by Dave Morris
If Charles Bukowski was the “poet laureate of skid row,” Nashville’s Birdcloud could be its house band. Singers Jasmin Kaset and Makenzie Green, who also play guitar and mandolin, respectively, are currently on tour promoting their 2016 vinyl release “Singles Only,” a comprehensive compilation of their previous four EPs alongside a few new songs.
Despite explicitly labeling themselves as “ultra-modern country music,” Birdcloud could just as easily be described as simply postmodern, owing particularly to their irreverence and broad yet nuanced delivery that defies genre. Their country influences are omnipresent, but so is their great love of Bob Dylan. Green’s vocals, especially, have a potent punk rock swagger about them, which is really driven home by the fact that she will straight up knock your ass out if you disrespect her. (Just ask the guy on YouTube who tried to grab her during their Christmas show last year.) Kaset’s voice has a tenderness and vulnerability to it reminiscent of “Live Through This”-era Courtney Love. This dynamic is somewhat reversed in their instrumentation. Kaset, who used to be a drummer, has a muscular power and precision to her guitar playing, while Green’s mandolin gives the songs idyllic texture, although her playing can also regularly be as angular as her singing. They also share Cormac McCarthy’s knack for making base descriptions of ordinary situations feel haunting and hypnotic.
Birdcloud initially came to public attention through their YouTube videos, which generally feature the duo facing each other while performing. Their live show is a greatly intensified version of this, with the group’s sexually charged party anthems taking on a performance art quality. Women’s issues are important to Birdcloud: last year’s second annual “Cool Christmas with Birdcloud” show served as a drive to collect tampons and pads for Nashville’s women’s and homeless shelters, and the duo's stage banter often serves to lampoon the kind of sexist behavior they are subjected to.
Although they are always very quick to point out that they aren’t a comedy act, Birdcloud regularly mixes with a plethora of comedians for interviews and performances, the most notable instances probably being their close association with Doug Stanhope and their tour last year with Wheeler Walker, Jr. The Smiths aren’t considered a comedy act just because Morrissey frequently wrote funny lyrics, though, and by that same token it’s not fair to write off Birdcloud as comedy just because some of their songs are really funny and they hang out with funny people. Still, humor is a crucial element to their career and often what initially draws fans to the band.
During his seminal 1987 stand-up special “Raw” Eddie Murphy quipped that he “couldn’t give no curse show.” Birdcloud doesn’t give no curse show, either. While the cursing and vulgarity is an undeniably crucial feature, more important than the profanity is the incendiary wit and sociological commentary found in Birdcloud’s lyrics, however subdued and subversive it might be. Doubtless many of these songs are personal and specific, but they all still possess a magnetic relatability for anyone who likes to have a good time and doesn’t like living their lives by outdated, outmoded conservative conventions. Dismiss them as sensationalists at your own peril and miss out on some of the most singular observations about everyday life in 2017.
Birdcloud plays Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack Tuesday, June 20 with fellow Nashville band Thelma and the Sleaze, 8 p.m., $10-$12. Jasmin and Makenzie were kind enough to answer some questions for us from the road ahead of that performance.
I know y’all plan to spend part of this year creating and releasing a new full-length album. Can you tell us a little bit the direction of the songs? Does it have a title yet?
Kaset: Our next record is called “Bolth.” It’s got road songs, party anthems, and more satanic stuff. We are using our time on tour performing the fuck out of the new songs to figure out how we might want to arrange them when we get home.
You’ve done a lot of tours as a support act for Vanessa Carlton, Reverend Horton Heat, Unknown Hinson, etc. This year you’re focused firmly on doing headlining shows. Any chance your live show will morph with that transition, i.e. doing performances with a full band as you gain more and more attention?
Kaset: Playing with a full band is always a treat, but what sets our sound apart isn’t the instrumentation, it’s the vocals and lyrics, so the most power is found in our set as a duo.
Green: We play with a full band a couple times a year. It really sets off the songs.
We live in perilous political times, particularly for women. What’s your opinion of the Trump Administration?
Kaset: I hate Donald Trump. I think he is really fucking scary and a huge asshole. I think it’s an important time in America to create art and nurture the creative and good in each other.
Jasmin has a solo career concurrent with Birdcloud and has released a few really great albums. Do either of you have any other outside projects going on right now or any cool collaborations and such planned for the future?
Kaset: I’m recording two solo records right now; one of them in my home studio, the Hymen Auditorium. A collaboration record I made with Makeup and Vanity Set is coming out this fall. The project is called "You Drive."
You’ve performed with one of Arkansas’s biggest musical legends, Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas, as well as one or Arkansas’s strongest current artists, Adam Faucett. Are there any other Arkansas acts you admire?
Kaset: Yeah, Jim Dandy is an absolute legend. It was so cool to share the stage with him. Adam Faucett is very cool too. We have played with Mountain Sprout. Those guys are on another planet, man!
You’re extremely active on social media, especially Twitter. What role do you believe this plays in your career?
Green: Twitter has linked us up with most of the comics we’ve worked with. It’s probably the coolest internet for show promo.
You were recently blocked by Joel Osteen on Twitter and your music strikes a defiant tone against religion to say the least. Why don’t you like ol’ baby Jesus?
Green: Jesus is great. The people ruined it for us.
Damian Echols is well known just about anywhere at this point, but naturally he’s a particularly noteworthy figure here in Arkansas and you’ve made mention of him before. Got anything you’d like to say about him and the West Memphis 3?
Green: He talked to us on Twitter once. We just like to talk about and celebrate his (release) to piss off pro-life death penalty people.
Having fun and partying are obviously important features to your songs, but you are also clearly making social commentary in them. Do you purposefully try to balance that out, or are you just making observations?
Kaset: Nuance is one of the first casualties of political conflict or social unrest. Our lyrics are nuanced, so there are multiple levels of partying to it. We have strong feelings about the hypocrisy and backwards thinking in the South, all the hatred in America, being a woman in this or any sphere, all kinds of stuff. But we’re not gonna hit you over the head with it. You have to arrive at it through our fucked up performance. You may leave a show with an impression of it. Or you may leave with a hangover and a dumb smile on your face. By making lyrics dumb and party and the music style country, we are able to reach a lot of people other bands can’t. Like playing an anti-capital punishment song in front of a state senator and for him to stop tapping his foot halfway through, that’s a rare and important opportunity and it’s one we get because our music is nuanced. And that’s not saying a lot of our fans aren’t geniuses, ‘cause they fuckin’ are. And I can say with confidence none of our fans are Republican state senators.