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Clearing the way: Bowerbirds on cabins, writing process


Bowerbirds - D.L. ANDERSON
  • D.L. Anderson
  • Bowerbirds

Indie folk group Bowerbirds is, at its core, the project of couple Phillip Moore and Beth Tacular. In the time since their 2009 release, Upper Air, the band and the couple have been through an awful lot. Moore and Tacular ended their romantic relationship - they've since reconciled - and Tacular was hospitalized in the face of a serious illness. On the less dramatic side, they also built a cabin in the woods of North Carolina. This year they've returned with their most varied and sonically lush album yet, The Clearing. We spoke with Moore about everything from songwriting and playing live to Paul Simon and Graceland's infallibility.

NUVO: The new album definitely has a wider sonic palette; was that a result of any conscious change of approach?

PHILLIP MOORE: At first we tried to work with a sparer sound. We said, "It's just going to be nylon string guitar and accordion." Then Mark [Paulson] joined just to play the bass drum, later we added the violin. For The Clearing, we added even more, just because, first and foremost, the fun part of the creative process for us was not limiting ourselves as much as we might have before.

NUVO: Since the album is much more lush, has that led you to change how you play live at all?

MOORE: We have been changing our live approach constantly; we've got a cast of people depending on what kind of rooms we're playing. On the first leg for The Clearing, we took out a five-piece band, which was really exciting. Now we're stripping it back a little bit, going with the trio and re-arranging some songs. We're trying to experiment with more keyboards and synths. We want to change it up, give people something new to think about each time they see us.

NUVO: How does the song-writing collaboration between you and Beth usually work?

MOORE: I like to write alone at first, but then we always do a lot of the paring down to find what's good about the song together. I tend to be a little long winded in my writing, and Beth is really good at finding what's good about a song. On this album, we also worked on songs together from the start as well, and then I helped her the other way, too.

NUVO: The percussion in your songs tends to be a bit more groove-based than other folk music often is, for example in "Now We Hurry On." What sorts of influences lead you to that approach?

MOORE: I think there's definitely an influence, I wouldn't say it comes from one place in particular, but I've always really liked Graceland, for instance. Looking back on it, the production is kind of cheese ball, but the actual musicians and the songs are amazing. That was maybe my introduction to that world [of African music]. I've also been a huge fan of jazz for along time. Also, our drummer is just a jazz drummer, so he can do things I could never do. He'll say, "Let's do a bolero beat here," and I'll be like, "Sure, bolero, that sounds great."

NUVO: Do you see any analogies between your work on the cabin and your process of writing music?

MOORE: I feel like they're both part of this creative life that Beth and I have envisioned for ourselves. On
e is definitely an extension of the other, but I'm not sure which way it goes. We've always appreciated a bit more of a DIY approach to things. We just enjoy the idea of growing something from nothing, and in that way I think the cabin and the music make perfect sense together


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