Songs for the seeds

Humbird conjures soothing sounds from Mother Nature and hard lessons from American life

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Siri Undlin of Humbird says she sings to plants because “they’re not going anywhere, no matter how bad it is.” Credit: Juliet Farmer

The chances of being struck by lightning once in a lifetime are one in 15,300. For reference, approximately 2,000 people worldwide are hit every year, including 270 in the U.S. So while there’s a 90% survival rate, it’s something most of us will fortunately never experience.

But Siri Undlin, the songwriting force behind Minnesota-based band Humbird, is a lightning rod of sorts — and she has been zapped by a bolt more than once. In fact, it happens to her a lot, at least in a figurative sense.

“Sometimes you’re in a place just noodling on a guitar and a song emerges. Other times you’re driving in your car, and you have to pull over to write down an idea before you forget,” she explains. “It’s more like a bolt of lightning than a habit.”

Literal lightning strikes aside, nature is one of Undlin’s most reliable catalysts of creativity. Growing up in southern Minnesota meant exploring the Upper Mississippi River Valley in her home state and beyond — including the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, where she tracked her upcoming third LP Right On live during a muggy two-week stretch in Eau Claire.

“There are spaces where I go for quiet reflection. I don’t know if that’s explicit inspiration, but I think that’s an important part of the process. That’s often the river,” Undlin says.

Humbird – Song For The Seeds @ Salon Sonics (Live Session)

Listen to ‘Song For The Seeds’ out now: https://humbird.ffm.to/songfortheseeds Filmed and edited by Feels Like 95 Films Audio by Holly Hansen Support Humbird on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/humbird and buy music and merch at https://humbird.bandcamp.com/ Follow Humbird http://www.humbirdmusic.com/ https://open.spotify.com/artist/0RLSq… https://www.facebook.com/humbirdhumbird/ https://www.instagram.com/humbirdhumbird https://soundcloud.com/humbirdhumbird

The Mississippi, La Crosse and Black rivers are typically the best spots for such soul searching, according to the emerging songwriter, as well as Lake Superior. But the grasslands have their place in Undlin’s creative process, too: “The prairies are a really good place for quiet ideas to emerge,” she says. 

In fact, before she laid down tracks for her new album in the studio, local flora heard the first drafts. There’s even one titled “Song for the Seeds.”

“Often if there’s a story or a melody I’m working on, I’ll go for a hike and sing it or talk it, and look totally insane to anyone passing by,” she says. “But sometimes plants are a really good first audience. They’re not going anywhere, no matter how bad it is.”

Undlin’s tendency for drawing inspiration from the great outdoors will take center stage in the shadows of the Flatirons on April 3, when Humbird headlines Chautauqua Community House in Boulder, a night after opening for Indigo De Souza at Denver’s Gothic Theatre.

Humbird’s upcoming third LP ‘Right On’ is set for release on April 12. Courtesy: Nettwerk Music Group

‘Hard things happen’

With all this inspiration drawn from her natural surroundings, Humbird’s Midwest Americana tells the stories of the landscapes they’re conjured from. But Undlin’s latest album is also informed by the folk-rock forefathers who guided her sound.

“I was listening to a lot of Neil Young, Tom Waits and Tom Petty,” she says. “They’re so influential to so many people, I just got to them late. I knew the hits, but I never really sunk into those artists’ full catalog. I was pretty deep in when I was writing my own songs. I think you can definitely hear those three in them.”

It makes sense that a “white girl with a guitar” would play Americana, she jokes. But it doesn’t really make too much of a difference to her what you call it.

“Genres are strange as-is. When I’m putting work out in the world, as long as people are finding it and liking it, that’s what matters to me,” says Undlin, who grew up in church choirs and traditional Irish ensembles before becoming a Watson Fellow and studying folklore and music around the world.

Humbird, which also includes Pat Keen (bass, synth and percussion) and Pete Quirsfeld (drums and percussion), ultimately allows Undlin and her bandmates to “talk about what we see going on in the world,” she says.

To that end, Undlin isn’t afraid to turn her critical gaze toward some of the thorniest social issues of our time. Most of the songs from Right On, like the politically charged “Child of Violence,” were written during the social unrest accompanying the early days of the pandemic and our explosive reckoning with police violence in America.

“I was living in South Minneapolis, so I was very influenced by the events of George Floyd’s death and what changed in my neighborhood,” she says, adding that Humbird’s 2021 record Still Life was more “contemplative and reflective and all about making safe space and processing.”

“I think this record I put a lot more of the songs with teeth in it,” Undlin continues. “They felt like they went together. It, in some ways, is a sequel to the other record, but more rage and grit, like, ‘OK, these hard things happen,’ and you figure out how to move through it with your neighborhood and family and friends — and you’re different forever, but there’s still a lot of beauty with the grit.” 


ON THE BILL: Humbird with Frail Talk. 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, Chautauqua Community House, 301 Morning Glory Drive, Boulder. $22