Limelight: BirdPen

When flatmates Dave Pen and Mike Bird first formed BirdPen back in 2003, they had no idea they would still be making music under that banner more than 10 years later.

“We started it as a video-making enterprise,” explains Pen. “We used to make montage clips for clubs and we made a couple of videos for bands, and then we started writing some songs. Before we knew it, we’d come up with so many ideas in such a short period of time so we just locked ourselves away to learn how to craft our skills.”

And craft they did. The duo had already dabbled with progressive and experimental styles in previous bands so BirdPen’s focus was on cinematic soundscapes and a massive sound. Bird remembers: “There was a time when people assumed we were an acoustic act because it was just the two of us. When we turned up with all this equipment, they would be horrified!”

A small collection of EPs and vinyl releases followed, before they released their debut album_ On/Off/Safety/Danger_ in 2009, the unveiling of which was delayed when Pen joined the intelligent dance music collective Archive in 2004. Bird followed him nearly a decade later, initially as a crew member.

We want it in your face and a bit intense.

“We’ve always called our sound ‘doom groove’,” says Pen. “There’s an element that’s quite melancholic but there’s always been a groove so you can get into it… It’s like standing at the edge of the world with a smile on your face! We enjoy creating that kind of soundscape element, that epic feel, and it’s more fun to play that way live. We want it turned up; we want it in your face and a bit intense. That’s what makes us click.”

BirdPen’s latest release, In The Company Of Imaginary Friends, was written and recorded in-between touring with Archive. Inspired by the sounds of post-rockers The Antlers and Mogwai, along with the epic feel of films such as Blade Runner, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, the duo’s third album is a more grandiose affair. Part-funded through PledgeMusic and mastered at Abbey Road Studios, In The Company… is, as Pen explains, “about searching for the light; seeking freedom in a world that’s spiralling out of control. It’s easy to slip into the darkness in the modern world where things can be picture-perfect on the outside but there’s a lot going on under the surface.”

The pair donated a percentage of their campaign funds to the mental health charity SANE.

It’s been an incredible journey so far and now BirdPen are working on new material, with plans to tour Europe this autumn. The recently released videos for Equal Parts Hope And Dread and Alive bring them back to their visual roots, although they’ve passed the video-making beacon on to new creative teams.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising to learn that BirdPen have designs on crafting some movie soundtracks. “If the right film came along, we’d love to do something like that,” muses Pen, before adding, “maybe something dark and horrific!”

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Dave Pen (vocals, keys, guitar),** Mike Bird** (keys, guitar, samples)

sounds like

Dark, brooding atmospheres with a surprisingly upbeat vibe, and a generous helping of Mogwai

current release

In The Company Of Imaginary Friends is out now through Jar Records


Natasha Scharf
Deputy Editor, Prog

Contributing to Prog since the very first issue, writer and broadcaster Natasha Scharf was the magazine’s News Editor before she took up her current role of Deputy Editor, and has interviewed some of the best-known acts in the progressive music world from ELP, Yes and Marillion to Nightwish, Dream Theater and TesseracT. Starting young, she set up her first music fanzine in the late 80s and became a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines over the next decade. The 00s would see her running the dark music magazine, Meltdown, as well as contributing to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer and Artrocker. Author of music subculture books The Art Of Gothic and Worldwide Gothic, she’s since written album sleeve notes for Cherry Red, and also co-wrote Tarja Turunen’s memoirs, Singing In My Blood. Beyond the written word, Natasha has spent several decades as a club DJ, spinning tunes at aftershow parties for Metallica, Motörhead and Nine Inch Nails. She’s currently the only member of the Prog team to have appeared on the magazine’s cover.