Analogue Music | Humbird


By Matt Conner

Siri Undlin terms it "weathered."

Whether it's a chip on the shoulder, road-weariness, realism, or weathered, there's no denying that the latest recordings from Humbird come with more layers than what you might expect given her previous albums—beautiful and more tender releases like Pharmakon or Still Life.

Right On is Undlin's new album is just the right amount of muscle added to the lovely folk stylings of previous works, a musical revving that matches the lyrical takes of songs that wrestle with power and politics—in part. It's all a reflection, according to Undlin, of her own personal growth as well as a reflection of a world where a bubble has burst for so many.

It's been a few years since we've caught up with Undlin, but we caught up with her after a recent tour with Indigo De Souza to hear more about playing around campfires night after night during a pandemic and coming out swinging with a new record.

Analogue: The last time we spoke was back in 2019 around the release of Pharmakon if I remember right. The world has changed since then. How have you changed as well?

Siri Undlin: Good question. I feel like when I look back on that whole trajectory, it’s so much more weird and winding than I could have possibly anticipated, which is probably a good thing even though it can be really hard in the moment. But when you take that big-picture perspective, you realize it was good that it didn’t work out the way you thought.

It’s a good thing I didn’t stay too attached to a plan, because whenever I diverged from any rigid idea of what I had of what should happen, it was way better. I think it was a good lesson to have that non-attachment approach to music, because who knows what’s going to happen? It’s so much hard work and then these moments of luck.

All through the pandemic, it was this reminder that music also matters a lot no matter the context—and maybe especially so when things are uncertain. We played a lot of music around campfires for people throughout that. We called it the “World Tour One Minneapolis Backyard At A Time.” [Laughs] Some nights we were playing five or six nights a week around a campfire for like five people.

It was really a unique time to be making music, but it was very powerful as well. Just not something I ever would have done if the context didn’t demand it, so I learned a lot.

Analogue: That’s a unique musical muscle to grow. That kind of experience to lean in and play when you can in that way… has that yielded dividends in some way after the fact?

Siri: Yeah, I think it was an important reframe for me as an artist because it felt very ancient. It’s like we’re part of a bard legacy all of a sudden. I mean, not officially. [Laughs] I’m sure there are people who are officially in bardic societies.

But we’re meeting around the fire as a small group in such deep relationship in a way that really isn’t possible in a venue with all of the bells and whistles, which are really fun. But when you’re around a fire with just a handful of people, you know everyone’s name and you ask what they want to hear. They’re singing along. There’s so much more conversation and it was just a cool eureka moment for me to realize, ‘Oh, this is a legacy moment that’s been going on for possibly tens of thousands of years.’

In so many elements of our society, we’ve built so many things up around it, but when you strip it down and remember what we’re doing is sacred and old and all been done before but just as important today.

More than anything, that was a lot of fertile momentum for how important music is. That took me out of the hustle of the industry in a way that was really healthy. You still want to try hard and offer what you can, but it’s ultimately about people gathering and feeling connected. That might sound cliche, but that was the biggest takeaway.

"You still want to try hard and offer what you can, but it’s ultimately about people gathering and feeling connected."

Analogue: That sounds so healthy and yet it also brings up the challenges of keeping that mindset up, right?

Siri: Well, I think that being at the core of my understanding of what I’m doing is helpful. So no matter what happens or how far we drive or how big the stage is, we got to play for some big audiences opening for Indigo [de Souza] and it was so cool because the core of it is that a song can live anywhere in the simplest places. So when you end up in these higher-stakes situations, it’s like, ‘Well, let’s see what happens.’

Analogue: That thing you just said—“let’s see what happens”—how much of that, if at all, is a banner over the new album?

Siri: Oh, it’s the whole thing. [Laughs]

Analogue: I wondered because you’re taking some things to task, you’re saying things you haven’t said, and you’re cranking up some amps while you’re at it.

Siri: Yeah, it’s definitely a moment in the band’s existence and also where I’m at as a songwriter to say, ‘Well, let’s try this.’ I think that’s partially because the last two records, while I’m pretty proud of them… it was time to try something different and see what happens. It very much feels like a turning point and a new era in the band in an exciting way. It was also necessary to keep things interesting and honest.

Analogue: Is that due to feeling more comfortable in your own skin?

Siri: Uh, yeah, I think it’s also getting older. Every record has been honest. I can’t really lie when I’m writing a song, thankfully. [Laughs] I just think I’m in a different place and spending a lot of the last few years touring shapes you a lot. Living in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

There’s a lot that’s taken place personally in my life but also on a macro scale that I just feel more weathered, a little more of a chip on my shoulder. Not that I don’t have hope or optimism in various ways, but I feel a bit more roughed up and probably for the better. I think the music reflects that as well.

Analogue: Can you take us into that? What do you mean by 'weathered'?

Siri: Yeah, 2023 was over 100 days on the road. You can’t spend that much time on the interstate driving through monocrops and seeing people’s lives as you interact with them at the gas station or the hotel and not be changed by it. My perspective on this American experiment of ours shifted in witnessing that all around the country. Then my own home was so transformed by an event, the ripples of which are still impacting the people there.

I think a lot of illusions and delusions were shattered in this five-year period. I think the pandemic did that as well. A lot of things we thought were true are not and the world we thought we could count on is not necessarily there. There’s a lot more understanding that you’re responsible for yourself but also your community. I don’t know another word other than weathered. But there’s a grit and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude and I think it all came out.

Analogue: Is there a song that best exemplifies that?

Siri: The first one that comes to mind is “Cornfields and Roadkill” on the new record.

Analogue: Yeah.

Siri: That’s one of the earlier ones that I wrote for this collection and I think it informed a lot of the other songs as well. I wrote it and I was like, ‘Oh, this is a new space.’ It was experimenting with anger in a way that I had not in a Humbird context before, but it felt really exciting and hot. I wanted to keep running with it. So it’s not that the album is angry but there’s a simmering intensity through it.

VISIT: Humbird

*Photos: Juliet Farmer