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Bowerbirds Leave the Nest



    Bowerbirds recently released a new record, The Clearing, and are on the road in support of it. But despite having years of touring behind them, the road is not their natural habitat.

    The songs for The Clearing were all delicately crafted and incubated for nearly two years in a modest cabin deep within the woods of North Carolina where the band lives. You might even say that Bowerbirds originated the mythology of secluded artists living off the grid to lose themselves in the process of creating. For them, this lifestyle has proven fruitful, resulting in their best record to date -- The Clearing shows even greater depth and musical precision than their previous albums.

    In recent years, Bowerbirds have added two members, made it through heartache in all its forms, and found their voice. I caught up with singer/guitarist Phil Moore before the band headed out on tour to talk about overcoming introversion and championing the return of patience to modern indie rock. 

    Nada Alic: I was a huge fan of Hymns for a Dark Horse and Upper Air, so I was really excited for The Clearing. Has it been a long time coming?

    Phil Moore: It's been one of those slow processes. We've been trying to release this last fall, and we got really close but we would've had to have finished it right after we were in the studio, so it turned out that we missed that deadline by a few days. But then we were able to put a lot more into it and it actually turned out to be a lot better because of that. But it was still hard to wait all that time. It's been really cool; we just got a physical copy of the record so we were able to listen to it. Everything boils down to that actual physical thing. 


    NA: With a lot of bands in the last few years, moving out into an isolated cabin has become a sort of novelty, or mythology. What's the actual day-to-day reality of actually living life out there?

    PM: Even before the Bowerbirds I used to live out on a farm and I worked on that farm to pay rent there but I was also making music by myself and that was around 2003. That was the first time that I tried to do anything like that. For me, I like being isolated and I like being secluded, but it is really good to try to be creative. You wake up in the morning and you follow that idea through without any distractions all the way until the sun goes down. I personally can't do that in the city, I think probably people can, it's just hard for me to keep my focus. 


    NA: The production and the arrangements are much fuller on The Clearing. What made you want to experiment more, instrumentally?

    PM: Having been in previous bands in the past that were more experimental, and just wanting to play louder and jump the rails from the whole folk thing. We still write songs in a similar fashion, I just don't think it's necessary for us to be as purely acoustic as we once thought. In previous bands it was more like post-rock, with all the bells and whistles and we made these landscapes of music and wrote pop songs as well. So the Bowerbirds was kind of reactive to that band and kind of stripped everything down. It was very intentional and that was perfect for that time, but we just really wanted to express more. We have five people now so that's the most we've ever toured with and that's going to be exciting to bring these songs to life. 


    NA: How did the decision come about to let Beth take the lead on vocals for a few tracks? 

    PM: I think that's something we've always wanted to do but I don't think we had the time to focus on her, basically we didn't have time to figure out how we were going to write the songs collaboratively. But people would always come up to her and say, "you have a beautiful voice, you should sing more." On this new record we had basically a year and a half to two years to figure it out. 


    NA: You're incredibly open and honest in your mini-documentary and interviews, yet you say you're an introvert. How do you reconcile those two things?

    PM: For me it's hard, mostly I just want to record music and put it out there and have that support another album and then there's that touring thing that I love doing as well. I love touring, it's a super awesome adventure, but if it were up to me, every band would be the Beatles. You know, like record awesome music and be secluded in their own little spaces and make amazing stuff that they give to people. But it's not like that so we do have to tour more months out of the year than we would like, usually just like one more month than we would like. But I think the reason that I do this, this performing in front of people thing, is because it is exhilarating and I'm not completely comfortable with it. It doesn't come completely naturally to me, but I think a lot of performers that I love and know are introverted, but they have found this way to overcome their introvertedness. But for this tour, we're all really really really excited to get out and tour -- it seems manageable compared to what we've done in the past. 


    NA: You mentioned in a previous interview that you feel like the world needs more reverent music right now, what do you mean by that? 

    PM: I just feel like there's this lack of patience with music right now and it's hard to get people to sit down in a room and get people to listen to a whole album at one time. It's not that there's anything wrong with the current fast-paced music out there right now, but at the same time, I really think that the culture is just so on to the next thing. But there's a lot of great music being made that's not like that. I think the world does have reverent music in it -- it's just not being paid attention to right now. There's room for all of us to get along. 


    Be sure to catch Bowerbirds on April 8 at the Casbah with Dry the River. Buy your tickets here

    Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms.Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.