Quick Q and A with Birds of Chicago

Birds of Chicago is a musical entity that you’ll be hearing more about…..there’s no doubt about that.  Their self-titled debut CD is catching the attention of music critics and fans alike.  The core of the group consists of J.T. Nero (J.T. and the Clouds) and Allison Russell (Po’ Girl) and their unique sound is captivating. These two musicians actually begin collaborating in 2011 on J.T.’s recording, Mountains / Forests.  They both realized that they had something special going on and that they had to continue to make music together and thus….Birds of Chicago.

You can discover more about Birds of Chicago at their website.


How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you before?    

A negotiation of light and shadow? A mixed bag of gum drops and bitter pills? Very bad at this question? You’ll hear some soul, some old country and rock n roll ghosts..  Harmony singing and poetry, hopefully of the not-too-fancy sort.

 Birds of Chicago is called a “collective.”  Does that mean that the number of musicians varies from gig to gig? Does it range from two to….how many?  

It is a collective in that sense – the size of the band/support musicians varies depending on the type of tour we are on. The project is built around the collaboration between Allison and I – we are the constants.

JT, I understand that you’ve done most of the songwriting for Birds of Chicago.  What inspires you to start writing a song?  Are you plagued with melodies or harmonies in your head before you actually sit down to concentrate on writing? 

Plagued by melody is actually a nice way to put it…. Things usually start with a fragment of a melody – sometimes with words attached, sometimes just sounds – that won’t leave me alone. If a fragment persists, works itself into a loop in my mind, then I start consciously trying to build something around it..


Allison, you play the banjo—that’s not a typical instrument for a young woman to learn. What prompted your interest in the banjo?  Do you play any other instruments?

Kermit the Frog played the banjo in the first Muppet Movie and that really inspired me–I’ve always emulated his style — he’s not much of a shredder but he gets the job done… and  when I later saw Steve Martin’s movie The Jerk – I knew I was on the right life path. I also play clarinet (inspired originally by Benny Goodman and Sydney Bechet), acoustic and electric guitar, a bit of piano, bodhran, penny whistles, glockenspiel, and I like to to whistle.

JT and Allison, do you have any musical heroes (past and present)?

Of course there’s a huge list—to name a few Sam Cooke, Levon Helm and the Band,  Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, John Prine, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Benny Goodman, The Staples Singers, The Bandana Sisters, The Andrews Sisters, Nas, Oumou Sangare

Allison, I’ve got to ask—do you have a favorite banjo joke? 

I have a rare condition which causes me to be unable to remember any jokes– JT has contributed this gem to the banjo denigration pantheon:

Guy walks into a bar with a banjo under his arm. He orders a beer and begins playing. Slowly but surely, everyone else in the bar leaves. He finishes his beer, plays a little longer, and then goes home.  He tries to go to bed but has trouble sleeping ( he always does) so he gets up, goes into the kitchen, puts on a pot of tea, and picks up the banjo again. He plays until the light begins to change outside and the birds have begun tittering.

I guess that’s not much of a joke. More of a short story.

What’s coming up in 2013 for the Birds of Chicago?? 

Ruthless, systematic world takeover. We will be on the road all year – it will be a futile expenditure of energy to try and hide from us. We will find you!

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