Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Birdie Busch’s new record Thunder Bridge is beautiful, meditative, with an attention to production details and sonic textures that would make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Jeff Tweedy envious. Recorded in Germantown, Busch’s sixth LP sees the introduction of longtime friend Jaron Olevsky as keyboardist, as well as co-producer along with her partner, bassist Todd Erk. It’s a pensive, reflective collection of eight tracks that might remind you of Lucinda, Feist, or the moods of Beth Orton, and you’ll be comforted to know that Busch is a local Philly girl too.

What’s more, on June 18th, the Philly songstress will host a record release party at Boot & Saddle in celebration of the new work (get tickets and more info here). She’ll also be around town with a handful of show dates this summer, and come Fall, Johnny Brenda’s will host her seventh annual Philly Opry, a night of music cultivated by Busch, and conceived to mix-and-match local and traveling acts.

In her interview with us, Busch related her eclectic influences, her love for the city and its arts community. She speaks thoughtfully, poised with deliberation and without calculation, and throughout shares her contagious outlook of renewal and rejuvenation, whether it’s with reference to her relationship with live performance or just walking or biking the city’s streets and neighborhoods.

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

The Key: Are you a Philly native or a transplant?

Birdie Busch: I’m a Philly native. I mean I grew up in Collingswood — my Dad’s from Camden. So I’ve always kind of considered the general Philly area my home.

TK: How did you first get connected to the Philly music scene, what are your earliest memories of that?

BB: My earliest memories are, I lived in an apartment behind Bob & Barbara’s, and I started fiddling around with a guitar, like very convinced that all I wanted to do was write songs and make music. And kind of like a kid, very awkwardly on training wheels, I started taking cabs all the way across town to The Fire on Monday nights. I was just going to the Open Mic and attempting to play very crudely.

TK: Was it all your own music, or covers?

BB: It was all my own music, yeah.

TK: How old were you then?

BB: I was like 22, in the early aughts. [laughs]

TK: Who’s your favorite Philly artist, or which Philly artist influenced you most?

BB: Well, I really had a couple very close friends, one of them being a guy who goes by the name “Cowmuddy” (Michael McShane), who I think really influenced me melodically. And then I also developed a very longstanding friendship with a very old gospel singer who influenced kind of how I went about the purpose of my music.

TK: In terms of what?

BB: In terms of just kind of what energy I brought to it, what message. And made me really think about, in a very purposeful way: I’m giving myself this kind of space and place in the world, what intentions am I gonna be putting into it, and putting out in the world. I think different people have different ways of kind of going about it. Some people kind of just like to just kind of do and process it later. I think I’m a little bit of both.

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

TK: Can you tell me the name of that singer?

BB: Mr. Huff. Not of Gamble & Huff. Not related at all. Although I feel like there’s so much of the Gamble & Huff catalog that I have yet to break into. Like I just watched that Michael Jackson documentary, and for some reason — like maybe I had heard at some point — but I had no idea that Off The Wall was recorded in the Gamble & Huff studio. [laughs]

TK: How did you meet Mr. Huff?

BB: I was waitressing a gospel brunch, and you know like, kindred spirits, just kind of immediately connected and continued the friendship outside of the context of like, being a waitress at his shows, would go to his shows and just take in a lot of their harmony practice, which was a lot more intensive and rigorous I think than people realize sometimes, just ‘cause the end product just sounds so effortless.

TK: Where did you play your first show in Philly, was that at The Fire?

BB: I mean that was where I started going onstage and like putting my music out in the world.

TK: How do you remember it feeling to go onstage at first, in front of your peers and friends in Philly?

BB: For me, like, it’s a pretty big spectrum of emotions — and you know, it can waver depending on the day, and the space, and the people — but it always is so immediately energizing. And I think sometimes when you’ve been playing for awhile, sometimes you forget that, and then you have to kind of rekindle your relationship with it in that way, whether it’s ‘cause you just haven’t been playing shows in a while, or you’ve had a run of some deflating ones. But it’s always a distillation of emotions. I think that’s why I love it so much. Like the way it just kind of like is this very precise window into the performer that you’re watching, and if you’re the performer, what you’re giving to the world. I got super excited about the idea — and it’s still an idea that I’m super excited about — that you can make something that doesn’t exist yet. [laughs]

TK: Which Philly music venue is your favorite to play at, and why?

BB: For my history as an artist in this town, I have a very loving relationship with Johnny Brenda’s. I’ve done a lot of shows there. I’ve done a yearly show there called The Philly Opry, that I curate with both local and traveling acts. I’m somebody that really loves kind of creating environments that are magical — everything from lighting to sound — and I think the staff there kind of shares that passion. Although what’s been really exciting in Philly, there’s been so many venues in the past, I would say, five to ten years that have opened up that are kind of creating lots of different spaces and places and sizes. One of my favorite shows that I’ve played was at Union Transfer, with Junip. The sound onstage was some of the best sound we’ve ever had. The crew was just so good at what they do. And I’ve gone to see shows there too that were equally great.

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

TK: What do you love most about the arts scene in Philly?

BB: Philly has always allowed time and space to just, like, take time. And it’s very kind, I think, being that it’s been pretty affordable. I think that there’s, you know, a genuine family vibe, and that has allowed me to just continue to be myself over time, in both musical and non-musical ways.

I like to do visual art. I do some like civic visual art that I’ve been doing a little more of in my neighborhood in Germantown, and I’m always kind of thinking of different visual projects that I kind of do with some good friends of mine who are — I would say foremost — visual artists, and we kind of collaborate.

TK: On the flipside, what if anything do you find most frustrating about the arts scene here?

BB: I think the city has lost some really great people because there’s not a consistent creative economy here, where people can support themselves. It’s like a catch-22. I think people in some ways have a lot of time, and their costs can be kept really low here, but at the same time it’s often in tandem with working jobs that have nothing to do with your work as a musician. So I think it would be great if there was more paid work for people. Bring back the old song factories, maybe. [laughs]

TK: You mentioned Germantown — which other neighborhoods have you lived in here, and which made you want to stick around and which made you want to bail.

BB: Um, [laughs] they’ve all made me want to stick around, and they’ve all made me [want to bail]… I’ve lived in South Philly, I lived not in dead Center City but a little more central, I lived in West Philly, and now Germantown. And, I feel like, my biggest issue with this city is trash, and litter. That’s kind of my biggest beef. I don’t think any one particular neighborhood is kind of make-it-or-break-it for me, in Philly. In fact I’ve moved around to different neighborhoods, and it’s been a really fun way to kind of treat this city like it’s a country, where I’m like, ‘ok, now I’m gonna go visit the West!’ [laughs], kind of my own positive way of making vacations for myself. So now I’m in the “Northwest Kindgom.”

Just today I was thinking — ‘cause I ride a scooter around the city, back to Germantown — and I’m like, man, there’s always stuff for me to see. There’s always random streets that are like half a block long, that I’m like, ‘I haven’t gone down that street!’ Most people would be like, ‘why the hell do you wanna go down that street?’ [laughs] or like I didn’t know that that section of the city existed. But there’s always weird stuff to find.

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

Birdie Busch | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN |

TK: What’s your preferred means for getting around town?

BB: My favorite way to see the city is by bike, between the pace of it, and just like the mindset that it puts me in. The scooter’s been good like jumping around to different things that I need to do, and I love that too. But yeah, mainly, anything that’s more bike-centric, whether it’s the scooter or a bike. But also, walking. Everything but car.

TK: How have you seen the city change in your time living here, and has it been for the better or worse?

BB: Well, in some ways, you know, like I was saying, there are some really great new venues over time, and that’s been really exciting. It seems like there’s a lot of money coming into the city, and it’s fun to see old buildings be repurposed. I find the clear-cutting of entire blocks for new buildings to be kind of a bummer. I really like the quality of old construction, and I think that, being a heritage city, that we need to kind of think a bit like, longtail-wise, and preserve some of the architectural treasures that we’re kind of bulldozing. I find it to be unfortunate. And I still think we have a massive poverty problem that I think a lot of people just aren’t sure how to tackle, but is totally there, totally exists.

TK: What’s your favorite Philly brewery?

BB: Ohh. Well, rather than brewery, I could call favorite beers, from different ones. Well, before PBC and Yards split, the Philly Pale Ale was really good. And then it changed, the recipe changed. And I haven’t been able to get like a confirm on that, but something happened where they like, traded names or recipes, and like, something got lost in the sauce. That was a good stand-by. The Yards IPA is good because it’s a lotta bang for your buck, it’s pretty high in alcohol content, if we’re dealing with like, going to The El Bar and being like, wow, for four dollars, the Yards IPA is the way to go! I like some of the really interesting beers that Tired Hands has. I think they’re doing some really interesting things, and their food is really delicious too. I just wish they weren’t in Ardmore, because it’s always harder for me to get out there. I’m still waiting for a brewery to open up in Germantown, so I can drink all their beer. There’s other ones, but they’re not within the city proper, if we really wanna throw down on beer. [laughs]

Birdie Busch performs at Boot and Saddle on Saturday, June 18th. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.