Andrew Bird is not the best representative for the three-chords-and-the-truth approach to making pop music. The violin and whistling virtuoso creates labyrinthine compositions that often take sharp stylistic turns partway through their course. He’s also less interested in some singular truth than in the kaleidoscopic ways information is processed and presented. Wiped out by touring for 2009 album “Noble Beast,” Bird spent some time in isolation and eventually rediscovered his zeal for making songs. The result is “Break It Yourself,” an album that feels more richly made with every listen. And while Bird’s general tone is laid-back, the album’s intricate construction commands attention, pulling a listener in so it can whisper its little bits of wisdom. Bird, who plays House of Blues Friday, fielded a few questions about autonomy, solitude and, perhaps most upsetting, teratomas.
Q: The album touches on the theme of autonomy on a few occasions. At times it seems beneficial. Other times not so much. Did the record come out of a period of isolation?
A: Yeah, I’ve gone through some pretty intense phases of isolation, and I guess I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last couple of years. Trying to understand what that impulse is. (For) most creatures, it’s not common to want to go off by yourself. I still haven’t figured out where it comes from.
Q: Are those periods useful? Do songs come out of them?
A: They are quite useful. I don’t know, I think it’s been such a convenient outlet for so many years. Almost too convenient; it borders on escapism. And I’d think, “What’s the problem with that if you come out of the other end with this thing?” There’s some sense of gratification. But I can get so wrapped up in the inner world that I’ll stop and look around and go, “Hey, where’s everybody?”
Q: Is any of that attributable to time spent in Chicago? It’s my favorite city to walk around. But there are times where it pushes you indoors.
A: Hmm, I could see that. That idea of a seasonal lockdown. I think a lot of people go into a creative phase at the same time in Minneapolis. Any place with extreme weather like that. It kind of keeps you from going crazy to a degree. People can come out in the spring and say, “Look what I’ve been working on!” And . . . often times the best work comes not when you create office hours to work. It tends to come when you’re simply battling boredom. That’s when it comes, born of necessity in a sense.
Q: Do you require notebooks everywhere? Do you find ideas slip away in the middle of the night.
A: No, I really don’t. I rarely write anything down. The things that really get under my skin tend to be the better ideas. Or the more meaningful ones. If it’s not good, it goes away, and if it’s good and weighty it’ll come back.
Q: I liked the line “here we go mistaking clouds for mountains.” It seems to play into a series of contrasts on the album and, in this case, two images that are often seen in close proximity to one another.
A: I was just thinking of those wide open spaces of the West. I remember as a kid we’d take a family vacation to the Rockies. I would be beside myself with excitement to get there. And I’d look and think, “Is that a cloud or a mountain?” This was the ’80s, so I think I was pretty sure there was also the possibility of a nuclear disaster before we got there. But the specific line came more from the song “Give It Away” and ended up in “Danse Caribe.” It was after a show in Belgium where I’d hit zero rock bottom. I didn’t just feel like I was running on fumes, I was out of fumes. I was taking the van to the airport after the show to catch an early morning flight. I saw the clouds outlined by the moon. For a second I had to consider whether there were even mountains in Belgium. (Laughs.) It was ridiculous, but there was a weird clarity in being emptied.
Q: For some reason I thought of Leopold and Loeb when listening to “Eyeoneye.” That idea of breaking one’s own heart essentially just to see what it’d be like. But that’s another one that speaks to the autonomy theme. That it can be good and bad.
A: Yes, it comes from another issue of autonomy, that feeling like you’ve been doing something so specific, and gosh, you describe it over time and it seems like you’ve just made a more exclusive patch of land that you occupy. And it’s hard to imagine sharing. What’s left to do then? If that thing is true about better to have loved and lost ... well, then you have to do that to yourself. The whole thing really started with a conversation about the medical phenomenon of a teratoma.
Q: (Laughs) Really?
A: Yes. Where things in nature, the cycles get so short that they turn in on themselves and things self destruct. There are a lot of examples. Mad cow disease. Or autoimmune diseases where the immune system becomes almost overzealous and attacks anything in sight. These things triggered by self sufficiency. It’s looking at that in nature and how things go haywire close to the source. That led me to the idea of breaking one’s own heart.
Q: There’s a lot of science that informs your songs. Do you find the subject intriguing or terrifying?
A: Um, it’s a little of both. I don’t seek it out. I’m just curious about science, and it leads me to these kinds of interesting tangential conversations with friends. What you think this means or what could it mean and what it tells us about the weirdness of being alive. I’m interested in science and history both about equally. I probably read more history than science. But I like science. It’s interesting to me because of that curious struggle in trying to quantify things that can’t be quantified. With “Mysterious Production of Eggs,” that was a big issue.
Q: “Lazy Projector” has some interesting contrasts between man and machine. I think it’s funny that the machines get tagged as “lazy” and “lying.”
A: Yeah, that was me thinking it warrants some suspicion as to who pieces together our stories. In that case I was thinking after a relationship both parties are doing their synopsis of their years together. What are their motives? Who’s the editor? It doesn’t seem like the person telling the story is really responsible for the story, but someone is. Someone is giving the movie trailer version of what happened and coloring it one way or another. It’s picturing a little man up there who’s ruthless in the editing.
Q: Could you talk a little about your involvement in “The Muppets”? It was so comfortable to see something from my youth work so well with things that I like today. Were you a fan of the original show?
A: Yeah, I grew up with it. It really fed my imagination. And it had a real dark side to it in the tradition of Grimm’s. I remember an episode with Donnie and Marie Osmond, and they got devoured at the end of their song and dance by these giant muppets. I remember being horrified. I don’t know, I must’ve been 5 or 6, and thinking, “Wait, they got eaten?! They’re gone?!” But I loved “The Muppets” growing up and still do. When it came along they were working with the “Flight of the Conchords” director, I kind of pursued it. I had some time off and offered my services. I wrote a bunch of songs for it. Some bits and pieces of songs they didn’t take ended up on this record. It was fun reading the script. They’d be like, “Kermit is working through this thing wondering what went wrong, we need a song to move the story along. And it should sound like Nilsson.” The whole whistling Caruso thing was a back-and-forth process as they were tweaking the scene. I don’t usually like revisions, but I was so into what they were trying to do that it was no problem.
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday
Where: House of Blues, 1204 Caroline
Tickets: $32-$42; 832-667-7733 or www.hob.com