This interview with Maya de Vitry of The Stray Birds shines a spotlight into the world of traveling independent musicians. It explores their beginnings as a band, their experiences within the folk community, and songwriting influences and practices. The Stray Birds are the real deal. They never cease to amaze me and they just keep on getting better and better. Watch out world—here come The Stray Birds!
To learn more about The Stray Birds, visit their website.
Check out this video. You can’t help but be impressed by what the magic that happens when these three play together.
How did you come up with the name “The Stray Birds”?
Some of the first songs I wrote were inspired by bird imagery, which is even reflected in their titles… “Birds of the Borderland”… “Sparrow”… Birds sing, and birds travel long distances. Oliver saw the word “stray” written on a shoe box one day while we were searching for an adjective to go with “Birds”, and we liked the sound of it.
Your bio says that you all grew up within a few miles of each other. Did you attend the same schools and know each other when you were young or did you become connected via the music once you were out of school?
We all grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Charlie and I attended the same middle school and the same high school– we even played in the school orchestra together! Oliver attended a different high school in the same county, so we didn’t meet him until after graduating. Oliver and I figured out that we probably literally brushed elbows for the first time at Delfest in Maryland in 2008, when he was coming on stage with Adrienne Young and I was stepping off stage from the festival’s band contest. I know I also saw Oliver perform at Grey Fox, because I remember someone saying “that guy playing fiddle is from Lancaster”. Oliver and Charlie eventually formed a bluegrass quartet called River Wheel, and I ended up hanging around some of their recording sessions. We connected pretty instantly. We sang a lot of songs that winter. The Stray Birds began as a duo. Charlie was the natural and obvious choice for a third member.
I’ve got to say, the formal showcase that you did at this past fall’s NERFA was outstanding. You chose the perfect songs to convey what you do so well. Your individual talents were represented but the mix of all three was absolutely brilliant. Getting to this level of professionalism so early in your band’s life is impressive. Do you practice a lot? Or does live performance bring out your intuitive musicianship so that it magically all comes together?
Thanks! NERFA has been such an incredible community for us. Our first trip in 2011 was a total catalyst for us– we realized that we actually had a place in this folk network, and that place felt tangible enough to put every other engagement on hold! By the time we went back to NERFA in 2012, I think we felt that we had worked as hard as we could have worked on those 365 days in between. The audience was really with us during that showcase– but they had really been there for us that whole year–inviting us to play shows at their coffeehouses or house concerts or radio shows or theaters, and just really believing in us.
All three of us can sing lead in this band, and we wanted to share that with anyone who had never heard us before. Our arrangements are built for the song, and for who we are as players, so there is a really comfortable nature to everything we do. We practice performing a lot, and we all really like to perform, but we are trying to carve out more time to practice new arrangements of songs and write new material.
Tell us about your songwriting. Do you write individually or do you do some co-writes?
Almost all of our songs have been written individually and arranged collectively. Oliver sings his songs, I sing my songs, Charlie sings a cover or two. We have been more purposeful about co-writing lately, though, and that’s exciting! Oliver and I are always working on songs in our heads– the trouble is finding time to sit together in a quiet space and get them out!
You’ve been touring quite a bit. What’s the best part of touring? And what’s the worst part about touring?
It’s very engaging and inspiring to be interacting with so many people in so many places. We love sharing our music with listening audiences, from house concerts to theaters. We are having new experiences all the time. We just played on Mountain Stage last night, and Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn headlined the show— we’ve sure been looking forward to that one!
The worst part? Sometimes the drives are just really long, or there’s a surprise ice storm, or spring allergies arrive and you can’t call in sick.
Are there any musicians that you’d really like to play with? Any special projects that you’d like to see happen (assuming money was not a problem)? I believe it in putting dreams out there into the universe. One can never tell what might happen!
Absolutely! We are going to spend a day or two with Ana Egge this month, and we are playing some shows together in the future— we’re ecstatic, because we are huge fans. We would also love to play with The Wood Brothers, Lake Street Dive… We opened a show for John Fullbright in Oklahoma last year, and we’d love to play with him again. He is incredible. Who else… Richard Thompson? Norah Jones? It’s a long, long list, Kathy… 🙂
The Stray Birds and Three Tall Pines will be at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on April 26.
Top photo by Jake Jacobson.
Bottom photo by Kathy Sands-Boehmer