Wallis Bird is an Irish lesbian singer that crosses a lot of genres, and in doing so, lets you right into herself, and all of her thoughts (“tohts,” if said in her accent). With several albums now, she laid out the great songs and feelings with her new single “Life is Long”. She is uncompromising in her honesty, very witty, and had me in tears several times during our conversation, both laughing and just how she touched me, she is just a pure and true Irish gem (and has the most adorable Irish accent, you wanna just hug her).
In conversation, she can make you just laugh for no reason. She is left-handed and had her fingers cut off as a young child, with them reattached, she still plays guitar and writes very intense, and deep songs. Prepping the release of her album “Woman” Out on September 27th, (and new video “Life Is Long” ) she has plenty of wonderful music to listen to.
JH: OK brass tacks, Wallis. I have been warned that you are very witty, sarcastic, blunt, and generally charming and that I shouldn’t expect to have a professional interview. Just putting it out there.
WB: Fair Play, I’m sure I’ll live up to it.
JH: I would describe your music as a mix of, a bit like Fight Like Apes, a lot of Laurie Anderson, some Cranberries, and Liz Fraser.
WB: Oh yes, I’ll take all that, every last one of them.
JH: So you know them all, good taste then, what got you into Laurie.
WB: I got into Laurie when I was in Berlin a few years ago, ever since then, back catalog. Endless musical talent, and material she was prophetic, a bohemovich, of music, had no qualms in saying or doing anything, pushed all to the limits.
JH: She was also married to Uncle Lou (Lou Reed) “The God of Rock and Roll” so that added to her creativity for sure, I saw her a couple of times live, it was metaphysical.
WB: Oh, god, lovely, I’ve never seen her live, just videos, that is wonderful, I can only imagine what she does in concert, that is one woman who is never afraid of doing anything, even if others didn’t understand it. Then, the Cranberries, oh, wonderful yeah, Delores was a sweetheart.
JH: I met her on the first tour she was so short, shy, sweet. Got some stuff signed, personally to me, it means so much more to me now that she is gone. (Delores O’ Riordan from the Cranberries died by suicide in January of 2018). And, Liz, who doesn’t love Liz Fraser right? I mean, Cocteau Twins, they would have done better without the cocaine between her and Robin.
WB: Wait, they were together? God, you are giving me a music history lesson here.
JH: Yeah, Liz and Robin were married, and being in a band with your spouse is stressful enough, but he also had a relationship with the blow on the side. But, they are legendary, their influence will NEVER be forgotten, just polished over the years.
WB: Hey, she inspired so many female vocalists, still does, and I am honored that you compare me to her as well.
JH: Your music has this beautiful smooth positive feel with this jolly sarcasm to it.
WB: Oh, I wouldn’t be Irish without the sarcasm.
JH: With pleasant remnants of Fight Like Apes, bit more esoteric, but still have a great feel like theirs, that positive snarky sarcasm, just not as harsh in the delivery.
WB: I LOVED Fight Like Apes, they were such a powerhouse, I was mad about them, though I’ve never been compared to them cause they were so different, but their live show was fantastic. They would melt your face live, they were incredible.
JH: Well, listening to your albums, I can tell you have been through a lot, you grew a lot emotionally.
WB: My whole life has been trying to come to terms with trying to live inside a first Catholic, then Irish background. Through my traditions, as being a modern traditionalist I suppose, it left me as an underdog left on the fringes of society. As much as you try and hide it, people know you’re gay, even if you don’t. I was very afraid of getting caught, I didn’t want to bring any shame on my family.
I have a good relationship with them all. I greatly respect my family, and it also means the world to me to be someone involved in community. I didn’t want to be cast aside, I didn’t want to fight with anyone, I didn’t want to cause any guilt or hide things, or keep secrets from them. So I spent most of my time writing music asking people to love each other universally. So I could normalize thoughts to myself in a safe-house. If I sing that I love, and someone hates me, it is their problem. I try to use love as a safe house. As I got older, I got to express myself more clearly, I never tried to gender-ize my music. When I met my partner Tracy, and she came out to her parents, that kind of changed everything so I decided to come out to my parents.
JH: Did they know?
WB: My mom knew, my father didn’t quite. It was quite cruel that I thought he wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I was wrong, but it was my father. When I told him, he was fine with it, he is rather forward about it. He does not gender-ize it, he will say, “Does he have a boyfriend”, or “a girlfriend”, instead of just, “does he have a girlfriend” kind of thing. He took it well, and that’s when I wrote “Home” cause I really finally felt at home.
JH: Oh, I get it, we are all shitheads as kids, not thinking our parents will get it. I remember sneaking out at 14, to go to Prom with a friend’s older sister. I mean, I was 14, she was almost 18, I didn’t dare ask, I just went, and got caught. My dad said they would have said yes, and he was really hurt that I didn’t think I could ask. That was nothing like coming out, so I can imagine how hard it was around this.
WB: Funny you say that I recently read, “Don’t ever tell your kids, I don’t want to hear about that” if they are having issues with school, or girlfriend or boyfriend, you want them to come to you. You need them to know they can come to the source. How is it with your and your kids?
JH: Yeah, I’m in the middle of that right now. Best I can say is I’m just trying not to be like my dad. Lemme explain that my dad was gay, and from a long line of Glaswegian dysfunctional alcoholics. And then add in the Mormon stigma/resolution that If you are gay, you should marry a person of the opposite gender, and it will “straighten you out.” Thus, it made life difficult for all of us, all of that destroyed him, and he died a miserable man. That’s … I suppose why you and I are talking now. I am out trying to.. I guess to say, “Dad I love you.” No one on either side of that situation should suffer as we did. I’m trying to bring as many people together on this as I can, just… we all need love, more of it.
WB: God Jeremy, that is hard to hear, but you are a beautiful person thank you so much for doing this, for yourself, your father and everyone else, I really mean that.
JH: Well I think it was great that your dad was there for you in this. Though, it was kind of easier for you to come out and be accepted than it was for my dad, it’s reversed and messed up I guess. The love between parents and children shouldn’t be dictated by any church, but unfortunately, it still is. You got lucky.
WB: Honestly it’s pure luck, George Carlin, “ I was always told ‘respect your parents,’ and I said I will if they respect me.”
JH: Ty Herndon, the first openly gay country singer said, “As a parent, you have one job, love your kids, nurture them, and provide for them, give them good advice.” He was from a tiny town in Alabama, and that was at a time when, well, as a young person you couldn’t come out living at home with your family. How old were you when you broke the news to them?
WB: I came out at 30, met my girlfriend Tracey, she is my big love, she told her parents immediately. I thought I better fucking do this, I gained courage from her, and her realism about it. I told my mom when I was 21, I told my dad when I was 30, it was late in the game.
JH: When did you start dating women?
WB: I dated them at about 18, It was a long time hiding and bullshitting myself. But it was hard I’m daddy’s girl, he knew already, we have a very long and strong bond. I had an accident when I was a baby, (hand-cut up) since then I’ve been dad’s girl, but in Catholic Ireland, you never talked about sex. I’m close to my siblings about that, but I think was protecting my parents. Just the culture and silence about sex, sexuality, and identity. It’s coming off a lot in the last 5 years through sheer grassroots. It’s been the unnerving of the Catholic church and so many scandals were exposed in the last 6 years. People were like “Ok, we are separating the Catholic Church and State” and letting people decide the rules of the land. Gay marriage was voters’ poll, referendum, last year we repealed 8th amendment an abortion law. All of this through the sheer passion for activism.
JH: Yeah, in England they had that whole “Clause 28″ which everyone blew off (a set of laws in the UK preventing showing homosexuality in a positive light). But in Ireland, I think the first in your face effort for the LGBT community was that absurd film “KILLING BONO.” It was a brilliant movie, making fun of the band in the shadows of U2, clearly not going anywhere, so their gimmick was that they were “Like U2, but gayer”.
WB: Wow, you got Irish music and gay culture covered.
JH: Then there was the EVER freaky brilliant and wonderful “Breakfast on Pluto” Gavin Friday, playing Killian Murphy’s gay lover. The film showed this weird understory of the Catholic church, sex scandals, the IRA, and god knows what else.
WB: OH YES, I LOVED THAT MOVIE. I interviewed alongside Gavin Friday on television, a group interview, I just stared at him, I was mesmerized, he is a beautiful man, so is Killian Murphy.
JH: I made it through about eighty percent of your catalog, you have a LOT there, I’m late in the game hearing your stuff. Let us talk about “Pass the Darkness,” I got these images of, muses in purple garb dancing around in a circle almost chanting it, swaying almost like the Sufi’s, but not quite like the Turkish twirling dervishes.
WB: Eighty Percent???? Jesus fair play… I’m impressed. I’m glad that you closed your eyes, that song IS about closing your eyes. I wrote it about a friend, who’s close relative committed suicide. It was a simple line, “just past the darkness into the light”, keep saying it till you feel it. That’s how I meditate, I go inverted, search myself, then use myself as the vessel for lyrics. I sculpt, but the core of the song comes from within me, but not necessarily by me. That was a wish my for a friend to have some light in the darkness. So he could feel better.
JH: Did you visualize the purple muses and the swaying dancing?
WB: That’s completely yours and it’s beautiful, but yes there is hypnotism designed into it.
JH: Then there is “Mistakes are Intentional” love the title.
WB: That is to say I don’t give a fuck about fixing mistakes anymore, I call them happy accidents, so much has happened in my life from spontaneity, and not planning. Its a rough and ready album, it was a home recording of my 3rd record. Everything that was a mistake on that recording I left it in there. A mistake is a spontaneous thing. It was an interesting thought to take control of something you can’t control, but to own it.
JH: For your “Self Titled” album, you were very young, and there was lots more… pain, or anxiety in there. “Ghosts of Memories”, heavy lyrics “Sometimes screaming keeps me breathing”, “Crooked light that holds the night, won’t hold me tonight”. That song starts soft, slow, then hits heavy, then goes back to the… scared, softer, almost vulnerable place.
WB: That was when I rented a cottage, to be alone, it was a foreign land, it is otherworldly, it’s what I imagine “Our Utah” might be. I rented a cottage for 10 days, and it was a very bad snow storm, I had no phone, could not be reached. I was housebound for a couple of days, It was extremely scary, being on your own, with blaring 150k winds, with no electricity, no contact was terrifying. I went into myself, and I was faced with the ghosts and demons of my past. It was a self connecting time, it was dark, but to quote Ananias Mitchel, “The darkest of night comes before the light”.
JH: So you dealt with your demons there?
WB: Yeah, I was on my own, no one else to talk to, you were dealing with your own mind, and thought, the things I didn’t want to deal with were facing me.I think it is better to do something like that with a purpose, that’s more critical to have someone to reflect upon as a professional. But the whole experience of coming out, dealing with all the demons, sometimes was easier for people before me, I hope those after have it easier, and we all help to improve each others lives.
JH: Well, your heaviest of all of it for me was “But I’m Still Here, I’m Still Here”
WB: God you really did do your homework, Fair Play!!! That’s how I came out and met other people, met them out back smoking a cigarette. The point of that song is that if I didn’t have this if I didn’t have someone like you out there cheering us on, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.
JH: Talk about “Life is Long.” (the new video)
WB: It’s about being like a child while being with my parents. We went away for a weekend in the west of Ireland, we got all shit faced. We went back to the hotel singing, they got in their pajamas, and she said to get into bed, and it was the first time I got into bed with my parents since I was a child. I thought it would be a missed opportunity to not write a song, to say, how silly we are as adults hanging out getting pissed, then hanging out in bed like that, it was just full circle and childlike for me. The song for me I would not have written like that, it was too simplistic, or too commercial, but it wrote itself and people might skim across it. I could do a deep or sad song, but this moment was so sweet, simple, child-like, it wouldn’t write itself any other way.
JH: It’s a song of pure simple joy, need more of those. Here is what I ask everyone I interview. For the young person, in the closet, who is afraid to come out, terrified, and in that vulnerable state. What would you tell that young person?
WB: I would say be not afraid, we are here for you, no matter what, beyond what anyone thinks or says, you are not alone, love yourself, and “Come out” and meet us” we’re all just hanging out back, having a cigarette.
JH: Hey Wallis, Vielen Dank, Alles Gute…
WB: Alles Liebe.
About the Author: Jeremy Hinks
An indie GONZO music journalist in Salt Lake City, and an Anarchist behind the Zion Curtain. Jeremy Hinks is an obnoxious Type-A Male, who is embarrassingly straight and a staunch LGBTQ Ally with little tact, and a big heart. He has supported his LGBTQ friends since he was a teenager.
He has photographed on multiple tours U2, The English Beat, Peter Hook & The Light, and is somehow making a name for himself photographing Pink Floyd Tribute bands, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Britfloyd, Dead Floyd. He is one of the photographers for the LOVELOUD Foundation in Utah, an organization to bring awareness and support for the young LGBT community in Utah, and to bring an end to the epidemic of suicides there.
He also drives a Vespa, and wears kilts, is rarely seen wearing pants, should be considered armed and dangerous, so do not approach without extreme caution.