The final song on Bowerbirds’ newest LP, The Clearing, gracefully encapsulates the current state of the American folk trio. “We thought we had forever, and now we hurry on… No you’re not alone. The valley’s flushed and warm. Take your time with it. All of it.” After having to take a break from some crowded work schedules that caused accordion playing vocalist, Beth Tacular, to become suddenly and inexplicably ill, boyfriend and lead vocalist Philip Moore decided to slow things down. After two well-received albums and extensive touring, they moved out to a remote forested area of North Carolina to build a cabin and truly focus on their craft. The result is one of the most placidly invigorating folk records of the past few years, making Bowerbirds’ quest for maximum exposure neatly balanced with their self-induced solidarity and isolation.
You’ve been playing together now for over 6 years. When did you all decided to completely commit to the lifestyle, and what’s the outlook for Bowerbirds?
It kind of took a year of playing, Beth and I traveling around the country in 2006, and then we just kinda played little shows here and there, and we were kind of a band just living on tax returns that year. So, after that we came back and we were asked to tour with “The Mountain Goats”, and we got sort of faced with that world. We kept touring, living in and out of earstream, keeping our bills low. Right away in 2007 the first album was actually released to the public. For a band, I feel like our friends have grown at the same time as our band has grown, I guess, in popularity. We really just do the same thing. We write albums and write music and the outlook kind of stays the same and we just play shows for people and try to get as many people interested in our music as possible.
All your records have been centered around nature, humanity, and simplicity. What new themes are introduced on “The Clearing”?
I think it’s similar to those themes, they’re still present. Also, the voice in which it’s told is a little more honest and open. It deals a lot more with the personal bittersweet feelings involved in growing up and growing old and watching time trickle by, how that fucks with your head a little bit. A lot of it is so autobiographical to our art, to our whole lives in the past two years where we’ve had the opportunity to sit around and be creative, watch the seasons change, and having time alone to figure out exactly what we’re trying to say on this new album. That is the biggest difference on this record.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process? How much of a collaboration are the arrangements with you and Beth?
My favorite part of the creative process is the part where things become actual realities. I think Beth is really great at the editing and making something perfect and really fleshing it out. I’m getting better at that. Beth and I worked very closely on this album. I mostly come up with everything initially, the songs, and then Beth guides the songs into eventually where they ended up. I did a lot of that, too. Our process was a lot more integrated on this album than it was on the last two albums, which I think makes the album a better representation of the two of us.
You interact often with your fans via Twitter. How does communicating with them change your experience?
I guess it gives us a point to do it in this capacity at all. If we can have people telling us that the things that we’re doing are really great, we wouldn’t do them in this capacity. I would probably always still be writing music, but the touring and the releasing records is definitely something that requires fan interaction on a more personal level. It’s fun to get to meet amazing people in that whole Twitter thing, and you meet people from the other side of the world that you wouldn’t have ever had any contact with, and I think that’s really awesome.
Discuss how moving out to an isolated cabin has changed the way you make music?
All of our records were written out in some form of isolation, whether it be here or South Carolina. For me, I think it’s being around beautiful nature, and it’s generally quiet and peaceful. Mostly, the quiet, the solitude is great for writing music because you can have a thought and carry it on through a whole day and you’re never interrupted by random distractions that you, yourself, implement. You don’t go down to the bars and drink or call a friend to hang out in the afternoon. You can just sit there and work and not be distracted. That’s the reason Beth and I decided to move out to the country. We can be creative without interruption.
How much more comfortable have you become with the musician lifestyle than when you started? What have you done to situate yourself?
In this culture it’s difficult to justify being a musician or any sort of artist. It’s hard to tell people that’s what you’re trying to pursue. I would tell people that I was working wherever, or looking for a job for my biology major. I couldn’t tell people, “I’m a creative artist.” I guess that’s just what I’m best at. What really has situated me as this “indie musician” is just doing it for several years, but then finally being awarded with people enjoying it and selling records and having fans show up to shows and just getting more confidence. There are people saying, “You should keep doing this, we’re really enjoying this.”
I’ve read Beth had become suddenly ill between this album and the last. Explain how this affected the group.
The pace in which we were working was basically everyday all day, way too fast, and we took a couple days off around Thanksgiving of 2010, and right after Beth became very ill and we had to go to the emergency room. We didn’t really know what was wrong, and it just made us stop doing everything. After we stopped working all day everyday, we kind of got this refreshing new look on life that we really enjoyed. It was necessary. Later, she totally healed and we kind of took it easy and made sure that we were taking care of our health, not concentrating too much on anything. We haven’t been getting too involved with the mundane details of life. We’re better at managing our time now, working on the album. We decided that we wanted to make this album amazing and communicate everything in the most honest way possible for us.
Interview by Dylan Bliss