Birdcloud, the straight-outta-Murfreesboro, Tenn. duo of Jasmin Kaset and Makenzie Green, will tell you that they don’t party as much as they used to. They’ll tell you that you shouldn’t mistake the characters in their music — a perfect blend of acoustic roots-country instrumentation, punk attitude, and more depraved sex, drugs, and booze than a Motley Crue biography — for the two women you see onstage. And they’ll tell you that, in order to maintain their performing and recording schedule, they’ve toned down their carousing a good bit since forming five years ago.
Then you get an addendum: “We raise hell in Charleston, though,” Green says. “Did you hear about what happened when we were there last December and we played The Royal American?”
We haven’t. Do tell.
“It was the owner’s birthday, and I got completely naked onstage and we ended up having this huge damn cake-fight,” she says. “The guys from the venue told us recently that there’s still cake all over the fuckin’ place.”
So maybe take the “We’ve-toned-it-down” story with a grain of salt. Or frosting.
But whether they’re in a food-fighting, clothes-shedding mood or not, Birdcloud is a must-see band because of their songs, which take stereotypical Southern tropes and turn them inside out, somehow existing as hilarious parodies, incisive character studies, and mercilessly honest tales all at the same time, usually in under three minutes.
There’s the extended middle finger of “Fuck You, Cop,” for example, a twangy hoedown that adds a rhythm section to the duo’s typical acoustic guitar-and-mandolin setup. There’s “Washin’ My Big Ole Pussy,” which is about exactly what the title says it’s about, with the added details that the protagonist is washing said area in the Mississippi River, and that, “Them young men on their jet skis/I sure hope that they see me/Washin’ my big ole pussy ‘fore I go to town.”
So Birdcloud is not for the faint of heart, in other words, but they’re no joke, either. Their vocal harmonies are ragged but right, and their songs are catchy as hell.
Green and Kaset originally didn’t like each other when they met in Murfreesboro in 2009, but they got over it pretty quickly and became close friends. “You grow up and then put your adolescent bullshit behind you,” Green says. “We both knew it was good because we gravitated toward each other.”
“We were both pretty influenced by where we’re from,” Kaset says. “We both grew up around the pop country shit that was on the radio all the time.”
But both of them say it’s a mistake to think of their raw acoustic twang as a backlash against the dreck that’s on country radio these days, both because they consider themselves a lot more influenced by punk, and because they don’t want their names mentioned in the same breath as that crap.
“I don’t think what’s on the radio right now dignifies an intelligent response,” Kaset says. “I think whatever that is is a complete breakdown in communication and something’s gone very awry. They’re just appealing to the lowest common denominator.”
“We don’t have an agenda,” Green adds. “What we do is what we do, and it’s unlike anything they do. There’s not another Birdcloud, and there could never be another Birdcloud. There are a million Luke Bryans and million Blake Sheltons, and they all suck.”
Ultimately, what they do boils down to characters and stories, ones that are deeply rooted in the South but have universal themes, no matter how primal and sleazy those themes might be. Just like the best country music used to do.
“I think our music is about the human experience,” Green says. “But a lot of it is about the human experience in the South, the kind of people we grew up around and their perspective. We write in a lot of different characters’ voices.”
And though they admit that in their early days, a lot of their material was written specifically to piss off conservatives, they’ve moved away from that deliberate approach in the last few years.
“Now, it’s more like, ‘Do you remember that girl we went to college with that would let guys do her up the ass so that she could still be a virgin for her future husband?'” Kaset says, referring to “Saving Myself for Jesus,” the last song on their most recent release, Singles Only. “We weren’t thinking, ‘Let’s piss off a bunch of Christians,’ we were thinking that ‘That girl was hilarious.'”
Nowadays, the group simply finds some chord changes they like and throws out some lyrical ideas. “We talk about, ‘Do you want it to be about this fucked up thing or that fucked up thing?'” Green says. “We’ve developed our own language at this point; we got it down to a science. We write what we want to write, and if someone gets their feelings hurt or doesn’t get the humor of it, then don’t listen to it. It’s meant to be fuckin’ ridiculous.”