Inspired by a summer spent with friends, the English singer co-wrote one of her best-loved songs with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder
Jasmine van den Bogaerde AKA Birdy first found fame back in 2008 when she won the Open Mic UK contest aged just 12. Her self-titled debut in 2011 was largely cover songs, but by the time of her second album Fire Within she’d written or co-written every song contained within. 2016’s Beautiful Lies then utilised a far broader palette and added texture to the more stripped-back sound listeners were used to, before last year’s Young Heart imbued her sound with the essence of classic early 1970s Laurel Canyon.
Returning to Fire Within, one of the album’s highlights is opening track Wings. Along with Words As Weapons, it was one of two songs written with One Republic frontman/songwriter supreme Ryan Tedder. A spellbinding ballad that allows Birdy’s stunning voice to soar, it’s no surprise that it remains a popular choice for adverts and soundtracks alike. So let’s learn all about the creation of a track where, ‘There wasn’t a huge process with it…’
“That was one of my first co-writing experiences. It was the second album and I’d gone out to LA and worked with a few different people. The whole thing was quite intense because I’d never done it before. Then I met Ryan Tedder, who is obviously an incredible songwriter, and he’s just so fast. He’s amazing to watch, it’s so impressive. So, Wings was written really quickly, in an afternoon. I met him and then it was done, like that.
“It was just this amazing studio in LA, but I don’t think it was Ryan’s normal studio. But I did go to his house as well, that was in Denver and he has this amazing studio where you go through this hidden walkway into it. It’s hidden almost in a cupboard and you open the doors and go through a tunnel into the studio. So that was pretty cool, working with him there.
“Going into the first session, I didn’t realise how amazing it was to be in a room with someone like that. It was probably too much to take in at the time, I was just like, ‘Okay, here’s the next one, on the next day, with this person.’ I had to not think about it, because it would get too scary otherwise.
“Because I was only 16, we wanted to write about something that was light and fun. So it’s based on the idea of being at a festival. I’d been to one that summer with my friends and it was about that time; having this amazing night with them, and missing those people. That’s what the story is based on. I remember we wrote the verse and then suddenly, Ryan is so fast, he literally had the chorus in a second after we had this little idea of the verse. I always find the melody really interesting on that, because it jumps up and it’s always quite weird to sing, I find it quite jarring. He’s incredible, I think he’s such an amazing writer.
“That one was pretty much in the room, that we came up with it, and it was imagining this scenario. I remember that first verse when the sunlight comes creeping in. And I love just imagine different things, like that really beautiful light where it’s twilight and everyone’s skin glows in that kind of spooky light. That’s what I was imagining for that. But yeah, we pretty much wrote it there and came up with it together there, in a studio in LA. Then we also wrote Words As Weapons together as well on that record. And then Ryan produced it.
“Lyrically, more than anything, it’s remembering a moment that was amazing and really fun. That’s something that so many people can relate to, a memory of being with someone and missing that person. I also think it does have that kind of summer feeling to it, where it’s a summer that you’re remembering.
“Ryan was really great at making sure that I was speaking my mind, and asking me, ‘What do you think of this?’ Because, sometimes at that point, I was a bit nervous to speak up. So that was really amazing to work with someone who was aware of that. I never felt like I wasn’t being heard or that I hadn’t said what I needed to say. I do always write the music first, that’s quite nice for me because I don’t always have to speak, I can just play and show people what I mean. And then a lot of it was that on that song, it was with the verse. I always write at the piano and it’s just finding the right chords and then it grew from that.
“It always had that middle section, I could hear that it could be quite big-sounding, and then Ryan did this amazing, big production. I was a little bit scared of it at first, because it felt really big and quite pop. But it’s amazing because we’ve also got that acoustic version, so it can be played in so many different ways. I love doing both. When we play it live, it’s really fun doing the big one, because it’s just so fun for the audience and I love feeling that energy from them.
“I’m not very good at knowing if a song is going to be successful. I could sort of imagine it live and how fun that would be to play. I think that’s what I was thinking when I first heard it, how I could imagine singing with people in the audience and that was really exciting. But I don’t know if I’m the best judge of things.
“I think because I’ve sung it so many times, there are moments where you get a bit sick of a song. I’ve definitely had that with Wings. But I will say it’s also so nice playing it live and having that reaction, so that sort of keeps it alive for me, when I play it for people. That song has always felt quite simple to me, which I love about it, but it’s also why sometimes I get a bit bored singing it. Because it’s quite a simple song, I think that’s why so many people like it. Sometimes my brain over-complicates things, and I want them to be too musical. What’s so beautiful about Wings is it’s really simple.
“I haven’t tried to recreate Wings. I do find that really hard, trying to think about writing something that will be successful in that way. That really is something I’ve struggled to do. It’s really hard to do that, I think. I kind of just have to go with whatever I’m feeling that day. But I mean, maybe I should try, because it is nice to just have fun with things like that and then maybe something amazing will come out of it.
“What’s so weird with Wings, because it was so fast, there wasn’t a huge process with it like there are with other songs. Some people say that the ones that are very simple and that just work like that do come out really fast and always happen in a few hours.”
The Wings songwriter’s latest album Portraits is out now. Find out more at officialbirdy.com