Laryssa Birdseye: Rising Like A Phoenix
From her home in northeast Portland, pop singer-songwriter Laryssa Birdseye reflects on her career, her sobriety, and the light she’s found at the end of the past year’s struggles. Photo by Emma Davis.
In March of 2020, Laryssa Birdseye’s world fell out from underneath her.
The year started semi-normally; a lot of new things were happening in her professional career as a touring singer-songwriter. Having booked multiple month-long tours in both Hawaii and California, she was barely in her hometown of Portland in the beginning, taking a slew of unreleased material from city to city.
But as the touring life continued in the early months, she started to notice some foreboding differences, a signal of something much larger about to take hold.
“I started noticing surges of people wearing masks. And I was like, this does not feel fucking good,” Birdseye recalls. “I remember coming back to Portland and being like, I think something’s about to happen.”
As she moved on to her California tour, it wasn’t long before her premonition became a harsh reality. A booker in Seattle emailed her the show had just been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. As more dates began to get pulled, Birdseye watched as many of her touring musician friends’ lives–as well as her own–began to be uprooted.
“I just, like, I knew it,” Birdseye said. “I was like, okay, like, fuck, like this is happening.”
Returning to Portland, everything came crashing down all at once in an overwhelming heap of realization. Her shows canceled, tours canceled, life as an artist put on indefinite hold, Birdseye laid down in the middle of her driveway, staring up at the sky, as her mind began to tally up all of the income she was about to lose.
“That’s where I was,” she said, looking back on the moment. “In the beginning, I was a mess.”
Laryssa Birdseye is sitting on her couch in her home in northeast Portland, the sun filtering light through the window–onto plants lining the windowsill, onto her five-month-old kitten Michu, who is basking in its glow. Wearing black yoga pants and a fuzzy, sky-blue crop top, Birdseye nests into the corner of the couch, legs tucked underneath her, as she reflects on the past year.
It is now February of 2021, marking almost exactly a year since the music industry was completely shut down–a year since that day, laying in her driveway, when the end of the world seemed to be right on the cusp.
But today is different, because despite everything that Birdseye has gone through–despite everything the world has gone through–she finally, for maybe the first time, feels happy.
But the journey to this point certainly wasn’t an easy one. Looking back to a time pre-COVID, Birdseye recalls being in a very different–and more troubling–place in her life.
“I was having a really difficult time relating to the music I was making at the time,” she said. “I was in this place of creating all of this really angry, aggressive music, and then personally wanting to move past it.”
Before the pandemic, Birdseye had marked 14 months of sobriety–an accomplishment she was very proud of. But from this milestone arose complicated emotions.
“I remember passing 12 months and I was like, well, what the fuck do I do now?” Birdseye said. “Can I drink again? I started having those thoughts.”
Before COVID struck, being forced for four nights a week to revisit this rage, to trek through these songs of hurt and anger, took a toll on Birdseye. It left her hurt, miserable, and on the verge of quitting completely.
“I felt like I was really unhappy in my music career at that point,” she said. “I was honestly talking to my friends. I was like, I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.”
Though COVID-19 gave her a break from touring, the sudden halt of work and activity was a shock for her, and lead to even more darkness in the early stages of quarantine.
Her struggle with maintaining sobriety was even further tested when quarantine began. Without touring to distract her, she was left on her couch in front of the TV, watching shows where other characters were drinking freely. Though seeing this on television hadn’t done anything to her before, in the midst of such a drastic and difficult life-changing situation, it all came crashing down. She began drinking again.
“Something set me off one day and I just walked into the gas station, bought wine, and drank it in the park, like a lunatic,” she remembers. “I was so upset. It felt like the end of the world. In a way, it kind of was. It was the end of something.”
The reality of that moment in the park became a sort of wake-up call for Birdseye. Forced to reckon with the reality of the situation, she began to search for a silver lining, to find a positive to take from everything the early months of 2020 had already doled out.
“I’ve always been a little sad and kind of lost without feeling purpose. I don’t know why, but this year…” Birdseye pauses. “I kind of woke up and was like, fuck, I gotta make some kind of change.”
She began changing her quarantine behavior. To address her personal life first, Birdseye turned to small acts of self-care to get her through: she started meditating, reading more, disconnecting from her phone, and stopped engaging with people who only brought about negativity.
“When things get taken away from you and you are stripped down to the base of what you are, I think you can see more clearly what is good and what is working,” Birdseye said. “And that’s what I was able to do.”
In the same way that she was able to attend to her personal needs, Birdseye also found a way to revitalize and take back control of her craft. In the end, it was music that saved her the most.
Surprise-released in March, Birdseye’s new EP, Wildfire, is a culmination of her musical revitalization–a tight, pop package that perfectly encapsulates her unwillingness to bow to the circumstances that COVID bestowed and her strength to come out stronger.
“In my last serious relationship, I was with this person for a couple of years, and for whatever reason, it was just like so devastating,” Birdseye said. “But it broke me open and transformed me in a great way.”
Written in the early months of 2020–back before the pandemic took hold of the industry–Birdseye initially planned to release the first single, “With My,” in the spring of last year, but with COVID-19 mucking up her plans, she had to reevaluate.
“I was like, okay, well should I wait until we can tour? Should I wait until I can do something with this song?” Birdseye said. “It took me a little bit of time to realize that it wasn’t gonna happen and that I can’t stop releasing music just because the industry is at a standstill.”
Finally picked up from the backburner and released to the world in February, “With My,” represented a turning point in Birdseye’s sound. Where her previous music held onto a more pop-rock sensibility, “With My” went headfirst into a heavy synth-rock territory, serving up a brash and confident swagger that oozes throughout the rest of the EP.
Where her last EP, Press Play, focused on the sadness that plagued her in the wake of her relationship, Wildfire sees a new Birdseye rising like a phoenix from the ashes, reclaiming the power she had lost with an even bigger production.
“It’s fucking great,” Birdseye said. “I just feel really free in terms of my expression. I don’t feel so constrained by what other people think of me. I think as far as an artist and as far as what I’m doing, I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to doing exactly what it is that I want to do. And that’s to just fuck shit up.”
Laryssa Birdseye’s new EP, ‘Wildfire,’ is out now on all streaming platforms and available for purchase. Get more information at laryssabirdseye.com. Watch Laryssa’s Indie/Alt Live Session, including an acoustic version of the single, “With My,” in the video above.
Bren Swogger (they/them) is the creator and editor of Indie/Alt Magazine. Bren started Indie/Alt as a music blog during their sophomore year of high school, and after a long hiatus, relaunched it as an online entertainment magazine in 2021 for their capstone project at Pacific University. After 10 years in the music journalism industry, Bren has a long-standing passion for live music, but also loves to explore their passion for other artistic outlets. You can find Bren writing voraciously, adding to their never-ending stack of TBRs, and marathoning classic horror films.