In Which We Get Intimate With Bowerbirds' Philip Moore.
Before releasing last month their third full-length, The Clearing, Philip Moore and Beth Tacular of North Carolina's Bowerbirds released a promotional YouTube video explaining how the record came to be.
The clip explained how the two had been dating and how they then broke up and how they then went through some dark times, only to then get back together and become inspired to work on a new album that further bore into their relationship issues. The album, a moody, sweeping folk record — one more grandiosely orchestrated than any in the band's earlier catalog — delves headlong into these issue, and the promotional video further highlights that.
Not surprisingly, it's earned the band a spate of attention, with one reviewer even going so far as to mention Fleetwood Mac in his write-up.
In advance of the band's stop through town tonight for a performance at The Loft, we caught up with Moore to talk about the drawbacks of putting that much of himself out there for the world to see. We also talked about the growing trend of folk musicians heading out to cabins in the woods to record their albums. And, somehow, we even talked a bit about tattoos.
Were you ever worried that, with your album's promotional video, you might be sharing too much about yourself and getting too personal?
Not when we were actually putting the video together. We just kind of did it. But, after, yeah. I just don't think we really thought about it too much.
So just slight YouTube remorse, then?
[Laughs.] Yeah. I mean, it's funny. For us, yeah, it's really personal. But it's nice, actually, that we were able to communicate some of these things and give fans a little background.
Historically, listeners have largely been left to interpret songs as they'd like. Social media's changed a lot of that, obviously. How do you balance that?
With the attention span of the general public — and I'm including ourselves — I think all that's an advantage. With this album, and maybe Bowerbirds music in general, our music is more lyrical-based than most music out there. A lot of these songs are us, the band, being completely honest with the lyrics.
So I guess we're telling people, “Hey, we want you to hear this. We want you to listen closer.” And I think the more you hear this album, the more it comes.
Because you've given out more history with the songs this time around, have you noticed that people are more spot on with their interpretations? Or are they just taking things to even wilder places?
I think it's about the same. There's still some completely crazy interpretations of songs and some completely right on ones. But all are welcome. If people want to take a song we've written and make it apply to them, I think that's awesome.
One thing that shines through in your music is that there's such a heavy emphasis on nature. Obviously, your name implies it, and so does the way in which you record in your cabin in the woods. That's such a hot thing these days, the whole album-recorded-in-the-woods thing. Is there a worry about being a drop in that larger pale?
Not really. I've been doing it this way since 2002. And it's not like we have a destination studio or a recording cabin out in the middle of nowhere. We just live there every day out in rural North Carolina. It's not like this completely beautiful wooden cabin thing. It just happens to be away from a lot of things. And we just live there.
Certainly you're aware of the trend, though.
Oh yeah. For sure.
Do you feel like people are maybe cramping your style a bit?
[Laughs.] Yeah, maybe. I mean, it is our style. But it's not like any one person invented it. People have been doing this throughout time, even if it just caught on. Look at Thoreau and Walden. It kind of got trendy, for sure. I don't really know why.
So what's the opposite for you guys? Go into a city and record?
I guess so! But I'd never want to do that.
You did add some new elements on this album, though.
Yeah, definitely. We were just at a different place when we started this record. For the first few records, we were very open to not adding very much. We want to clear the house and just make it a few things in terms of orchestration — in part because I'd been in a band called Ticonderoga where we used all the bells and whistles. And that was fun, but we didn't really focus on the songs as much and the content within them. I think with this record, I missed a lot of that, a lot of that experimenting and that freedom. As creative people, we wanted to try some of that out, just to keep progressing. We just wanted to make it as enjoyable a process. And putting all of the extra detail into the record was definitely a reflection of how we were feeling.
And you guys had gotten back together just before this process, right?
Yeah, like right before it. Nothing had been written for the album. We had taken a lot of time off from our last album. We'd been touring non-stop and needed it. And we weren't in the right place to write and record for a while.
And then when you and Beth got back together, everything clicked, I guess. Is it weird that I know this? It feels kind of personal.
Not really. We just wanted to write songs about those things, if only just for selfish, personal reasons, you know? It's only later when you have to deal with it. But then you have fans come up to you after a show and tell you what the song means to them and have like a lyric of ours tattooed on their back or whatever and it's just like, “Wow, this is so amazing that this touched you.” And I guess that's why we do this. So it's really worth it in every way.
Is that a true story about the tattoo?
Yeah! Not with this record, but with the first record, we're definitely seeing some tattoos rolling in. It's totally flattering.
Are you a tattoo guy yourself?
I'm not. Beth is. She has a couple. I just don't know what I'd put on my body.
What about a lyric from the first Bowerbirds record?
[Laughs.] No thanks! I've moved on.
If someone shows you a lyrics tattooed on their body, would you feel obligated to play that song, even if it wasn't on the set list?
You know, there's only so many songs we can play. Just from tour to tour, the instrumentation. And we've got a lot of songs at this point, and we don't have the time to practice them all. Like, this person in Boston had a line on their arm from “Olive Hearts” and we just don't know how to play that song right now. I mean, I know it's not that difficult, but we just couldn't do it! [Laughs.]
Hopefully that person understood?
Yeah, I think so.