If you like your folk music with a rural tinge, then get ready to get back to nature. North Carolina folk rockers the Bowerbirdsare returning to the Paradise City Monday as part of the tour for the group’s new album The Clearing.
In a recent blog post, I reviewed the new album from the Bowerbirds, and as a special preview of the show, I also got the chance to catch up with band member Beth Tacular via e-mail, where I asked about her thoughts on living in a cabin in the woods with band mate and partner Philip Moore, performing new songs in front of an audience, and what the crowd might expect at the Bowerbirds concert in Northampton. Check out her answers below.
Underground: First off, how goes the construction of your cabin in the woods of North Carolina as seen in the video detailing the making of The Clearing?
Beth Tacular: We are pretty close to finishing it. If we hadn’t started the band, it would have been finished years ago, but all the touring during the spring and fall makes building more difficult. We will hopefully finish it in between tours this year. We have only a few months of work left to do on it.
What’s it like to live in such a rural environment?
It’s the perfect counterpoint to the hectic nature of tour, and to all the highways and cities we find ourselves in when we are on the road. It’s so much easier on the senses out in the country. It always smells good. And the changing of the seasons is so much more intense than in the city.
Working on our creative projects out there, it’s easy to hear your own voice and not be distracted by the people and activity of the city. And it’s just grounding to walk across a field or through the woods.
Shifting gears to music, how would you describe your current sound and artistic outlook?
Well, we had to wait about a year longer to release The Clearing than we wanted to, so we now have a lot more creative ideas brewing than just what you hear on the album. We also just did a couple tours with a five-piece band, where we were trying to replicate the sound of the album in our live shows. The album is pretty lush and sonically diverse, with both acoustic and electronic instruments, plus found sounds and pretty much everything we could think of. We wanted everything on the album to fit perfectly and for all the lyrics to hold a lot of meaning for us.
We were very exploratory with the writing and recording process, and we really let ourselves just be creative, without trying to restrict ourselves in any way.
Now for the summer tours, we are playing as a three-piece, and we are experimenting with synthesizers and new ways to interpret the songs. After playing the songs live for a couple months, it’s fun to try a new way to play them. We are looking forward to this tour and to learning to understand our songs better from this different perspective.
We also are working on new material, which is exciting.
Watch the official video for the new Bowerbirds song “Tuck the Darkness In” here:
How has your music evolved?
When we first started the Bowerbirds, we intentionally chose to strip it down sonically, and we limited ourselves to just nylon string guitar, accordion, bass drum and violin. We used unconventional rhythms and chord structures, but we were interested in simplifying the sonic landscape so that people could focus on the basic core of the songs and on the lyrics.
By our third album, we really were ready to branch out more and make a more diverse sound, and with more dynamics. We also wanted to make the album more detailed and with everything in its place, like a fractal that is allowed to keep developing. I guess it makes our album more of a “grower,” because as you listen to it multiple times, more layers are revealed. And the meaning of the songs eventually can be understood. We wanted the sound of each song to reflect the meaning of the lyrics. On The Clearing, we really paid a lot of attention to detail. The first albums took a week or two to record, where we spent six months recording the new one.
So I guess we have evolved in patience more than anything else.
Your most recent record The Clearing was released in March. Prior to the recording of the album, both relationship strife and an unexpected illness were thrown your way by fate. What were some other challenges you encountered while recording the album, and how did you deal with all of these obstacles?
There were the little inconveniences of life, like a flea infestation when we adopted a dog, who I actually ran over in our tour van when she ran in front of the car. We also live and record in a house with no real heat or air conditioning, so there were a lot of physically grueling recording sessions. But those day to day issues are just things you have to get over. You have to make do with what you have.
The breakup between me and Phil, and the illness, were more life changing. After almost losing these things that are really important to us, we sort of rethought our lives. I think it gave us more perspective and made us more conscientious about what content we were putting into our lyrics. We were asking ourselves what sort of messages we wanted to put out into the world, and what messages we wanted to be singing [to] people for years on tour. So our album, and the songs on it, became little reminders to ourselves about what really matters to us in our lives.
I actually find myself saying some of the lyrics to myself under my breath on a hard day, to remind myself to pay attention to what really is important and to be more grateful for what I have. It’s so easy to lose track of that sort of thing.
How would you characterize the experience of performing songs from The Clearing in front of an audience?
We are currently in the process of trying a new way to perform them, with just the three of us. There’s something more immediate about just the three of us, which I like. Being able to play with five people was great as well, because we could really replicate the way the album sounds, but after playing those songs that way for a while, we are enjoying reinterpreting the songs and putting them out there in a different way that relates more to how we feel right now.
What went through your minds the first time each of you played music in front of a crowd?
Phil and Yan [Westerlund] have been playing in bands since middle school or high school, and I played in concert band in middle school, where we would put on concerts. So I actually don’t remember the very first time, but what I do remember was the first time the whole band class got together to rehearse before our first performance. Half our ensemble was in a different class, the drums and brass. I was in the woodwinds class. The day we all got together to rehearse for the first time was one of the most moving moments of my young life. All of a sudden the songs came so much more alive, with drums, and I remember that being really exciting.
What did you notice?
I just remembered feeling a sense of camaraderie and pride in our group for making something together that sounded so full. I loved being part of a band of so many people.
On a good night on tour, that’s pretty much the best life gets, when you feel you are playing a good show, you are really feeling the music, and the crowd is also connecting with you.
What might the audience expect/ not expect at your concert in Northampton on June 18?
Well, we have a different setup and are maybe a little louder than we used to be. We will be playing songs off all three of our albums, and trying out the new versions of the songs.
What are some future projects/ recordings you have planned?
We have a new side project called Island Dweller that we’ve started working on. We have about six songs so far. We are also planning to finish our cabin and plant some fruit trees, and maybe put in a wood-fired hot tub.
Tell me about the band who is touring with you.
Basia Bulatis an incredible songwriter from Canada, whose voice is just devastating. She is playing a lot of interesting instruments and will basically blow you away, so be sure to get to the show early.
How about some final thoughts you would like to share with the readers of this article?
We love playing Northampton. This will be our third time there I think, and we always have a good time, so we are really glad to be coming back.