Choir, band, musical theater – these were all activities that made up a lot of Laryssa Birdseye’s schedule growing up. “I’ve always loved to sing,” said the Portland-based pop singer, adding, “but it wasn’t until I started writing my own songs that music felt so personal and necessary for me when I was 13. They were, of course, terrible, but everything is so important and painful at that age, songwriting felt like this incredible way of coping and expressing.”
The lot of us who took pen to paper during adolescence squirm at what we used to write, so Laryssa Birdseye is not alone there. Thankfully though, she kept at it and like all things people put their heart and time into, she grew and today is the talented lyricist that stands before us with a new record out now. We talked to her about ‘Wildfire,’ channeling her inner Buffy, and more in this back and forth from the west coast.
Kendra: What motivated you to initially pursue music?
Laryssa Birdseye: I never dreamed of pursuing music professionally. I was such a painfully shy person, and playing songs in front of people seemed like the equivalent of ripping my skin off in front of a crowd and screaming “hey, look at me bleed!” So I spent my early 20’s sort of running away from the inevitability of pursuing music. I would say it pursued me, but that makes me sound like an asshole, haha. I just kept finding myself in jobs and situations and relationships that I felt empty in, and there was always this nagging little voice that always sort of asked “is this all there is?”
So when I hit 25, I quit my corporate finance/recruiting job and sort of flailed my way into a music career. It hasn’t been the most natural thing at times, but it’s made me feel alive in a way I wasn’t able to feel when I was trying to be someone else.
Kendra: Listening to 2019’s ‘Press Play’ and this year’s “Wildfire,’ the evolution in sound is quite apparent. What progressed in the year between then and when you started formulating your latest EP that inspired this shift in sound?
Laryssa Birdseye: It’s a pretty crazy transformation, right?! I started in music sort of not knowing what I wanted to sound like, though I’ve always had an unabashed love for pop music. There’s no better way to tell someone to go fuck themselves than when you can get a room full of people to sing it with you in a catchy chorus. ‘Press Play’ and ‘Wildfire’ came out of the same three-month-long songwriting fest stemming from my equal parts grief and fury after getting out of a very controlling and abruptly ended relationship.
As I was sorting through the songs, and through the grief in general, I began to conceptualize ‘Press Play’ as the sort of final farewell to the acoustic/pop-rock/ songwriter genre I had been skirting in, and Wildfire would be the way I usher in a new chapter and genre. The genre shift into a more fully produced pop EP like ‘Wildfire’ sort of reflects the way I underwent a personal shift. I would not be accepting any more bullshit, and if it was brought to my table, I’m gonna write a banger about it and blast you.
Kendra: One thing ‘Wildfire’ showcases is an unapologetic atmosphere. Is that a trait you have outside of music as well?
Laryssa Birdseye: Absolutely. I think many women can probably relate to this, but when I was younger, I was so non-confrontational, so terrified of conflict, and I would rather step on my own throat than voice what I needed in a relationship, be it personal or professional. I think when you’re raised to play nice, but you have a lot of pent-up anger, it’s only a matter of time until the dam breaks and you just say what you need to say. I’ve learned to advocate for what I want and what I won’t accept. I think I tend to intimidate or sort of scare people a bit, but I hope I also inspire them to stick up for themselves as well.
Kendra: When I hit play on “Won’t Remember Your Name,” I was transported to a 90’s RomCom – but if they could swear and have a bit more edge to them. With that, if you could place one song from ‘Wildfire’ on the soundtrack of any movie ever, which song and movie would you choose and why?
Laryssa Birdseye: Haha, I love that! I basically am a 90’s RomCom, but if it was a French art film and the heroine was just alone forever smoking cigarettes off her balcony cursing her ex-lovers. In my case, it’s a vape pen and a driveway, but it still works. If I could have one song land in a movie…I would actually switch it to the show ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer,’ and I would have Sarah Michelle Gellar sing “Fuccboi” to Spike as she chases him around with a stake. I just feel like he was the early prototype of guys I’m attracted to—totally unavailable, a complete asshole, probably gonna kill you at some point—and it would be a cathartic moment for me.
Kendra: This EP reminded me of Katy Perry’s first two albums, in that it possessed the joy of pop but elevated it to a real lyricists’ level. Have words always come naturally for you, or was this gift discovered when you realized you were meant to sing?
Laryssa Birdseye: Ok first off, I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. Katy Perry’s early albums are legitimately so good, and I’ve loved her for years. She was actually a big inspiration in the making of ‘Wildfire,’ so I’m happy you picked up on that!
And thank you! I’ve always loved words. My dad is a writer, and I mimicked him early on. I was always starting a novel, writing short stories, plays, and musicals. Songwriting is a gift because you only have to make something 3-5 minutes long. I was never able to finish anything longer than 30 pages, haha. I honestly love writing songs because the difference between something good and something bad is our ability, to be honest, and just say what we mean. Over the years, I think I’ve been able to get good at expressing myself without being too self-indulgent. I still get told I cuss too much in my songs, but sometimes you just really need to say Fuck.
Kendra: Being in Portland makes so much sense because you too are this eclectic mix of goodness, but can we talk a minute about the music scene there and how it’s been impacted by the past year, and what locals (and beyond) can do to help?
Laryssa Birdseye: Oh yeah. The landscape has changed for sure. I think Portland is really interesting because in the last few years there was so much development, so the promise of a real music industry was starting to show, but the last year in the pandemic has decimated that. As with a lot of major metropolitan areas, venues have remained shut, and the future of a thriving industry based on gigging and live shows looks pretty dismal. It’s given me an insight into how I needed to pivot in a Covid 19 world.
I think the best and most amazing way to support musicians is honestly by supporting financially. It’s incredible how people have continued to create content, release albums, and music videos, and run ads when a huge part of our revenue has been decimated. This stuff is expensive. So the next time you are digging an artist, download their album, buy their merch, send them a DM letting them know how much you love their music. Sometimes, on a bad day, it’s the difference between feeling like you should just quit the industry entirely and finding a little motivation to keep on moving forward.
Kendra: Lastly, it’s getting a little easier with the vaccine rollouts, but it’s still kind of hard to have a definite answer when it comes to future plans given the current state of everything, but as far as what you can control when it comes to your career and creativity – what do you have planned in the coming months for yourself?
Laryssa Birdseye: I would say I’m a content queen, and I spent the last year in a sort of creative cocoon. I started an Instagram Live show called the Birdbath, in which my bandmate and I sit in a bathtub, play songs, sing karaoke, answer audience questions, and sometimes take shots of hot sauce (I threw up after that episode).
I’ve been releasing Demo sessions of unreleased songs, which has been so wonderful and freeing, after spending years just focused solely on one album or EP at a time. I also have something on my Instagram called Jingle Tuesday, where I write a 5-second jingle based on the title that someone sends. Also, I’ve started a side business where I write people custom songs. One of my songs was played at a man’s funeral, and it was so incredibly humbling and beautiful to have provided that emotional release for his family and friends.
In a world where touring is so uncertain, both in terms of it being possible and financially realistic, I’ve enjoyed connecting with my audience through platforms like Instagram and TikTok. I do a lot of live streaming shows, and I have a few more unreleased singles and music videos planned for the rest of the year. I consider myself truly grateful to have found so much creativity and inspiration, and I hope to just launch myself forward into a future where we can all dance and party within 6 feet of each other and scream out the lyrics to “Fuccboi” to all the assholes who ghosted us during quarantine.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is definitely invited.