Musician Andrew Bird and designer Katherine Tsina are New Yorkers who have fallen in love with their newfound L.A. lifestyle. Bird is an acclaimed singer, songwriter, and violinist, and Katherine Tsina is designer of custom clothier Avion. They live and work in a sprawling 1920s Spanish-style home in Los Feliz with their young son.

Andrew, you once wrote in an article in The New York Times: “The melody will insist on what it needs, words that do it justice.” Can you talk about your process for composing lyrics?
Andrew: The melody is set in place and very distinct, and then I have to open up the valve of words to let them flow over and see what sticks in the shape of the melody. Words are tricky. They oftentimes have a lot of baggage with them, and maybe that’s why I find myself seeking out words that I don’t even know the definition of but I’m intrigued by or a word that has a certain colour to it, or beauty to it. Then I’ll get fixated on that word just like I’ll get fixated on a melody. I have to do something with that word in a song, and then I build around that. There’s a constant stream, but the ideas that have little barbs start gathering other things around them.

Katherine, your background before becoming a designer was in dance. Does that influence your work today?
Katherine: When I was still dancing, I started fitting for a lot of designers as a side job. Both are all about movement. You’re constantly moving and they’re technically trying to figure out what’s happening, what’s working and what’s not working. I’ve always veered more towards very classical or sculptural shapes. In school I became really obsessed with fit – it’s a mixture of proportion and tailoring, but also understanding what will work with the person’s body and fabric and how it’s going to move. The balance of function and beauty in design is similar to dance.

How does the way sound inhabits a space inspire you?
Andrew: I used to have these delusions of grandeur going into a new environment, thinking, “I want to control all the music.” Every time I go somewhere and it’s not the music I want to hear, it obliterates everything I’m working on in my head. Going into public spaces and having music forced upon you used to be really perilous [for me]. There’s some fragile thing I’m working on in my head, and then suddenly you’re listening to something like Journey and it’s gone. But there’s something cool about being in a crowded bar and a song comes on and it just cuts right through the din. There is something really great about people congregating and listening to the same thing together, whether it’s a live performance or piped in. Maybe that’s why people say my record ‘Are You Serious’ is a pop record, because when I was making it I said, “I want to do that. I want to be that Tears for Fears song that plays at the public pool and becomes part of a collective experience.”

What has the transition of moving from New York to Los Angeles been like for you?
Katherine: Los Angeles is a place where you can have a family and have a house and not work until eight or nine o’clock at night, which for both of our professions is the norm. I like that you can invite a bunch of people over and see who shows up. We have a good neighbourhood. There’s lots of families and artists and musicians.

Andrew: A lot of people here are from somewhere else, which actually helps. On that front it was a pretty smooth transition. L.A. has a reputation that’s based on a whole different time. I was always suspicious of the landscape – these plants aren’t indigenous after all. But I’ve always known that it’s a place where people who are good at their jobs come to get well compensated for that. People that are highly skilled come here, and everyone’s universe kind of shrinks down to what they can manage. Sometimes when we go off our route and we’re suddenly on Hollywood Boulevard we’re just like, “Whoa, we live here!”

Your house has great acoustics, as we see in ‘Live From the Great Room’. Was this something you considered when buying the house?
Andrew: Yes, absolutely. We walked into this room and I immediately saw the high wood ceilings and knew it was just the perfect scale for one or two musicians making music. The bigger the room, the more you’re inclined to try to fill it with sound, so you actually write songs in the proper keys for performing. Plus, I find that high ceilings are good psychologically for a sense of optimism. Coming from New York, this is the first time I’ve lived in a house since I was a kid.

How do you listen to music at home?
Katherine: Before I even met Andrew, I was always into music – you saw my Joy Division box set. If you’re an independent designer, you spend a lot of time by yourself. I like our home studio environment. Andrew is always playing something on the couch and I’m working in the studio either with the door closed or open. We really wanted to have a compound when we moved here, where we could both be working and still have a separate space. After being married for a long time, we’re just so used to being in each other’s space all the time.

Andrew: I like to use the turntable as much as possible. It works well through the Sonos Play:5s in the living room. (Because the space is so nice aesthetically, you don’t want to really clutter it with a big pile of vintage receivers.) When you’re mixing a record you just want to hear it on everything normal people are going to hear your record on, so there’s this whole process when I’m mixing and going from one environment to the next to listen to the mixes. Our Sonos both meets my high standards of sound quality and has streamlined the cables. It did a good job of getting rid of all the junk.

Has your son influenced your listening habits?
Andrew: The first sound I hear in the morning is our son saying “it’s morning time”. We started his music education with Nick Drake, which is kind of calming. And then got into the Talking Heads and that was like a dance party. Now it’s The Beatles. He’s the DJ when he’s in here.

Also available in: Danmark Deutschland España France Italia Nederland Norge Sverige United Kingdom United States