June 13, 2012

Bowerbirds Talk Success, Folk Music and Bon Iver

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The Sun sat down with Philip Moore, singer and guitarist for indie-folk band Bowerbirds, and talked about the band’s artistic progression, success and celebrity encounters.

The Daily Sun had the pleasure of sitting with Philip Moore, singer and guitarist for the indie-folk act Bowerbirds, as he and the band — which includes Moore, his girlfriend Beth Tacular on accordion and Mark Paulsen on violin — prepare for their upcoming tour in support of their new record, The Clearing. Moore talks artistic development, the new Here We Go Magic record and getting boxed in as a folk artist (by none other than yours truly).

The Sun: So, where are you now and what are you doing to get ready for the upcoming tour?

Philip Moore: Well, we’re starting the tour on the seventh, I guess. We’ve had rehearsal, all that stuff, but the two of us have basically been crashing all day today.

Sun: Three years between records is a pretty long time, especially in the era of blogs and Hype Machine. Obviously, much has been made about what has transpired for you guys between Upper Air and The Clearing. Personal travails aside, how do you think the band has changed musically between these two records?

P.M.: I just feel like it’s a little more lush and expansive. The cores of the songs are obscured more, in a way. A lot of the elements surrounding the music are more lush. Most of all, though, I feel like the lyrics are more spot on — they’re based on my actual life. It’s a lot more autobiographical rather than not, I suppose.

Sun: One of the first things everyone notices about The Clearing is how rich it sounds compared to the first two records. Was there a conscious effort to expand your sound palette and create a more ornate record?

P.M.: Well, we had our drummer with us this time, which was great. We recorded just the three of us — me, the drummer and Beth — and we went to an actual studio. It was a new experience. On Upper Air, we were just trying to get the songs out right then.

Sun: So it was more: Record it, release it and get the music out?

P.M.: Exactly. We had a tour schedule set and we needed to do it quickly. It was, I think, better for it that way. The Clearing took a while, and we did a lot of re-recording. We came back home and we redid entire songs and it was kind of, like, a huge process, trying to figure out how to make a complete song out of the basic elements.

Sun: The editing process seems fairly alien when the first time you record something is usually how it stays for the remainder of its existence. Once your record it, it’s set in stone.

P.M.: Yeah. The first album was recorded all live, down to the vocals, actually. Maybe a violin or two was over-dubbed, but otherwise it was just completely live. I suppose that helps to create kind of an intimate feel.

Sun:  Parts of the new record were recorded in Bon Iver’s North Carolina studio. What was it like working with him, to whatever extent you did? Have the Grammy’s and SNL nods gotten to his head?

P.M.: He’s totally taken it all pretty gracefully, though he wasn’t there for most of it. We worked with our own producers. The studio is just a beautiful place with great equipment, weird drawings. Brian Joseph was actually a friend of ours — he’s actually related to the [psych-folk band] Megafaun dude. It was a really comfortable situation.

Sun: Folk music risks falling into old clichés, especially for listeners who don’t know it too intimately. There are limitations in instrumentation and lyrical themes. Why do you find yourself drawn to folk music, and how do you keep it fresh?

P.M.: I feel like I’m not necessarily drawn to folk music or that I really write folk music. I always thought that folk music was always like traditional cover songs. I never thought that I wrote songs that people could play easily or songs that have a message or something. I love Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, but I also love a bunch of punk rock and other music that doesn’t come up in conversations when people talk about Bowerbirds. I guess it’s just easier for me to sing and play on acoustic guitar, which isn’t really what folk is to me. It’s fine if people think that; I just don’t think that I’m drawn to folk music and it’s trappings like you’re saying. I try to draw from a lot of different places.

Sun: Do you ever see yourself making any stylistic shifts in future songs, or have you basically figured out what you do and how you do it?

P.M.: It’s more what you can do to make people think that you’ve changed your music. I think I might write a song that doesn’t necessarily fit into the Bowerbirds mold. I don’t know if we would change so drastically, but we’re more likely to start different projects. We’ll see what happens.

Sun: You guys kick off your tour on June 7th (with a stop at The Haunt on June 17th). What rigorous preparations have you made for the tour?

P.M.: Well, we’ve ramped our lineup up from three people to five. We’re rearranging almost all of our songs for the new lineup. It’s taken quite a lot of work to get all the buttons pressed at the same time. We’ve been working with getting comfortable in the new setting.

Sun: One last question: what record from 2012 will you guys be playing in the van as you tour?

P.M.: Here We Go Magic’s latest is pretty good. I think the production is really special.

Sun: Didn’t they pick up John Waters while he was hitchhiking?

P.M.: [laughs] Was that them?

Catch Bowerbirds and their delicately crafted tunes at The Haunt on June 17th. The Clearing is out now on Dead Oceans.

Original Author: James Rainis