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Birds of Wales - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 18 / 5 / 2007

Birds of Wales - Interview


Canadian folk/alt. country group the Birds of Wales are on the verge of breaking through internationally. Despite having only formed a year and half ago, they are about to play their fourth British tour. With their debut EP just out and an album on the way, singer Morgan Ross chats to John Clarkson

Few independent bands strike lucky. Most drift along in a flat sea of anonymity, only occasionally breaking outside of their local scene or even gaining the status of becoming a cult act, and if they are one of the very few to “hit it big” it is rarely instant. It often only comes after years of trying and perseverance. The Birds of Wales are the exception to the rule. The Toronto-based group signed to the multinational Agency Group for live representation shortly after forming in October 2005, and has had a prolific first 18 months. There have been sell-out shows in the band’s own country and there have been prestigious support slots with the Beautiful South, the Meligrove Band and the Sadies there as well. It has played three tours already of the UK and a fourth is planned for July and August. One song, ‘Cinderella (Has Nothing on You)’ appeared on two free music compilations in Ireland, 560, 000 copies of which were given as away as Valentine’s Day gifts in two of the country’s biggest newspapers. Another, ‘My Lady ; in July’, has been selected to appear on the soundtrack of ‘Ecstasy’, the belated follow-up to the film ‘Trainspotting’. The Birds of Wales are on the verge of an international breakthrough. The band’s ascension has been so fast that of the nine songs that appear on their debut EP, ‘The Fall of the ‘49’, which has just been released in Britain, only three were in fact recorded by the actual group. The remaining six were recorded by the group’s leader Morgan Ross in the early part of 2005 in his home town of Vancouver shortly before he moved to Toronto to found the band. "Some of my best friends are in a band called Stabilo. They were the back up band on it" 24 year old Ross, who has been writing songs since he was in his mid teens, explains. "They've been really successful in Canada and have had a Number 1 hit, but when we first met each other through a mutual friend they weren't quite as famous. On one of the first days that I spent with them originally, we were all sitting on the dock of a beach of a lake with our guitars out and I played them a couple of my songs and their guitarist told me' Morgan, you really need to record these songs.' And things just went from there..." Ross recorded the initial six songs of the EP at a studio in Vancouver between January and August 2005 in gaps between the local-based Stabilo's own touring and recording schedule. Shortly after the recording was complete, he moved in September of that year 2,000 miles east to Toronto. "I had been in other groups before that no one has ever heard of, but Birds of Wales is the first group that I have taken really seriously" says Ross. "I came to Toronto with the intention of forming a group. Toronto is comparable in Canada to London in terms of that is where most of the music business is. I formed the band a few weeks after I arrived in October 2005. I did a lot of auditions and eventually got together a line-up that fitted." The initial line-up of the band consisted, as well as Ross on lead vocals and guitar, Mike Caputo on guitar ; Paul Barry on drums and percussion and Moe Smith on drums. Barry dropped out in March of this year to play with another band the Dunes and has been replaced by Moe Smith's brother, Jesse. A pianist, Scott Christian, also played briefly with the Birds of Wales, but, unable to commit himself to the band full-time because of his academic studies in music, left the group in June 2006, although he continues to occasionally make guest appearances at its Toronto shows. The Canadian version of the EP, which is simply titled 'The Birds of Wales EP', was self-released on the band's own label last year and features the six songs that Ross recorded with Stabilo. For its UK release, the EP, which came out in May on Invisible Hands Music, was re-christened 'The Fall of '49 EP', and has added the three extra songs which feature the whole group. "I am proud of my band and I wanted them to be as involved as possible" Ross reflects. "It was an opportunity for me to have them on the first record, and it was also an opportunity for me to put songs on it that I was proud of." 'The Fall of '49' has drawn the band favourable critical comparisons with the likes of Coldplay, Ryan Adams and Belle and Sebastian, yet mainly acoustic, it has, with its dreamy, soft folk and occasional pop sound ; honeyed melodies and Ross' thoughtful and slightly bittersweet lyrics, its own unique style and edge. While the majority of the tracks come from personal experience and are usually love songs that have an unexpected twist, the title track, the EP's only fully electric song, a hazy-sounding rocker, takes its inspiration from politics and the years Ross spent at university in Vancouver prior to forming the band. "When I was at university I started in Political Science and, as any young student at university who takes politics seriously, I definitely had some opinions" he says. "'The Fall of '49', which was written at that time, is about the ever growing similarities between the United States and Canada, and how a lot of Canadians see that as a front against our own identity." The other stand out track is 'The Fine Art of Ballet Dancing', a wistful and gorgeously tender ballad, about Ross' girlfriend when he was a teenager. "When I was 17 I had a girlfriend who was quite a high level ballerina and she invited me to her big end-of-year recital and I wasn't over keen on going" he laughs. "But I went out of obligation and it turned out that I really enjoyed it. The lyrics are quite literal as they are simply about a young guy going to a dance recital and finding he quite likes it, but at the same time he feels insecure about it and doesn't tell people." The Birds of Wales are now working on an as-yet-untitled full-length album, which is being produced by Wilco and Blue Rodeo pedal steel player Bob Egan. It will come out in July in Canada and at the beginning of next year in Europe. “I am a huge Wilco fan and also of Blue Rodeo” Ross enthuses about his producer. “Bob has played on more albums than anyone I have ever met, and has worked with some really impressive people like Johnny Cash. One of our really close friends who is helping to manage the band knew Bob, so I was able to ask him if he would be interested in producing the new album for us, and it turned out that he was really, really into what he heard. It has been really exciting working with him.” “It is going to be entirely electric” he continues, when asked what direction the new album will take. "The best way to describe it is as music that will make your foot tap. For the most part it is quite alt. country rock ‘n’ roll.” Ross puts much of the Birds of Wales’ good fortune to date down to his own persistence. “No” he says in conclusion, when asked if he has been surprised at how much success the band has achieved so quickly. “I have really put my nose to the grindstone and I have worked hard. I am the type of person that when I set my mind on something I am ridiculously intent on achieving it. There are, of course, aspects of luck involved. It is like with anything. You have got to be there at the right time. Everything has, however, fitted really well together for us over the last 18 months or so. I am not surprised, but I am really proud.” While the Birds of Wales have achieved a remarkable amount in a short time, there is still an element of uncertainty to the group’s future. It is still looking for Canadian and American deals. It is also too early to know yet whether its new line-up will hold together, or if the change of direction it is making will prove attractive to fans and help to expand its audience further. Ross through his friendship with Stabilo and his own foresight and intuition has, however, made all the right moves so far for his band. He is a talented and gifted songwriter, and the group has been gaining a lot of exposure. Things certainly look very promising. For dedication and determinism alone , Morgan Ross deserves to do very well.

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Birds of Wales - Interview

Birds of Wales - Interview

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