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Towa Bird wants to be the lesbian Paul McCartney. On pop rock lead single ‘Drain Me!’, she mixes distorted guitars and pitchy synth-like sounds to pull off a hedonistic head rush anthem about lesbian sex – a song she grimaces at, thinking about how her parents have heard it too. A fan of 70’s old-school rock ‘n’ roll, the 25-year-old is playful with her musical influences – The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Bowie and Jimi Hendrix – and how she carves out her own, rebellious guitar-fronted style. “I’m a little cheeky fuck sometimes and if my music evokes slash provokes people, I think that’s incredibly reflective of who I am,” she says calling from her hotel in Dublin. “That’s the purpose; it’s Towa 101.”

Born in Hong Kong and raised in both Thailand and London, Bird has had what she calls a “mixed upbringing”, a childhood filled with international friends, moving around and music that kept her going. Looking up to the likes of Prince and The Strokes, she was captivated by their swagger and subversive rock stylings. But, growing up, she didn’t have dreams of being a singer, believing that queer people of colour didn’t always get a shot at making it big. “That was never in my scope of things that I allowed myself to think that was tangible. I never thought of myself as the front person,” she explains. “I really give a fuck about what I do but when you’re a young queer person of colour you don’t get encouraged — nobody was telling me that I’m the shit.”

Bird’s career breakthrough falls in line with the new generation of internet superstars – artists who hard-launch their talents on TikTok and, shortly after, land a sizeable record deal. However, the guitarist’s beginnings in music fall much closer to London all thanks to rubbing shoulders with alt artist Cassyette as a teenager. “I played guitar for Cassyette for a number of years and was her friend around for the beginning of her career when I was 18,” she says. “We have another artist friend who is also signed to Polydor. Her name is Baby Queen and we played together – the London music indie scene is quite small, so everyone just knows each other.” 

After touring alongside Cassyette and choosing to drop out of Goldsmiths to pursue music full-time, Bird decided to give TikTok a go as she continued to figure out her path in music. Now, 1.1 million followers later, the singer has earned some notable credits, achieving shoutouts from megastars Billie Eilish and Tyler, The Creator as well as an invite from labelmate Olivia Rodrigo to play guitar on her documentary Driving Home 2 U. As for whether Bird’s successes have finally sunk in (“I’m so confused as to why I’m here – there’s so much impostor syndrome!), the ‘B.I.L.L.S’ musician is gearing up for next step: a debut album. Titled American Heroes, the unreleased record hits out at “Chris Pratt-looking motherfuckers” and satirises the white-washed image of American identity. “I’m bringing forward someone from a mixed family who emigrated to the US only two years ago and who has a lot of influences from British culture and Asian culture,” she says. “I’m not a man, I’m not blonde, [and] I’m queer, so it’s supposed to be sarcasm.”

We caught up with the musician to hear more about her upcoming album, how she befriended Olivia Rodrigo and how David Bowie and Karen O became her fashion icons. 

You’ve been on tour with Reneé Rapp, released your ‘Live from Terminal 5’ EP and, now, you’re working towards your first album under Universal Music Group. How has your life changed over the past year?

There’s still a huge part of me that doesn’t necessarily believe that [this] is happening. I never saw myself as a pop artist or rock artist. I thought [I would be] a guitarist, or a support [act], or I would work for someone. I don’t come from a family of creatives. I don’t come from a family of anyone in my industry. So, I never let myself believe this until I was actually doing it. I’m a relatively stubborn person, so when someone tells me that I can’t do something I want it even more.

You moved to London to study at Goldsmiths and, at the time, played shows in London alongside Cassyette You also crossed paths with Baby Queen – how did that happen?

I went to Goldsmiths and didn’t finish which I think is probably a good sign. People have told me that if you dropped out of university to become a musician, that’s probably a good thing. Before I went to Goldsmiths, I went to The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. I met [Baby Queen] outside and she invited me to a show that she was playing and this was as she was developing Baby Queen on the side. Actually, we played a couple of shows for Cassyette together. We both played guitar and she’s just a good fucking hang, dude. She’s very talented, she’s an amazing songwriter and also has an international background as well.

You’ve earned yourself some big-name fans, from Billie Eilish to Olivia Rodrigo and grown a huge community online. Have you been able to reflect on those achievements? 

Oh fuck, it still doesn’t feel like it’s happened yet. I don’t want to get too gassed – I don’t want to be too excited. Going on tour has been amazing. I never thought that I would play rooms in my hometown. It’s hard to know when you’re from a couple of different places, but London feels like part of me. Playing a six thousand [capacity] venue, sold out, was a big achievement. But, I haven’t had a moment to reflect, I don’t know if it’s going to come. I don’t ever want to be too comfortable. 

Speaking of achievements, you appeared in Olivia Rodrigo’s Driving Home 2 U documentary. What was it like receiving that call?

Working with Olivia was definitely a moment. That was the first time I remember being on an actual set, there was a huge crew around me, we were on location and I’d been flown out for this thing. There were rehearsals and I remember feeling so nervous that I forgot how to play guitar, I forgot how to be. So, that felt like it was a really big thing. Also, that was my first legit carpet at the premiere so, to your point, it was a huge moment. Maybe I don’t gas myself hard enough. She’s also Filipino so I was really excited to be working with another Filipino creative who’s fucking killing it. She’s so successful and such a sweetheart. I think that’s really special.

Soon it’ll be you, her and Conan Gray hanging out…

The Wasian trio!

“When you’re a young queer person of colour you don’t get encouraged — nobody was telling me that I’m the shit.”

It’s great to see other artists pull each other up. Who are your other musician mates that you always have your back?

Obviously, Reneé. Alexander [23] who I went on tour with last year. My friend Deb Never is one of my besties. We’ve got matching tattoos. She was one of the first friends that I made in LA where I was like ‘Okay, I actually have friends now’. It felt like a legitimate thing and we’ve also written together, which is exciting. She’s another queer person of colour artist that I really love and respect. Cassyette, from the early days. Olivia [Rodrigo] again, loving her. And who else? From London, Lava La Rue. I love everything that they do. I’m a massive fan of them. 

What matching tattoos did you and Deb go for? 

It’s a little bear. We got them in East Hollywood in LA just before Deb went on tour this time last year. We spontaneously went and got tattoos and it was something off of the artist’s flash sheet, which I’m a big fan of. I love getting a person’s work on myself. I think that feels a little more impactful to me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had from a friend? 

Cass told me to make a TikTok account. She forced me because I was like ‘I don’t want to fucking do it’. But, she was like ‘You have to, you would do well’. She was right!

What type of life advice would Reneé give you? 

She doesn’t really give advice like that. I think just being around her, and watching her be so blatantly herself in every scenario is quite inspiring. She’s very, very real. You have to be incredibly brave to give up parts of yourself to the public. Watching her be brave every night on stage reinforces my want to do that and be as transparent and real as possible to my audience.

How has that bravery to express yourself fed into your music and your style? 

In terms of image, a lot of the way that I dress, especially on stage I have flares on and blouses and bigger colours and more flowery fashion. I pull a lot from those ’70s rockstars like Jagger, Bowie, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and stuff like that –  just those old British boys. Playing the guitar, those were the people that I looked to as my North Stars, in terms of what I wanted to learn first and what my ear was intrigued by. I would learn their styles and learn their songs, learn how they would play and then take that and make it my own. All of them are men. It wasn’t until Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs that I was like holy fucking shit that’s a fucking rock star and that’s a woman and that’s a person of colour.

There are so many songs about straight sex, but I can name maybe five about lesbian sex.

Your debut album is called American Hero – what inspired the concept behind the title?

In my mind, the personification of the American hero is this six foot four, blond hair, blue eyes, very Caucasian looking, tall, handsome, strong person and that’s sort of the American hero. The point of American Hero is that you create this new form of heroism through someone who maybe you didn’t think could be [seen as] your “typical” American hero, like an immigrant, someone a person of colour, or a queer person. You’ll get to hear songs about queer love, vulnerability, real fucking heartbreak, desire, sex, excitement and silliness and you realise that maybe this is a new form of heroism. Or, a sub-sect of heroism is being vulnerable, being open, and sharing parts of oneself for people to connect to themselves. 

On TikTok, you show off your guitar skills and covers to over 1.1 million followers. Why do you think you’ve developed such a dedicated LGBTQIA+ fanbase? 

A lot of my songs are about queer love. You’re getting the queer experience. I go on stage and I address them and I wear my queerness on my chest. I had to keep [my identity] a secret for a really long time, so now I’m able to be proud, so openly. Now for people to come up to me and say, you helped me come out, that’s still incredibly mind-blowing. I want to be honest and true about my story and share that with you. There are still parts of my identity that I’m still unsure about and that’s really cool but also fucking scary. I’m writing [those feelings] into songs and [questioning] what am I feeling today? Let me be honest and I think that people connect with that. Also, I’m writing songs about sex because there aren’t that many songs about lesbian sex, there just aren’t. There are so many songs about straight sex, but I can name maybe five about specifically lesbian sex.

You’ve set yourself up for this, what’s your favourite lesbian sex song?

That’s such a good question. I don’t know if it’s about sex itself, but I love ‘Silk Chiffon’ by MUNA, that’s a great song. Also, ‘Pretty Girls’ by Reneé.

You’ve wrapped up touring with Reneé and now you’re working on your debut album. How are you feeling about your next steps? No pressure!

Don’t fuck it up! I’m really gassed. Especially coming off of this tour I feel very uplifted. I’m just really excited to keep putting out music. I feel like actually, there are people who really care as much as I do [about my music] and that feels really impactful. Obviously, I fucking love playing live, I’ve always been incredibly public about how that’s my favourite thing about this entire career. We’re getting offers and that’s really exciting and people actually want me to perform on their bills and that’s always crazy for me to think of that. The album is going to mean a lot to me to come out, it’s really gonna feel like the beginning.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.