airy, non-threatening way of singing that you hear a lot. With this record, I just want to tell a story. I don’t want to tell you how to feel about it. You know? And I think that’s what people are hearing when they say “detached.” And I’m totally cool with that. I’ve already rambled a lot but to briefly finish off my list of favorite singers, I’ll add some men to the bunch: Mark Eitzel, Jarvis Cocker, Chris Lopez of the Rock*A*Teens (who I am writing a whole guest-editor post about for this), Alex Chilton, Colin Blunstone, Rick Danko, Nick Lowe, the list goes on and on and I touch on some of these other folks in my guest blogs so I’ll shut up now.

As for the writing itself, I’m struck by how tightly connected the words are to the melodies. Sometimes you sense the words come first and the composer essentially adds music to a poem. Other times, you really feel like the words are appended to existing melodies or sound beds. Your songs mostly feel like the words and melodies mostly came at the same time. Or maybe I’m projecting because your background is in the written word?
Typically, the melodies come to me first. I sit down with the guitar and strum a bunch of random chords, and I’ll sing some nonsense words over that until something sounds good. If I’m lucky, a chord progression and a melodic line will sort of lock into place simultaneously. Or at least a little snippet of it will, and that becomes the starting point, and I build out and around it from there. I usually don’t write lyrics until after I’ve got the melody and song structure pretty much mapped out. It’s almost a separate exercise for me. I’m not sure why that is. I guess I take writing lyrics very seriously, and I feel it deserves my full attention. I can’t really write them as I’m strumming the guitar or whatever. I need to be fully focused on the words in front of me.
But the funny thing is that sometimes, I become so used to whatever nonsense word or phrase I was singing when I wrote the melody, that it becomes impossible for me to separate the two. And so there are a lot of songs of mine where the first few words of a line or chorus are actually the bullshit mumbly words I was singing when I wrote it. I’m always very amused by how this seemingly nonsensical word jumble often means more than you think it does when you’re singing it, and that it can inspire a whole set of lyrics about something actually very meaningful.

A lot of your songs feel like the sharp observations of someone who is more comfortable a bit off to the side, taking in the scene and the people in it. Is that fair? And what happens when you’re not off to the side anymore? Do you find your writing evolving as you play more shows and become more confident?
I think I probably answered a lot of this in one of your above questions about playing live. And yes, I do think that I am more comfortable being off to the side and being a background player, but I am not happier that way. I knew that music was something I wanted to pursue, I’ve known it for a long time. But the reason I waited so long to do it had everything to do with comfort—more specifically a fear of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. And that’s no way to live. Remaning in your comfort zone at all times would be pretty fucking boring, so I knew I had to just go for it at a certain point.

So what’s it like to hold the CD in your hand? To know it’s being released into the world? At this point, it’s hard to even know what to expect when an album comes out. I have a friend who is a remarkable songwriter and his big hope is that some established artist will record one of his songs so he can get paid some royalties. I guess what I’m asking here is what your hopes and expectations are, and are you in this for the long haul? Will Bird Of Youth go all in and tour and continue to record?*
I’ve worked so hard to get this record finished, as have a lot of my talented and selfless friends, and so holding it in my hand feels great. It’s been a really long time in the making, and I’m just so relieved we were able to get it done and get it out there. In terms of my expectations, I try so hard not to have any. This is my first record, and I believe in these songs, and I can only hope that some other people out there feel the same way. I have every intention of making another record. I’d love to get back into the studio again immediately to be honest. I know a lot more now than I did when making this record, and I’d love to take that experience and apply it to album number two. I’m also excited to be writing new songs and trying new things. I don’t plan on stopping.

—Phil Sheridan
- Magnet Magazine

"Bird of Youth's "Defender" record review"

Bird Of Youth's Beth Wawerna continues a strong tradition of journalists turned musicians. Women like Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde both saw writing about music as an essential part of their artistic paths. Wawerna worked for both Spin and VH1 since she moved north to NYC from her Atlanta home years ago. Defender, Bird Of Youth's first release, is a worthy debut by an woman who has paid her dues.

Thanks to her connection to Okkervil River's leader Will Scheff, Wawerna's career as a musician has had a nice bit of early momentum. She sang on the last two Okkervil River albums, and she and Sheff have often shared the stage together. Sheff returns the favor by co-producing Defender.

As you might expect from a music writer, Bird Of Youth has a focused sound that is built upon classic sounds. Citing influences from the southern pop bands of her youth (REM, the Rock A Teens), Wawerna also digs back to 50s girl group sounds filtered through Nico's chanteuse sensibility.

The songs on Defender shimmer providing a sense of light shown on the album artwork. Wawerna's vocals have a distant quality to them, but that only adds to the overall effect. "Right On Red" begins the record with a sense of morning awakening before settling into shoop-shoop 50s homage. "When The Wings Hit The Shed" continues this folk pop sound. Countryish guitars ring throughout "The Great Defender" before segueing into the lullaby sounds of "Sex, Blood and Fire".

Throughout Defender, Wawerna and her band continue this mixture of musical decades creating a wonderful femininity within each groove. Don't think this means Defender lacks strength - not at all. It is just rare that female musicians can be both assertive and feminine at once. Bird Of Youth succeeds at this tremendously.

By the time the album ends with "One Hand Able", it's dirge-like pacing of a distinctly retro sound feels like a party girl finding herself worn down, lost in early morning after the evening has been long over. Bird Of Youth takes the listener inside Wawerna's world.

Like a high school girl's bedroom walls decorated with her heroes and dreams, Defender delicately balances youthful hopes against adult realities.

- Jim Markel - Swampland

"Will Sheff, Charles Bissell, Bird Of Youth @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg | Brooklyn"

It was a pretty nasty night outside, but whoever fought the rain to get to the Music Hall of Williamsburg would agree that last nights show was worth the trek. Will Sheff and his friends put on a show filled with good vibes and quality music. It was a night of both newly discovered talent and classic sing a longs.

Bird of Youth kicked off the show with a solid set of early 90s-inspired rock with a pinch of dusty Americana thrown in. They were a little bit Mazzy Star, a little bit Cat Power, but still a tightly orchestrated band that definitely knew how to craft a solid pop song in their own unique way. I look forward to hearing their debut album, which Will Sheff happens to be producing.

Following Bird of Youth was solo artist Charles Bissell (of the Wrens and now Okkervil River), who put on a pretty amazing show for being the only person on the stage. He was a master of the loop pedal layering guitar riffs on one another creating a bed of dissonance to envelope his Elliott Smith-esque lyrical delivery. He created such a distinctive mood with his loops that he added such a personal touch to a cover of an Okkervil River song that Will Sheff became a fan. This mutual respect spawned the two song 7? in which they covered each others songs.

Last but not least Will Sheff took the stage for a solid hour and a half performance of stripped down Okkervil River songs that spanned their full library. It was an intimate show that really put the spotlight on Will’s lyrics, thus creating a completely different experience. The audience was able to bask in the long-winded poetic brilliance of his songs taking in every verse from classics such as “Red”, “Happy Heart” and “Plus Ones”, creating more of an emotional depth to the songs. Other highlights of the show included “Bruce Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel”, which is a song stuck at the end of their recent release Stand Ins, that I frequently pass over, but performed in such an intimate setting took on a whole new feel that was completely riveting.

Charles Bissell added his atmospheric dissonant touch to “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” which they slowed down the tempo to and completely created a distinctive new piece of work from the song. Bird of Youth’s lead singer Beth Wawerna joined him onstage to perform the beautiful ballad from Black Sheep Boy, “Get Big” which was definitely was pinnacle of the performance.

All in all it was a great show that held my interest throughout the whole night. Will surrounds himself with some talented individuals who, along with himself, I look forward hearing more from.

- The Tripwire

"NYC Beat #2 - Live: SXSW and Bird Of Youth"

Ah the warm air of Austin, Texas in March. Forget the bands and the free drinks, it's the early taste of summer that keeps me coming back each year. So that's where I found myself again last week, checking out a few acts from NYC nearly a 1,700 miles drive from venues I could have caught them at a few weeks/months before in their native or perhaps adopted land.

Highlights from this years experience would have to be spending time at the unofficial non-SXSW sanctioned 3rd annual Mess With Texas festival in Waterloo Park and an amazing set from Those Darlins, natives of Murfreesboro, TN. I was sad to have missed stopping by Ms. Bea's for the incredible Todd P party(s) (aka any other odd day long picnic at The Yard back home). A low point would certainly be waking up on Friday morning with a splitting headache not more than a half an hour before a scheduled breakfast meeting. All in all I didn't get to catch too much new as far as bands go. I was actually down there for work more so than play (full-disclosure, the author is a music publicist in the states, but you won't find him promoting his bands here), but it didn't stop me from taking in Bird of Youth for the first time.

Bird Of Youth is a band fronted by Beth Wawerna, whom I originally became aware of via a friend pointing me towards MySpace, where you can check out some of the early recordings from a forthcoming debut LP. The best I can describe the music is the Empire Records sound track (early 90s college rock) meets modern day indie rock with a little alt country twang thrown in. The young lady is well connected, counting many in the Brooklyn music community friends. Finding herself surrounded by such successful musicians, who could blame her for being a bit fearful of stepping on the stage herself and trying to live up to her peers. Let's be thankful she finally did, and also that she keeps such good company. On the record she draws from a indie rock superstar cast that features the likes of Charles Bissell of The Wrens, Matthew Cawes of Nada Surf, Bryan Devendorf of The National and Will Sheff of Okkervil River, whom is also producing the record.

I caught up with Bird Of Youth early on Saturday (3/21) at The Parish, where a not too sparse crowd (considering the early time slot) was watching Wawerna and company do their thing. One of the first aspects I listen for when checking out an artist for the first time after having heard them on record is whether or not the vocals are up to snuff live. There's nothing more disappointing than not having those expectations met. Happily Wawerna's full and breathy pipes were doing well to live up to mine. Being a young band that hasn't yet played together very much it wasn't surprising to find them a little rough around the edges, but what they lacked in polish they generally made up for with enthusiasm, running through favorites of mine like 'The Great Defender' and 'Stop Staring'. I'd only been privy to 4 or so songs recorded, so it was also great to hear a lot of new (to me) material. One number I particularly enjoyed and can't wait to hear again was 'Wings Hit The Shed', which somebody in the audience managed to capture on YouTube here. For the final song Will Sheff surprised the audience and got up on stage to join the band.

SXSW 2009 was another fun festival experience in Austin, capped off later that night by a steamy make out session with a horrible slice of what Texans might mistake for a pizza. I should have stuck to the tacos. Catch you next week! - RockFeedBack


Defender - LP, released May 2011



Bird of Youth has played many clubs around New York and Brooklyn, including Mercury Lounge, Music Hall of Williamsburg, The Bell House, Union Hall, (le) poisson rouge and The Cake Shop – as well as Café du Nord in San Francisco, the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, and The Parish in Austin, TX, as part of SXSW 2008. The band has opened for artists like A.C. Newman, Mark Eitzel, Nicole Atkins, Will Sheff of Okkervil River, Charles Bissell of the Wrens and The Wooden Birds.
Beth Wawerna's involvement with rock music started a couple minutes after she was born, when her 14-year-old brother stubbornly insisted she be named for the eponymous 1976 KISS power ballad, "Beth." Her parents consented – thus unwittingly sealing their daughter's fate.

Young Beth spent her formative years in Atlanta, GA, sifting through her brother's abandoned record collection. She became taken with artists like Elvis Costello and The Replacements, who fit in nicely with the Southern indie-rock scene she'd already been exposed to – bands like R.E.M., Pylon, and one of her favorites, the oft-overlooked titans of violently deconstructed garage rock, Cabbagetown's Rock*A*Teens.

When it was time to leave the South, Beth (like so many of her generation) got a job, moved to Brooklyn, got laid off, sat around, went to bars and stayed up late with her musician friends – drinking Budweiser and singing Gram Parsons songs. She also wrote songs of her own – songs that recalled the classic and college rock she'd grown up with, as well as crooners like Brenda Lee, the swagger of old New York girl groups and and the insight, wit and sarcasm of late 70s/early 80s gems like Squeeze and Rockpile.

But central to all of these songs was her own sensibility – both brainy and tough, thoughtful and tossed-off, vicious and vulnerable. For so long, Beth had been the consummate green-room insider and dubious creative outsider – comfortable hanging out backstage, but terrified of being on it. She wrote for years before sharing so much as a note.

The first album from her band Bird of Youth collects these songs. Produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River and engineered by Phil Palazzolo (The New Pornographers, Neko Case, Radio 4), its cast of players also includes members of Nada Surf, the Wrens, the Mendoza Line, Okkervil River, Royal American and The National. The result is like a Pretenders album ghostwritten by Dorothy Parker – clever songs that turn indie-rock braininess back on itself with a casual frivolity. Far from being just another girl coo-ing breathy pleasantries into the microphone, Beth and her band have made a rock record. It's big. It's ballsy. It's sweet. And it's smart.

Peter Criss would be proud.