Birds In Row is a french trio from Laval, France whose humble and DIY beginnings are as much valid as their powerful achievements in the last two to three years. From their debut record You, Me & The Violence in 2012, up to one of the most essential records from 2022, ten years is a long time to grow, learn and flourish. With the force of nature, life and music inflicting upon the band's core ideals and message, there's still some things that remain the same. Maybe more refined but still embracing the rough edges of what the band takes from life. Gris Klein was their most recent output to the world, released under Cult of Luna's own Red Creek label, their familiarity with Portuguese underground scene only grows stronger as time passes.
In their previous visit, underlined in that gorgeous Amplifest line-up in 2019, the band was received with open arms in one of the biggest stages they've played indoors. A few years later, they return, again with Amplifest, again at the mainstage, again reminding that there are some things that trascend the stage. Again reminding that they have remained tirelessly genuine and passionate about what they do and what they sing about. Again reminding that Amplifest was the perfect time and place to return to us. Plenty of things to celebrate, their return, their newest record and an amazing show, all of these culminating in a chance to meet up with the band to talk about these things and more.
Roughly three years have gone by since the last Amplifest took place. How has the band been doing since your last time here, and how does it feel to be back?
Bart - It feels great to be back. Lockdown for us happened like two times, kind of. Like, we were on tour with Alcest and Kaelan Mikla and we had toured a lot on the previous record. We did a lot of shows and we were getting tired, so when covid happened it kinda forced us to stop and rest a little bit. It was pretty fine with us because we wanted to compose and record a new album. The first lockdown was magical, you know, you do whatever you want, you don't have any timeline or deadline or anything like that, so it was cool. And we wrote most of the guitar riffs at this time. Then, we started to understand that maybe we were not going back on tour for a long time and it started to become more depressing. It was kind of weird. When we started composing the record, we had a lot of energy, a lot of motivation, and the more lockdowns we went through, the bleaker it got. So the motivations changed. It was more like "We need to talk about what we live in right now". We already wanted to talk about depression and anxiety before the lockdowns, but everything that happened during those two and a half years really amplified all that we wanted to say – all the social tensions, the feeling of isolation, and all that.
So, it was kind of a good timing artistically in a way, but not a good time at all humanly. We've never felt as depressed as we were during lockdowns. Humanly, it was very hard for us because we wanted to get out of lockdowns to go on tour. It was kind of a weird feeling, but at the same time, we put things into perspective, and it made us understand that the passion that we have is way stronger than what we thought, and that we were really looking forward to being here, on tour, even though it's a very hard tour. We have insanely long drives. Our bodies were not prepared. It's really hard at the moment, but it feels really good. Even more so to be in Portugal. People are amazing. There's like this magic between us that makes every show amazing. May it be in a bar or in a huge venue, it's always the same. Everyone's just crazy! It's so good.
You’re currently touring with Cult of Luna and Caspian, and I believe this is your first tour since the one you did with Alcest back in 2020. How does it feel to finally be able to tour through Europe again, especially with two of the biggest bands in their respective genres?
B - We've always been so lucky with Birds In Row that we toured with most of the bands we love. When we started the band we were like "We want to sound like Converge" or "We want to sound like Modern Life Is War"... and we toured with all those bands. So it's not that we are not surprised anymore. It's just that, sometimes you need to remind yourself that you're on tour with Cult Of Luna, like what the fuck?! [laughs]. If I could tell myself ten years ago that I would be touring with Cult Of Luna and that they would put out our new record on their label, I'd be like "Get the fuck outta here, that's not gonna happen!" [laughs].
And Caspian is the same. Caspian is one of the only post-rock bands I still listen to, maybe along with Godspeed, you know? Because I kinda felt that, when post-rock happened, so many bands started playing that genre of music that I was kinda drowned in post-rock and every band sounded the same. But Caspian always stood out for me. They always had this typical sound that was personal to them. So it's amazing to see them play every night as well. And you know, the most important thing on tour is to tour with nice people, kind people. And that's the fact here, so we couldn't be happier.
You obviously enjoy mixing and matching elements from several different genres. Is there any methodical process to how you adapt and combine genres so effortlessly, or do you usually just experiment with ideas until everything starts sounding cohesive and flowing organically?
B - It's easier for us to experiment because, since the beginning of the band, we’ve written music to play it live. So when we’re together in the practice room and we start to have those feelings of how we’d sound in a live venue, that's when we know that the song is good. That's more of what we are about. We all have different inspirations. The more we grew up, the more we brought in new inspirations that were not like punk, hardcore, screamo and stuff like that. Everyone just put something more on the table, and we experimented with that. The best way to do it is to have the three of us in the practice room, which has been pretty hard for the composition of that record [Gris Klein] because we had to be separate. That's the first time we wrote so much music without seeing each other. The guitar parts, for example, were more developed than what they used to be. Usually, we'd take like one or two riffs and we'd go in the practice room and everything would come together. New ideas come by playing with each other, but this time we had to be more careful. Every single time we were together in the practice room, we had to make it as efficient as possible. So we started writing more and more riffs. I think I had like 30 songs ready to be worked on and we only picked up like 11 of them. It was a different way of approaching the composition, but in the end, it was just another way to make it more efficient. We still compose live because that's the kind of band we are and because we really want to play everything live and not have any single backtrack, you know?
Birds in Row at Amplifest 2022
And that is noticeable through all your records. All of your catalogue kind of just fits in together. There's no filler...
B - It's cool because we're the kind of band that never has an extra song. When we finish preparing the songs for the records, they're all there. There's not an extra song that we could put anywhere else like on a demo or something. We always give the most of ourselves on every single song on the record. When people tell you that there's not one bad song on your record, we really appreciate it, because we worked a lot on that, we really tried to have more songs but we couldn't because we were so focused on making 11 good songs. There was no time and place for other songs to come out. So it's cool. Thanks!
Your past three full-lenght projects all featured album covers with some sort of human element in them, and Gris Klein is no different. Would you say your covers tend to illustrate and reflect just how important the human condition is to the core of your art?
B - What we usually do is that we compose the music, then we put lyrics on top of them, being inspired by the music and the feelings they incite. After that, we think of the artwork, so that everything is connected. And because we tend to talk about human relationships, human feelings in general, and politics which is also a very human thing, I think it's just normal that the covers feature a lot of human beings. The main difference is that, on the previous records we tended to have big close-ups on different details, and for that one [Gris Klein] we wanted to have a character fully depicted. Because the record talks about depression and anxiety, for me it was important to feel that this person was oppressed by the frame of the cover itself. You can feel like the head is kind of pressed down. And also, that you could read some feelings or non-feelings on his or her face. That was the main point about it. We really wanted to illustrate the title and the whole concept of the record behind the title through the artwork, and we needed a human being for that.
I know you probably weren't here for the whole festival, but were there any artists or you were particularly keen on seeing on Amplifest?
B - Yeah, we just arrived. I wanted to see Brutus. I think they played yesterday? I also wanted to see Fotocrime. We actually played at the same time as them in Cologne, in Germany and after we played, I rushed everything and went to see them play because they're friends of ours. I'm happy that I arrived in time for Wolves In The Throne Room because it's one of the only black metal bands I listen to since all the politics around black metal bands are kind of like "grey zones" and shit, but with them you can be sure that it's okay. I want to see Patrick Walker because I love 40 Watt Sun. It's like one of the most Sunday-type soundtracks that you can listen to. And obviously Caspian and Cult Of Luna but I get to see them every night. I wanted to see Tenue. Jo Quail is also amazing. Discovered her playing with a French band called Rosa Crux which is like the gothiest band you can find, and she's amazing. Amenra is amazing, I love them. I wish I could have seen the acoustic part because I've never seen it. Dälek is amazing. Oranssi Pazuzu and Pallbearer also. For me Amplifest is like the Portuguese Roadburn. The line-up is so amazing, there's like so many artists you wanna see.
For the next weekend I have no idea who is playing because I was sure I wouldn't see them. Shy, Low is amazing. Cave In, Sumac... Deafheaven, although I'm not much into their last record, but I love the first ones! Anna von Hausswolff... I wish I could see her. And Bongripper is amazing too. We played with them, I can't remember when, but I remember playing with them and it was sick. Lingua Ignota is sick. Bossk, Peter Broderick, Aaron Turner, Envy, Godspeed... Next weekend is gonna be crazy. Last time I saw The Bug play, he was with [Dylan] Carlson, the guy from Earth. It's kind of a weird question, because everything is so fucking good [laughs]. I wish I could see everything.
To finish things off, tell me: what have you been listening to lately?
B: I've been obsessed with Fontaines D.C. Usually I'm not all that into brit-pop and brit-punk, but I feel like their second to last record [A Hero's Death] was mind-blowing to me. It was like the newest version of Joy Division, more poppy but in the same way so Irish that it felt desperate. Their last record was amazing too. I've never seen them live but I wish I could. I've listened to a lot of Radiohead during lockdowns, which is weird 'cause it's one of those bands everyone listens to and I kind of discovered them during lockdowns. I was opening myself to Radiohead and got obsessed with them. I listened to Emma Ruth Rundle. Her last record is heartbreaking. I love the simplicity of the piano, the voices, and the guitar. Last time we played here, we played right after her. I had already seen her before at Roadburn and everytime I see her solo show, I'm amazed by the power she's got and the influence she has over the whole room. She's a really amazing artist. I've listened to a lot of video game soundtracks. So like, Elden Ring, Skyrim...
That's kind of surprising, actually...
B - I'm a lot into video games. I actually have a Twitch channel! But it's all in French. Indie games also have crazy good soundtracks. Like Katana Zero... It's kinda weird because when you compose a new record, for me at least, I stop listening to any kind of music that is related to what we do. So we don't get influenced by anyone else. I tend to listen to different stuff like Sangre de Muerdago which is a Galician folk band with Pablo from Ekkaia. If you haven't heard of it you should listen to it... Oh yeah, Choir Boy! It's kind of like this new wave band and it sounds like the Smiths, but without an asshole on the microphone [laughs]. This French band Bleakness. Fotocrime too, like I was talking about earlier. Metz is an amazing band. They proposed us to play together this summer but we couldn't do it and it reminded me of how much I love that band. That's basically it!