When Towa Bird, a half-Filipino, half-English singer-songwriter, took the stage at Avant Gardner in Brooklyn at a recent tour stop on Renee Rapp’s “SNOW HARD FEELINGS TOUR,” the third of four consecutive New York dates, she was locked and loaded. The first of two opening acts alongside Alexander 23, Bird warmed up the crowd with electric, hard-hitting cuts such as “Wild Heart,” “Drain Me,” and the unreleased “Bills” off her upcoming record American Hero. The tracks are vulnerable, brash, and the epitome of an artist who has mastered multiple facets of performance.
A globetrotter from an early age, Bird has soaked up the music and styles she has been exposed to, and, through them all, found her own signature sound.
“‘Where’s the guitar?'”
At 24 years old, Bird is certainly entrenched in modern compositions, but the building blocks for her sound is defined by standard bearers of rock such as The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince. “Initially, it was my dad that opened me up to that genre,” she said. “He’d play this music to me, and something I noticed that was really clear in that style of music was how important the guitar was in addition to the vocal performance. So, it was almost like there were two lead singers: the guitar and voice.”
As she moved from place to place, learning her craft became the one constant she could cling to. “I was adapting… trying to find friends… trying to find any sense of security,” she said. “Through that, I found music. That has been consistent because I’ve moved countries four times now. The only thing that keeps me down during those moments of volatility is songs… music… playing.”
This fascination with the guitar soon began to shift her perception of music altogether. “I remember listening to songs my peers were listening to and being like, ‘Where’s the guitar?’,” she said. “Guitar was my first love, and I remember being so inspired by it and thinking, ‘Oh, this shit can exist simultaneously.’” Through her own artistic development, she tried to figure out how both singing AND playing could work for her, but it did not come easy. “I tried to incorporate both voice and guitar, then I didn’t want to sing anymore, then I came back to it,” she said. “It has been a long journey.”
“I’m gonna be the most authentic version of myself…”
As if the frequent shifting of the environment around her wasn’t enough, Bird soon began to question her sexuality and gender identity. To try and come to terms with this new facet of her life, she once again turned to artists and music for the answers. “A lot of my inspirations, like Hendrix, Bowie, Prince, Zeppelin, are all really fluid in their gender expression,” she said. “I observed them and saw that they were just so themselves. They don’t care how people perceive them. They’re flamboyant… they’re feminine. I thought, ‘I could also do that.’ I’m gonna be a cool artist… I’m gonna be the most authentic version of myself, and that means expressing my gender the way that I want to and not conform to what a woman should look like. Wearing what I want… finding comfort in that and exploring who I am.”
The Broadest Scope
The songs Bird has chosen to showcase thus far demonstrate multiple flavors and textures both vocally and sonically. “Boomerang” displays a sensual and inviting softness, “Drain Me” successfully depicts the highs of personal pleasure through its delivery, “This Isn’t Me” strips her down emotionally, highlighting her natural, untouched richness, and “Wild Heart,” her best thus far, brings out the huskiness and gruffness of her tone: “I COULDDDD… smoke you out for FUN INNNN my leather vest / I love you till the death / You’re a bullet in my chest / I can’t believe that you could tame my wild, wild heart.”
“I think the reason why I released these four is because it paints the broadest scope of stylistic and vocal performance,” she said. “It gives you a taste of every flavor of the album.” She also acknowledges that while those flavors are what is offered right now, she very well may find more to give. “My voice is ever-changing in the same way that my guitar playing is ever-changing,” she said. “I’m still in my early 20s, and my voice is still developing. Next year, I’m going to be a different singer to who I am now. It’s nice to be a little versatile… to play with things and see what sticks.”
The dynamic trio of Bird, Alexander 23, and Rapp made for one of the most marquee-friendly tours of the year, but also one of the most musically diverse within the overall context of a pop show. Bird went into the experience with a strong rapport with both artists, having contributed to “Tummy Hurts,” a cut from Rapp’s album Snow Angel, and working with Alexander 23 on her own material (she admitted having worked with Alexander on the track she believes is the secret weapon of her upcoming album).
She was able to watch both Alexander 23, a singer/instrumentalist/producer hybrid known for dipping in and out of mainstream pop and adult contemporary, and Rapp, a tour de force within pop, R&B, and theatre, onstage every night, and soak in every moment. “They’re both great at their job and they love what they do,” she said. “I learned so much from them every day, in a real way. Alexander is one of the most hardworking, curious, and intelligent artists I’ve ever met. Renee is so authentically herself. The persona doesn’t change… when she talks to me, she talks to me in the same way she addresses her fans.”
Bird’s admiration for Prince brings artists like Sheila E, 3RDEYEGIRL, and Janelle Monae… all of whom worked with the late great legend in some capacity, into the forefront for their utterly limitless grip on music. Bird hopes to one day reach that pinnacle. “In every part of my life, I don’t want to be put into a box,” she said. “I’m a mixed bag of many things… and I think that should be reflected in my music. I think I’m a very curious person, and I don’t want to limit myself to being just a guitar player… a rock artist… an indie artist. I would hope to try everything.”