The guitar playing talents of Towa Bird were first discovered by many during the lockdown years, when the young musician would regularly showcase her tasty lead chops (and handsome guitar collection) while improvising over the top of an assortment of hip-hop, pop, and R&B tunes on TikTok.
She’s also spent the past few years honing her skills by working alongside other artists, often as a producer or a co-writer. Now, with two guitar-stuffed original singles – Wild Heart and Boomerang – under her belt and the promise of a debut album release in the not-too-distant future, the time has come for the Gen-Z social media star to establish herself as a solo artist in her own right.
“It’s great tapping into more parts of my personality which I’m allowing to come out now,” she tells us, speaking from her home in Los Angeles.
Towa’s infatuation with guitar music began in her childhood, which she spent between London, Thailand and Hong Kong. Her father’s “rock-leaning” tastes exposed her to artists like Jimmy Page, The Who and Prince, while her elder sister’s penchant for early 2000s emo introduced her to the angsty cadences of My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy et al.
She’d already started learning to play at school, but stumbling across a Jimi Hendrix documentary on YouTube would prove to be the event that, as Towa humorously puts it, spelled “the beginning of the end”.
“That’s when I really knew that I wanted to pursue music as a life journey,” she explains. “Even just through the screen, I could feel the energy, the charisma and the passion in his voice – both his guitar voice and his vocal – and I really resonated with that.”
It only takes a single viewing of the accompanying video for Towa’s debut single, Wild Heart, to feel Jimi’s influence coursing through her performance. During the dizzying solo, she’s pictured causing chaos from atop a bar, clad in a spangly flared jumpsuit and shredding it up on a gray/green Gibson Firebird, while throwing shapes borrowed straight from the Hendrix school of rock posturing.
Sure, there’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it, but there are also more subversive forces at work.
“I think solos are definitely arrogant,” laughs the 24-year-old musician, who comes across as anything but in conversation. “There’s the term ‘cock rock’ and it does feel a bit like that, but – because I’m a woman – I think that it’s my time to shine. It’s our time to shine. We get to reappropriate that for ourselves.”
In reclaiming the kind of the outlandish flamboyance many of her male contemporaries now choose to steer clear of, Towa hits on an aesthetic that at once feels nostalgic and progressive – and there’s a sense that she might only be half-joking when she says: “Female guitarists are allowed to solo – no-one else is!”
Her individualism also shines through in the kinds of guitars she seeks out, and Towa has a particular preference for “interesting-looking bodies and things that people don’t see around”.
“That’s why I have the Firebird,” she explains. “It feels like a nice, solid rockstar guitar. It feels interesting and it looks cool with the gold hardware and the interesting green color. It plays great and I have access to all of the 24 frets.”
Another of her favorites is a Ludlow offset model from D’Angelico, which you’ll see in action in many of her TikTok jams, as well as the Olivia Rodrigo: Driving Home 2 U documentary, in which Towa appears for a performance of brutal.
“The body is just so unique. It looks kind of like a Les Paul but it’s just out there,” she enthuses. “That model has been discontinued, but I have one and I think that’s so exciting!”
Not long ago, Towa also faced having to shed every instrument she could bear to part – including a Fender Tele that was once her number one – when she upped sticks and moved from London to L.A.
“I started fresh when I got here,” she shrugs. But, with more recent D’Angelico acquisitions, including a 335-style Excel DC and a Premier Bedford SH, she’s quick to reassure us that the collection is “in good shape” once again.
For tone, Towa has joined the legion of contemporary players who favor the convenience and versatility of Kemper profiling technology over traditional amp and pedal rigs.
“I can dial in some really interesting tones without having to have a million pedalboards and all the signal chain stuff to deal with,” she explains.
“I just get to nerd out and use it like I would when I’m producing. Then I just save it to the computer and it’s all there. I can access it with my feet and it’s easy.”
On her pop-punk tinged latest single, Boomerang, however, she reveals that the tone-building process followed a different path.
“On the writing day of that song, I just put all the guitars down DI and we put quick little filler sounds on for the time being. Then we re-amped a bunch of stuff, re-tracked a bunch of stuff and some of it was just not as good as the original DI tone.”
“It’s boxy – it kind of sounds like shit but in a cool way,” she laughs. “It feels punk and DIY!”
The song’s highlight is, of course, one of Towa’s no-holds-barred solos and she describes the climactic throwdown as “kind of flipping through three different guitar worlds”.
First up, we’re hit by a barrage of furious hammer-ons, then it’s the turn of tasty tremolo picking, before Towa brings it all home with some highly singable fuzz-laden licks that segue neatly back into the main melody.
“I wanted it to feel like a conversation,” she explains of the ever-changing guitar “voices”.
”Being able to do that in the box is really helpful. Throwing things into different rooms, playing it on two different guitars and then having two different distortions or fuzzes was just so fun.”
Although the title and release date of her debut record are yet to be revealed, Towa hints that we should also keep an ear out for the onstage iterations of the tracks. “These songs are built to really live on a stage,” she smiles. “The recordings are one thing, but the live versions are pretty cool!”