The last time we caught up with Bowerbirds they were in the process of releasing their second full-length album, Upper Air, and touring extensively.
It appears everything has changed for the duo since 2009. Two of the members —Philip Moore and Beth Tacular— called off their relationship but remained band partners. Tacular suffered a fall that broke her ribs. Later in the year she was hospitalized for a severe illness.
During Tacular’s illness, the two recognized their love required the same fuel they’d committed to creativity. It was enduring trials that brought the security of their new relationship. The experiences fostered the “bittersweet” theme that streams throughout their forthcoming album.
Bowerbirds’ third album, The Clearing, is a lump sum of emotion that seeps through in Moore and Tacular’s lyrics, vocals, instrumentation and harmonies. The Clearing was released yesterday, and we talked to Moore about its reoccurring themes and his newfound growth.
Paste: Can you sum up the band’s last three years for me?
Phil Moore: (laughs) I don’t know if I can sum them up that well. Basically the first year was a ton of touring, and that was really, really difficult. The second year was a lot of waiting and creativity.
The Clearing, your newest album, is much like a statement. What does it represent to you?
Phil: The whole record actually represents our hard work, Beth and I going through a difficult time in our relationship, us being complete workaholics on our creative things and then stopping that and writing this album. We were on tour for the better part of three years straight, and we finally got to sit at home, we got to just be at home to watch the seasons change. I think it really helped our outlook on life. Things are just more peaceful than what they were on tour. That’s what a lot of The Clearing is about. It has to do with how guarded we became with being on tour and having to work so hard to make a change of that. We opened up and then we found the clearing.
Paste: So in this new identity, do you feel more seasoned with this third album?
Phil: It feels like some things worked out, but we added five people to our band. We have a manager now and we’re trying to figure out how to work with that new element. I feel as soon as we had things kind of slow down we added all these new things and people, so it becomes madness all over again. With that change we had to figure a new set of rules out.
Paste: But is it good?
Phil: Yes. It’s definitely something we thrive on. I don’t know if it’s “good” but we thrive off it.
Paste: The record does sound fuller. Did you choose this direction for a specific reason or was it just the evolution?
Phil: It was the evolution, and it was because of the time we had to spend on each song. In the past, our first album wasn’t supposed to be released. It was just supposed to be released amongst friends, like the albums of all bands everywhere. Then our second album was written in the midst of a tour and recorded in a month we had off in between other major tours. We had some much time to think about this album, in every little detail and in every little thing.
Paste: With this extra time you had in the writing process of The Clearing, were you writing in your home? How did a new atmosphere shape your music?
Phil: We were in our home. In the summer of 2010 we were writing new songs and little pieces of songs. We did it so slowly from the summer to the winter and made really stripped down versions of all the songs. At that point in time they were even fake words sung over chord changes, like feelings. A lot of what we wrote was written over strumming or fingerpicked guitar. Many of the tracks were really quiet and haunting. We just added on slowly and would go down a path for a song and add something like marimba on it, and then suddenly it would become this crazy thing. Then once we did all that we’d completely flip it and change it after. Right before we went into mixing we had a set of 11 songs, and two of the songs we took out and replaced the feel of them completely. It was this crazy process of trying to figure out what worked with each song. We went over and over them just because we had that time, which became an awesome creative experience.
Paste: You can really hear that newness in the album. Like with the lyric, “Tuck the darkness in,” is the line revealing some sort of fear? Where did that phrase come from?
Phil: I don’t exactly know when I came up with that phrase, but the song is about an old friend of mine who died in a skydiving accident. I wrote that song for him and I guess that phrase about dealing with the feelings of that accident, having to get through that and move on with life.
Paste: Well, that line really resonates.
Phil: Thank you, very much.
Paste: Even though your documentary short is barely six minutes long, it’s very candid, open and honest. What made you and Beth want to allow people into your home?
Phil: With our kind of music, well we thought about it for quite a while because it is very revealing. A lot of musicians tend to shy away from that and instead give impressions of their lives but never let anyone in, whereas we just felt like every one of our lyrics is autobiographical. We feel that if people were to actually see our lives first, then they would have a window into the actual songs.
Paste: Through the documentary, I felt like I was sharing this space with you guys as I watched. That takes a bit of bravery. There is no gimmick – it appears love is the name of your story. These themes of self realization seem to be apparent in your work.
Phil: Yeah totally, totally. My songwriting has changed because I used to be such a downer as a songwriter. All the songs are autobiographical. That’s where I found a little spot and figured not everything out, but a lot of things out. I think that’s just made us happier people and the music is just inherent, really.
Paste: Tell me about The Clearing’s second track, “In The Yard.”
Phil: That song was one of the earlier demo tracks I was talking about. It was written (hums) without lyrics at all. So I asked Beth if she could write all the lyrics for it, and she did it in a few hours, came back and… they’re like, my favorite tracks of the album. They’re honest and blunt.
Paste: Which track do you appreciate the most off the album?
Phil: I like the last track (“Now We Hurry On”) the most. I feel there’s this common thread throughout this whole album of bitter sweetness and happiness that comes from acceptance. The last track really says it. “Now we hurry on,” the lyrics say it as honest as it can. You know, that idea that says, now we’re doing great but it was difficult to get to that point, like, time is disappearing, but isn’t it at the same time really great.