Towa Bird Is Finally Learning to Celebrate Her Own Art: ‘It’s Just Good Music — Maybe’

Towa Bird Is Finally Learning to Celebrate Her Own Art: ‘It’s Just Good Music — Maybe’

On a recent trip back to London, rising pop-rock artist Towa Bird visited the house she lived in during university — it’s where she started producing, writing songs and posting videos online — and felt a rare moment of pride upon returning there. “Standing back in that house, it sort of hit me: ‘I have come a long way,’ ” says Bird, 25. “Even though I don’t necessarily let myself believe that, I have.”

Bird’s career has been growing gradually since 2021, when she scored a major-label deal with Interscope and moved from London to Los Angeles. She gained recognition as the towering guitarist who could shred in Olivia Rodrigo’s 2022 Disney+ special, driving home 2 u. In 2023, she scored an opening slot on Reneé Rapp’s Snow Hard Feelings Tour and, in October, released breakout single “Drain Me!,” an electrifying alternative-rock hit about lust that appears on her debut album, American Hero, out June 28.

Growing up in Hong Kong and later London, the half-Filipino, half-English artist was raised on alternative and classic rock, identifying most with guitarists (her idols include Jimi Hendrix and Prince). “Hearing the way that guitarists would manipulate the instrument, making it sound just as strong and present as the lead vocal, I was attracted to that,” Bird says. By 12, she was learning how to play on her father’s old guitar, “which I think had like three strings on it,” she recalls. “But I definitely tried to make it functional.”

Two years later, Bird formed her first band, The Glass Onions, and started performing at local Hong Kong dives. Yet, despite her early strides, Bird assures she wanted to be everything but a full-time artist — namely because she never felt empowered or allowed to be one at all. “I don’t think anyone in my family thought that [this] would be the case — including myself,” she says. “I thought it’d be a cute hobby.”

Sound, Towa Bird

She went on to attend Goldsmiths, University of London, but dropped out in 2020 just before the pandemic. Shortly after to pass the time, Bird started uploading videos of herself shredding over other artists’ songs on TikTok and soon “fell into” writing, producing and playing guitar for more emerging acts. Never feeling like she had “permission” — mostly from herself — to be an artist, Bird preferred working outside of the limelight. But what she didn’t expect was that through those sessions — many of which were done on Zoom late at night in London with artists in L.A. — she felt the authority she had always sought. “Just being in the scene and being seen was good,” she says.

Around the same time, Bird met music managers Jacob Epstein and Zack Morgenroth (of Lighthouse Management, whose clients include Rodrigo) “through the internet,” as she says, and signed with the pair. She figured a publishing deal would follow, but despite being “too scared to sing,” Epstein and Morgenroth were simultaneously setting up label meetings for Bird as an artist. The interest she received piqued her own, saying the encouragement and support from major labels “gave me a little kick up the ass” to focus on her own music. In 2021, she signed an artist deal with Interscope and moved to L.A.

Bird has since emerged as an urgent voice in rock music, whether through her singing or shredding. And most often, it’s both. She believes that in the last few years, there has been a groundswell of interest in live instruments again, especially among her generation. She credits the resurgence in part to her pal Rodrigo. “Olivia really opened doors for me,” Bird says, referring to the Disney+ special that earned her early praise and press. “It was really cool of her to see a young female artist and be like, ‘I want to highlight you.’ ”

Sound, Towa Bird

Last year, Bird had another peer (and labelmate) give her a boost when Rapp enlisted her to play guitar on “Tummy Hurts,” off Rapp’s debut album, Snow Angel. She then brought Bird on her 2023 tour, which allowed the singer-guitarist to meet her fans in person for the first time — and to spend time with singer-songwriter-producer Alexander 23, a fellow Rapp tourmate and friend of Bird’s whom she worked with on American Hero.

Across the album’s 13 tracks, Bird reflects on a range of relatable 20-something woes: raging over how expensive life is and the lacking U.S. health care system on “B.I.L.L.S.”; adjusting to life in L.A. and a career in music on “This Isn’t Me”; and feeling fearful about falling in love with a friend on “Sorry Sorry.”

“I was never like, ‘Oh, I’m going to write a gay song today,’ ” she says of her approach to writing. “It was just like, ‘I want to write a good song about love or sex,’ or whatever I was feeling. It’s funny how [my music has] been labeled as queer music or whatever people decide to label it as, but for me, I think it’s just good music — maybe.”

Sound, Towa Bird

True to form, Bird struggles to celebrate the victories she has had so far. She can’t even say the word “success” without using air quotes. She insists she’s trying to get better at acknowledging her wins along the way — which now include a slate of summer festival gigs — and already has an idea of how to celebrate her album’s release. “I’ll sit and listen to the full thing, front to back. And then probably cry and get aggressively drunk,” she says with a laugh.

But in spite of feeling “sh-t scared” about its release, Bird recognizes its importance. While she never felt like she had permission to land exactly where she has, with American Hero, she gives that runway to anyone who listens. “It’s something that I clearly still continue to lack,” Bird says. “I mean, what young woman will tell you that that [support is] something they received growing up? Probably none. Especially in this industry. So if I can help in any sort of way, even inadvertently, then that’s great.”

This story will appear in the June 22, 2024, issue of Billboard.

The post “Towa Bird Is Finally Learning to Celebrate Her Own Art: ‘It’s Just Good Music — Maybe’” by Josh Glicksman was published on 06/21/2024 by