RGM Introducing – We Interview Brooklyn Artist Ladyybirdd

What made you decide to start to become a soloist? 

My curiosity with sound and years of experimentation. I will say, though, that I never truly feel like a soloist. All my projects are incredibly collaborative, and I value the artistry and relationships with each individual who contributes their unique talents to my artistic vision.

Introduce us all to you and your musical history?  

Coming from a family of musicians, I have been a part of the music industry my entire life. My father was a clarinetist in the 1950’s New York City scene, and my mother a flutist, both deeply rooted in the arts education realm. They were my teachers. They never pushed me into becoming a musician and often explained the challenges artists face in their careers. However, their strong arts and education upbringing and support in a house flooded with classical and jazz daily, some could say, made my career path inevitable. My sister is also a clarinetist whose focus is on arts education and supporting young artists to develop their unique voices in our industry. It runs in the family!

I was very dedicated and passionate about music at an early age. I used to skip lunch and gym class in school to find a small closet-like room to practice flute. This was always my favorite part of my school day, and it used to get me in trouble, LOL. When I entered high school, I attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for my junior and senior years. These were two of the most influential years of my life. I was surrounded by incredible young artists from around the world who, to this day, I collaborate with and consider among my closest friends.

I moved to New York City in 2005. Since then, I have been rooted in the downtown music community, actively attending concerts and meeting incredible artists who have become my collaborators. Through these experiences, I have discovered many artists across a wide range of musical styles, which have played a significant role in developing my musical language —one that emerged from my curiosity of techniques, improvisation, and recorded music. 

What support is out there for new artists in Brooklyn? What would you like to see more of in Brooklyn?

Brooklyn has an incredible art scene and community that continues to shape and redirect our industry. These days, you are likely to find talented people who are your peers in music in Brooklyn, and our neighborhoods have always counted artists among their residents. Brooklyn has transformed into an arts hub and a thriving DIY music scene through the emergence of new venues and festivals. 

Brooklyn concert halls are each unique. Places including BRIC, BAM, National Sawdust, Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn Bowl, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, among many more, represent artists of all genres while connecting and conversing with the communities of Brooklyn.  

I would like to see the Brooklyn community continue to grow through the arts with more fully funded neighborhood events that bring the music and musicians of our industry outside of the concert halls and remove barriers for those who may not be familiar with the artists who represent our neighborhoods.

Do you subscribe to any conspiracy theories? 

I do not believe in any specific conspiracy theories. However, I do value connections that may not be obvious to the eye 🙂

What useless party trick /talent do you have? 

I am not sure this is considered a trick or a talent, but I can open bottles without an actual opener. If an opener can not be found, I use an empty water bottle which is more readily available. This “trick” has turned out to save the day at parties on many occasions, LOL.

What was the most fun you have had on stage?

Any time I have the chance to perform with composer and steel pannist Andy Akiho. I have been collaborating with Andy on projects since about 2008. He is an incredible artist who has always pushed me to explore music in new directions. He is high-energy, bursting with ideas, and always eager to explore new sounds. Whenever I perform with him, there is high adrenaline, the audience is cheering, and there are always many elements of surprise. 

Andy is the reason I began using a microphone on my instrument. He invited me to perform with his band, consisting of steel-pan, piano, bass, and drums. The flute would never cut through as an acoustic instrument in this ensemble, so I started using a pickup mic and amp to perform as part of his ensemble. Amplification has, since then, become an integral part of my setup and my sound. 

What was the worst experience on stage?

As a classically trained artist, we are accustomed to performing extremely notated music which is often very complex. There was one performance when the air conditioning blew my music off my music stand. At that moment, I had to improvise until I could get back on track. Mortifying. 

The plus side is that this may have been one of the first times I performed in an improvised setting for the public and completely detached from the page. So often, the scariest experiences you face are the most impactful for you in the long term. 

Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about? 

This is no surprise for anyone who knows me, but I wouldn’t be me unless I mentioned my adorable exotic shorthair cat, Moog, named after the modular synthesizer. When Moog was a baby, he used to sleep and lounge on keyboards, which is where his name originated. You can check him out on Instagram/blackandwhitemessiah (@blackandwhitemessiah); his handle is a shout-out to D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah.”

If you had to describe your music to an alien, how would you describe them? 

I would have to say that ladyybirdd allows SPACE (you see what I did there?) for the acoustic instrument and FX landscape to weave a very sensitive and substantial canvas with magnetic intensity and unrestricted adventure.

If you could play any music festival, which would it be?

Just one? SXSW, Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Newport Jazz Festival. I would love to perform at all of these! 

What’s your most significant achievement as an Artist?

Taking myself out of my comfort zone.

What makes you stand out as an Artist?

There is a rare strength in the sound of ladyybirdd, one which is hard to find in the industry and hopefully positively surprising for listeners. My mission to make the flute a protagonist straddling a line between experimental electronic music and the classical avant-garde fills unexplored territory and sets ladyybirdd apart in contemporary circles. Hopefully, ladyybirdd inspires other flutists and musicians to explore their unique sound worlds, too. 

What’s your favorite song to play live and why?

A song titled “The beauty of dissolving portraits” by Ambrose Akinmusire. I had the opportunity to join Ambrose for his album release of “The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint” at the Jazz Standard back in 2013. He is one of my favorite artists and hugely inspiring to me. 

This piece brings together string quartet and the flute, while Ambrose solos on trumpet, almost as if singing and crying at the same time, around the wash of sounds he created with his composition. His music has a sort of genre-lessness, and he is one of the most expressive artists I have had the opportunity to perform with on stage. I don’t often have the chance to play “The beauty of dissolving portraits,” but it feels as special and unique to me each time I do. 

I hear you have a new single brewing; what can you tell us about it? 

“into what is wanted” is in collaboration with producer and engineer Joseph Branciforte at greyfade studio in Brooklyn, NY. In the studio, my flute processes through a series of analog guitar pedals that allow me to alter the sound of the flute through FX and create my musical vocabulary. It’s a sound I have been performing with for about eight years now — drawing upon ambient electronics and rooted in improvisation. 

“into what is wanted” is a personal exploration of choices, altered directions, and ruminating decisions. I have been thinking a lot about the beginning and end of something. This track’s escalating sequences filter through long reverb that could continue indefinitely unless I drastically attempt to reshape direction.

What was the recording process like? What was the most significant learning curve in writing the single?

“into what is wanted” is the first track I’ve done as composer/producer of my music in collaboration with Joseph Branciforte. The process was very experimental and collaborative. 

Joseph is a master at analog FX and synthesizers and has introduced me to many new ways to explore these sounds through my instrument. I went into the studio with concepts and ideas, which, when working with pedals, may often take new musical directions in the moment. Our ability to adapt and improvise around the unknown was perhaps our most significant learning curve and a gratifying part of our process. 

Would you change anything now that it’s finished?

I wouldn’t set out to do anything different. “into what is wanted” was recorded in 2020. I have changed a lot even this past year and hope my sound will be different today. I always want to continue growing. This track is symbolic of about ten years of my sound’s evolution and an excellent example of where I was at that moment.

What are your plans for the year ahead 

Over the next couple of months, I am recording my debut album. The album marks my first as composer and producer, and I have enlisted Joseph Branciforte at greyfade studios and some of my favorite artists. Throughout the album, Andy Akiho (steel-pan), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Erika Dohi (keyboards), Nick Dunston (bass), Carol Féliz (spoken word), Ian David Rosenbaum (percussion), and Immanuel Wilkins (saxophone) all respond to me through improvisation. This album will be released in 2022, and I am excited to share this with the world.  

I am also collaborating with an incredible slam poet Peter Komondua based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The collaboration unites electronic music and slam poetry. Our first track, je ne peux pas respirer,” will be released in 2022 and is Komonduas’s poetic response to the death of Eric Garner, whose dying words became a rallying cry for protests against police brutality.

In 2018, I co-founded bespoken, along with Eunbi Kim, a mentorship program for women in music. This past year our organization welcomed 19 incredible artists into our Fall 2021 cohort, and we are looking forward to our upcoming season with new partnerships and increased public programming. In addition, my duo RighteousGIRLS, with pianist Erika Dohi, is also in the process of recording our sophomore album featuring music by Daniel Wohl and Ambrose Akinmusire, alongside an incredible lineup of guest artists. 

Many collaborations to look forward to!

How did you hear about RGM from over in Brooklyn?

Music scenes evolve quickly, and I like to keep my eyes open for new artists and styles. I am familiar with the many artists RGM represents in your magazine. It is incredible to be able to connect through music in this way across continents. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

To any artist who feels that they haven’t found their place yet- keep discovering, collaborating, and exploring. Your voice is unique, valuable, and essential.