Since 2010, the LA-by-way-of-Brooklyn-by-way-of-Boston musician Liam McCormack has been performing and recording under his yellowbirddd moniker. He’s released an impressive number of records since the project’s inception including Hard Feelings (2010), missing (2011), highway birches (2012), and most recently CENTINELA (2014, flower/flour). While not performing as a solo artist, Liam also handles bass playing duties in the Allison Weiss band. We recently got the chance to talk to him about his Boston roots, tour van crashes, and his new album. Here’s our conversation:
Allston Pudding: First point of order. Who exactly are you? I’ll accept either your name or Jungian archetype.
Liam McCormack: Hi! My name is Liam McCormack. I’m a songwriter. I’m quiet and mysterious. This solo project is called yellowbirddd. I never know how to introduce myself on stage, or in interviews. Always awkward. One day I’ll get it right.
AP: In the interest of full disclosure, we met years ago while you were playing in the Boston-based band Fly Upright Kite. Let’s start there. How do you look back at your time playing in Boston?
LM: The glory days! Boston is a super special place for me. I feel like I did so much growing up here. I went to a Berklee summer program for 5 weeks before my senior year of high school, then went to Berklee for 4 years and lived in Boston for 3 years after that. My late teens and half of my 20’s were spent here! I was just telling a friend last night about how I feel like I have a memory for practically every street/area/intersection in Boston. It truly feels like a “walk down memory lane”. Which is certainly meaningful, but can also feel kind of claustrophobic in a way, haha. I learned a lot here – about music and being in a band, personally, being in relationships, falling asleep at parties, you know you know, haha.
These days, I am kind of amazed looking back at Fly Upright Kite and the years we were a band. We played a lot of regional shows…we’d drive a few hours to NH or CT for shows, sometimes 2-3 times a week. I’m not sure where we got that kind of blind ambition from..all being in school and having jobs and such at the time. Sounds tiring now, haha. But who am I kidding, it is easy to be a slave to the rock n roll!
Boston is a cool music town with some classic venues. It is always great to visit and roll through. It is super awesome to see places like The Sinclair appear, and cool blogs like Allston Pudding be a thing! Hell yeah.
AP: You’re based in LA now, but after leaving Boston you also spent some time in Brooklyn, correct? I’m always interested to hear whether or not an artist’s music is affected by their surroundings. Do you think that’s the case for you?
LM: You are correct! I lived in Brooklyn for about 3 years after Boston, and I moved to LA a little over a year ago. I totally think my surroundings influence my music, for sure. I think my surroundings find their way into my lyrics, and just the life-change of moving and new places/experiences – I think those things always get people thinking, feeling, and evaluating.
AP: As well as being a solo artist under your yellowbirddd moniker, you’ve also been playing bass for the very talented Allison Weiss. How did you end up connecting with her? What’s it been like?
LM: Allison is the best. I first found her music in 2010 when I was doing researching/booking my first DIY yellowbirddd tour. I instantly became a fan and began following along online. We both ended up moving to Brooklyn, I saw a few of her shows there. Then in August 2012 I had recently left a job and was thinking about what to do next…I saw a post online that she was looking for a bass player for a 4 week tour that started in like 2 weeks. I auditioned, got it, and the rest is history!
I have such a great time playing in that band. It is the most professional music/band thing I have been a part of. Great group of people, my bffs!, and Allison is so talented and she is an excellent band leader as well. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into the opportunity and I am psyched to continue making music and touring with the band!
AP: Recently, we saw that you guys walked away from a pretty serious van accident while on tour. That must have been terrifying! What happened there?
LM: Yeah. Super intense. We were doing a drive to our last show of our November tour. Driving from Denver to SLC, through Wyoming. Wyoming is pretty much like the arctic tundra, there is just nothing out there! It was the first storm of the season for that area…we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was driving, carefully…but the next thing I know the van had lost control, I turned into the skid, we went down into the median ditch, rolled the van at least once, landed upright, everyone was ok, and luckily a trucker had pulled over and we waited in his truck for police, ambulance, etc. Crazy stuff.
So glad everyone is okay and so so thankful for all of the support and positivity we have received. Sincere thanks to everyone. Remember to always drive slow and be overly careful in sub par driving conditions. Especially when driving a 15 passenger van that is pretty much like a sail on a windy day.
AP: Yikes. OK. Back to happier things! Your new album, CENTINELA, just came out. Which is really fantastic, by the way. Can you tell us a little about what went into the recording process?
LM: Yay, happy! CENTINELA yeah party tiiiiime! Glad you like it, thank you! The recording process, yes! The album was recorded and produced by my dear friend Pete Recine. Pete and I are roommates and he also plays in the Allison Weiss band, we’re a close bunch! Pete has a home studio in our apartment and made an isolation booth out of one of our larger closets. We recorded the whole record in our apartment, with the exception of Track 3, “Woke You,” which was recorded nearby on Allison’s back deck on a sunny afternoon!
The entire album was somewhat-amazingly recorded in just one week. Pretty much spent all of our waking hours on it. On some songs vocals and acoustic guitar were done totally live, others involved more overdubs etc. I like recording in natural spaces, getting the vibe of the room, having to turn off the refrigerator if you want to record near the kitchen, etc, haha. Pete is a great friend and a super talented guitar player and producer/engineer, it was a treat to work with him and I am super happy with how the record turned out.
I am also happy to announce that I spoke to the vinyl manufacturer today (Gotta Groove Records) and the vinyl will be delivered to us on December 30th! So pumped to have and hold it and ship it out to people ASAP!
AP: There’s a sense of almost nostalgic melancholy to the record. But there’s also moments, in a few songs, of a building intensity under the surface. As a songwriter, how do you go about deciding when to stay intimate and understated, and when to let the intensity come through?
LM: Haha, I am realizing that “nostalgic melancholy” may very well be “my thing.” Haha. I think I’m okay with that. My friends and I joke that my music is “gentlecore” haha. I appreciate your nostalgic melancholy observation – thank you for that. With regard to deciding whether a song will be understated or more intense – I think that decision is made naturally in the song process, or even sometimes from the moment the song idea/sentiment is conceived. I usually get a vibe on how things are feeling. Tempo can be a deciding factor as well. Or sometimes songs will naturally find their way into more intense sections…maybe the lyric writing heads into that way, or dynamic changes help the structure of the song, etc. Songwriting…always so mysterious! My one true love!
AP: What does 2015 have in store for yellowbirddd? Are you going to be touring at all?
LM: This is my year baby! 2015! Look out for yellowbirddd! Nostalgic melancholy up in this piece! …I kid, I kid. I am gonna keep working this record for sure. I am super happy with how it turned out, it feels real to me…the songs, the emotions. It feels more mature, it feels relatable, like maybe anyone could find a song or two they like on it. I want to spend the time and do all I can to spread the word and have new people hear the album. I would love to do some touring…I have friends/co-conspirators that are also urging me to do so. Soooo that may very well happen!
AP: Well, thanks for talking with us, Liam!
LM: Thank you so so much! Allston Pudding is cool. Straight up. I know this, we know this. It is a goddamn pleasure and honor to be on yer blog! Thanks for havin’ me!