Bird Mancini is a staple in the heart and soul of the greater Boston music scene. Their music is always, always, always energetic. The Boston Globe calls their sound “…a cosmopolitan fusion…pop music in the most adventurous, inclusive sense of the term.” Ruby Bird and Billy Carl Mancini discuss their history and their sound in this interview—explaining how they aim to mix things up so that they remain fresh and vibrant. Bird Mancini brings a whole palette of delightful sounds to their stage shows. Two thumbs up.
To learn more about Bird Mancini, visit their website.
Check out this video of Bird Mancini doing their original song “Tuning In / Tuning Out.”
Be sure to watch this video of Bird Mancini playing “A Little Help from My Friends” with T Max at the 2015 “All You Need is Love” benefit.
How did the two of you meet? Did music have something to do with it or did the music come later?
Billy: Music had everything to do with it! We both entered a little talent contest in Tucson, AZ, where we lived at the time. That’s where we met. I was so impressed with Ruby’s voice and piano playing that I joined her at her table. It wasn’t long before we were playing and writing together and we’ve been together ever since.
Ruby: Billy and his duo partner won that contest by the way. 100 bucks and free dinner. I got a consolation prize of a bottle of champagne, and we drank it together that night.
How long have you been playing together?
Ruby: We’ve been married 35 years. That’s all I’m going to say.
Ruby, what led you to the accordion? Is that the instrument you feel most comfortable playing?
Ruby: No. My most comfortable instrument is my voice…I love to sing…feels so good! But since I can’t sing while I’m playing harmonica or melodica, I guess my second favorite has to be the accordion. I was originally a keyboard player, but started doing all of this when I saw a well-used original Crucianelli student sized accordion at Mr. Music in Allston about 15 years ago. It was love at first sight. Never looked back.
Billy, are you a gearhead? Have you used the same kind of guitars over the years or do you have one favorite kind?
Billy: I’ve got tons of gear, but I don’t think I’m a gear head. Any guitar that feels good in my hands (and there aren’t many of those) and sounds good is just fine by me. I still have my first real acoustic guitar, a Guild D-35, purchased when I was in high school. It doesn’t go to gigs with me anymore but does see a lot of time in the studio. I write most of my songs on it to this day. For the most part, instruments and assorted gear are just a way to get the sound out of my head.
Obviously you have been influenced greatly by the Beatles. Are there any other musicians who have inspired your sound?
Billy: I’m glad it’s obvious that The Beatles have influenced me. But there are many others who have had a great effect on me….Stevie Wonder, XTC, Carlos Santana, dada, James Taylor, Captain Beyond, Elvis Costello, David Crosby, Eric Clapton…I could go on and on. I’ve run a recording studio for years (Second Story Studio) and have also been influenced by many of my clients, who often become my good friends. Locals like Mr. Curt, Sal Baglio, T Max, Roald Wilson, Steve Gilligan and many more. All their creative energy happening right in front of me all comes back out somewhere along the line.
I couldn’t help but notice that one of the venues you’ve played was the Cavern in Liverpool. What was that like?
Billy: We were lucky enough to be chosen by the International Pop Overthrow Fest to play at The Cavern Club. The whole four-piece band went over. It was a thrill of course! Also played across the street at a place called The Cavern Pub. We also took time to see all the Beatle museums and homes (John & Paul’s childhood homes are maintained by the National Trust) and just absorb the whole Liverpool experience.
Ruby: I loved playing on Mathew Street. The English folks were a terrific audience. My favorite tour site was The Casbah, the original teen coffeehouse in Pete Best’s (original Beatles drummer) parent’s basement! It’s also run by the National Trust, and is in perfect original condition. The family still owns the house, and Pete’s brother gave us a private tour. Fantastic!
You’ve opened for a lot of big acts. Do you have any favorite memories from any of those special nights?
Ruby: Opening for a “big act” does expose you to a whole bunch of people who might never have bothered to come and check you out. My favorite memories are opening for Jonathan Edwards, simply because we did it many times, and in the process we became friends.
Billy: It’s always great to play in a professional setting, play through pro systems and work with pro people…both crew and other performers.
Your original music is quite eclectic. Do you enjoy mixing it up just to keep things fresh when you perform?
Billy: We write what we feel and perform what feels good to us. Many of our musical heroes are very eclectic. Think of the difference between The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” “Julia,” “Yesterday,” “and Within You, Without You.” This is all seems very natural and normal to me. I don’t want to be put in a box and labeled this or that. I realize that makes it hard for marketing purposes but that’s the way it is for me and I think for Ruby as well. So, yes, we do enjoy mixing it up. Would be kind of boring otherwise. And we mix up our playing format as well. Sometimes it’s just Ruby & me, sometimes it’s a four- piece rock band (with Joe Jaworski on drums and Joel White on bass) and sometimes we perform with friends like the time we played the Beatle Benefit with T Max at me & thee.
Do you do a lot of co-writes or do you write separately?
Billy: Most of our music is written separately. Song writing seems to be kind of a solitary endeavor to me. But we often have quite an effect on each other’s arrangements. Ruby’s not shy about telling me what she thinks. But we do collaborate as well. Often I’ll have music that’s in need of words and Ruby will come up with them. One song that is a true collaboration is “Tuning In / Tuning Out.” We’ve got a new song that hasn’t come out yet, with melodies and words written by both of us. When it came time to demo the song in the studio we realized that the melodies and words Ruby wrote were best for me to sing and my melodies and words worked best with her singing them.