Stephanie Seymour: There Are Birds… and Stories to Tell

Bird lovers and music fans, this is the crossover you didn’t know you needed. Stephanie Seymour, a local musician and avid birdwatcher, has brought two unlikely interests together to create something magnificent. Now, I know what you are thinking, “Who would want to listen to a song about birds?” Well, if you think about it, you’ve all heard The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and, aside from the fact that this is an entire album dedicated to telling stories about the creatures and that is simply one song about a singular bird, this really isn’t that much different. It’s melodic, it’s poignant, it’s clever, and it’s storytelling at its finest. Seymour’s talent and adoration for both bird watching and songwriting allowed her to find a long awaited home within her music, her art, and her passion. 

This album, There Are Birds, is phenomenal, and I love it a whole lot, but aside from your own love and appreciation for birds and birdwatching, which is I think very clear from the get go, what do you really want people to take away from this album of yours?

Thank you so much! And that is a great question. You know, I really made this record with just like two intentions. I mean, one was that all of these songs kind of all come to me. They really did. They came to me very quickly and in a period of a few months, so I wrote them very fast. I really didn’t think I was ever going to make another record again, so the fact that this happened to me was just so wonderful and it was a great experience to have these songs kind of come into my head and have the concept of all of this. At first I was just like, “I’m happy with putting this out just as it is.” I just wanted to put the record out. That will be my goal, you know? And it was my goal. But, any artist does, you want your music to be heard by the wider masses. I do want it to appeal to the birdwatching community, of course, but I would like it to reach beyond that, too, because I do feel like it brings a message of care for the environment, for birds, and for the natural world, you know? I don’t think that this is only reserved for, let’s say birdwatchers or activists or people like that. You know what I mean? My goal was also really to get the music to a wider audience than just maybe the birdwatching community.

Absolutely, and I think that because your music is so well written, people can interpret what they want out of your lyrics. If you really immerse yourself into the lyrics and their messages, it’s not just about birds. 

Exactly. Yes, of course the songs are mostly about birds and there is definitely bird related lyrics, imagery, and everything else found within the album. The songs, though, are really and truly about me, as well as about many different topics. I have really bad anxiety a couple of songs on this record, like “Ruby-crowned Kinglet” and “Violet-crowned Hummingbird” are pretty much clearly about my anxiety, depression, and stuff like that. They’re not just simple songs about ‘this bird’ doing ‘this kind of thing’ and looking like ‘this.’ Many of the lyrics can be listened to, interpreted, and applied to different many different, relatable, life situations.

I thought that, as well, for sure. I am not birdwatcher, but I am a music listener, and I do pay attention to the lyrics. What I took away from your songs and this album as a whole was that it related to nature, including birds, but truly just the natural world around me. As well as just being aware of, you know, where you are in the world, what you’re doing, and how you approach living amongst others.

Exactly. That is definitely what I hoped for 100 percent.

I’m glad! You’ve talked previously about how you find birdwatching very comforting and relaxing. It brings you a sense of peace away from the stressors of day to day life. Was – or is – music a similar escape to you?

Another good question. Yes, I do feel that way. I feel like when you are immersed in birdwatching, everything else kind of falls away and you’re just focused on that. That is a wonderful feeling because it also releases your mind of any stressful thoughts and menial anxiety triggers. I do think that when you’re either listening to music or playing music, the same kind of thing happens. I mean, it’s the same thing as getting really involved and immersed in a good book.  You don’t think about anything else but what you’re doing right then and there, and, hopefully, if the book is good, it is taking you away into another world. I feel like birdwatching does that. I think music does that. I think the arts in general do that and can have that effect on people.

I completely agree. I think that the way you approach music is really interesting, as well, and I love the concluding track on your album. It feels structured more like a poem, in my opinion, than a heavy composition of music. How did that song, specifically, come about? Was it written or created specifically to close the album?

 This is almost the spark of this album, but it didn’t happen and it didn’t come together until just last year when all the other songs I had were done. I’d go to Central Park to birdwatch a lot, so I had all of these verses kind of just in my head. They were kind of a joke because it’s too funny when you’re in Central Park and you’re at the end of migration and everyone’s looking around at each other, you know, just saying, “Oh my God, we’re all here, but where are the birds?” So I just kind of had these humorous little lines going through my head and I had written them down quickly on scrap paper, but then they just sat there for about, I don’t know, maybe four years. Then, as the songs came to me again – “Ruby-crowned Kinglet” was the first song that I had – I said, Ok, I’m gonna do this, I’m going to make this album about birds.” I thought that the song “Migration Is Over” would be kind of like a humorous and upbeat way to end the album. I mean, if you read the title, you might think it’s a sad song, right? Like the world is ending, migrations over, you know, we’re killing the birds, but obviously it’s very humorous and upbeat, just about birdwatching in Central Park at the end of spring one day. So I had that idea to just put those scrap paper lyrics together and close the album on a lighter note.

I think it worked really well and it’s almost hopeful, like the birds will be coming back and you’ll be doing it all over again.

Totally. It’s a cycle, we’ll all be back here in three short months.

Exactly! Now, we know that birdwatching inspired your songs, and I know that you were saying that they all just kind of came to you, but what was that moment when you realized that you had a story to tell and a song to sing that was bigger than just the act of birdwatching?

I think it was when the lyrics to “Ruby-crowned Kinglet” did come to me. You know, I thought at first that this is going to be another funny song, because “Ruby-crowned Kinglet, why it looks so scared” is funny in itself and if you’ve ever seen a picture of Ruby-crowned Kinglet, it’s a tiny bird with a giant eye, and it looks scared all the time. So, I thought, “Oh, this will be kind of funny.” Then that song actually took a quick turn and evolved into a sort of a more introspective piece. It turned into a real – I don’t want to say real song, that’s not what I mean, of course, – but it turned into a song that had to do with birds and that had to do with taking a human risk aspect of it, but then it also picked up very personal aspects of ‘nothing everything is going to end so happy.’ It doesn’t end on an upbeat note and it’s it’s a little more heavy. Then I said to myself, “Wow, if I can do this one song, I think I can tell stories with a lot of different birds and bird related songs.” So I think that writing and recording “Ruby-crowned Kinglet” really was that musical spark.

I feel like with it being that personal to you, people can listen to it and hear that it’s not just “I went bird watching once and here are some songs I wrote about that.” It’s something that you know and love, so you’re able to interpret that through music.

Yeah! I mean, even a song like “House Sparrow” is about saving that bird that we named Emily. You know, that’s pretty straightforward. It’s like an event that happened to my husband and I, but it’s also a little bit of a song about hope, so even a lighter song like that, I feel like it still has a personal message.

Definitely. I think that’s very important. You’ve been involved with music, in some way, throughout a good portion of your life, so when it comes to the style of music that you enjoy creating, other than pulling from personal aspects, when it comes to more like the creation of the sound of your music, where do you find yourself looking for influence?

I do like a wide variety of music, and when it comes down to it, I am really just like a pop music head. And when I say pop music, I really mean in the vein of, you know, like Matthew Sweet and The Beatles, those huge harmonies in really poppy songs. That’s what I’m really ultimately drawn to. I feel like that’s the music I’ve always kind of made one way or another in one form or another. I don’t play an instrument, so I played drums. So what we had to do for this record, and also a long time ago from my two records under the name Birdy, was that I would basically sing my songs to my husband, who is an amazing guitar player, to create the instrumentals. I don’t know if you have heard of Winter Hours, but he was their guitar player. So he’s a big part of this, because he really, literally had to figure out every note, every chord, and whatever else for every single song of mine. I’m so thankful that I have him in, and not just because of his guitar talent, but because of the way that he drew the songs out in my head. He also produced this record. He engineered it. He worked on it and mixed it with me. So he is all over that record. God bless him. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think there would be There Are Birds.

That is so lovely that you were able to work together on it, as well, you know? I mean, if you both have musical talents and an appreciation for music, that must be something that is really ingrained in your relationship. Was working with him something that came about naturally for you two?

I think it’s always been ingrained in ourselves and in each other, simply because that is how we met. When we were running the crop duster label, it was a co op. So every band that was on the label also owned it. That’s how we met. He was doing his own solo stuff and I was doing my own Birdy records. Right from the get go, he was in my band, I was in his band, and really all the crop duster folks kind of switched on and off into everyone else’s band and played in a lot of each others’ shows. It was really fun. I think, really right from the beginning, he and I were always connected by music. Now when we moved away from that for birdwatching, playing music stopped for a while, too. It’s not like we didn’t still enjoy music. He’s always played. He’s got a whole studio. That is actually where we recorded downstairs in our house. So he’s always playing his guitar and doing music, and I guess I just kind of stepped away more than he did. Then we came back to it, together, with this record. 

I’m really glad you guys did, because as we’ve talked about it, it’s really well done. And knowing that you guys work together on it, as a husband and wife duo, makes it me appreciate it even more.

Aw. Yeah. I love that part of it. I really do. I think it’s a sweet thing.

I’m glad you got to do that. So kind of talking about your earlier music career, which was more based out of New York rather than the New Jersey suburbs – which are two totally different worlds, even though they’re what, 20 minutes away from each other –there really must have been a world of differences between being in a New York City band and creating there, as compared to now, with a heavier footprint in New Jersey. Right?

Yes. I absolutely agree. Plus, just being in that late nineties scene was its own thing. I mean there is still a great music scene in New York City now, but back then there was that whole kind of like Luna Chicks, Bikini Kill, Joan Osborne, and all these great bands, and not just female bands, but that was just who we were playing with and who were really around and prominent back then. There was a really vibrant club scene. Now when I moved to New Jersey, it was hard for me to sort of compare the two, because I did step away from music for birdwatching and didn’t create in the scene for a long time. Let’s say that I’m definitely more into the suburbs now and New York City is great, but you walk on the street and there are seven million things going on.

No, it is very different. But again, there’s culture and I think inspiration be found from both, which I think you clearly are able to run with.

Yes, totally. I mean, if it wasn’t for being out here in this wonderful area, I wouldn’t have this record I don’t think. I first lived in Englewood when we moved out of New York, then I moved up here to Ringwood and without that I would never have started birdwatching and there would be no There Are Birds record, no doubt.

Wow, so thank God for Englewood, right?

[Laughs] Oh, totally.

On the topic of nightlife and clubs and all, do you plan to do any live shows? Would you want to bring these songs to life on stage or are they going to stick to being in their little package of a studio album?

Well, I thought originally that they were going to stay in their little package of an album, and, you know, just be in the hands of as many people as I could get it out to. But I think that I’m being slowly convinced by people to possibly do either a record release show or just a few gigs here and there. I think it has to be the right show. It’s very premature, but my band and I have some ideas floating around for a possible triple release show. It doesn’t have to be a tour. It doesn’t have to be a giant thing. It can just be like one or two shows for these songs to live on through a stage performance.