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Q&A with Bowerbirds

As Bowerbirds, Beth Tacular and Phil Moore have crafted delicate, captivating folk songs that make the heart swell.

After a year apart and a lot of thinking, they’ve emerged with a beautifully constructed third release, The Clearing, that encapsulates their rebirth as both a band and a couple. The duo recently sat down with staff writer Elizabeth Byrum to discuss the making of the new album, getting back to touring and the overall importance of discovering everyday beauty.

Diversions: What are some of the themes on your new album The Clearing?

Beth Tacular: I guess there are a lot of themes of impermanence, death and enjoying the moment while you can — appreciating things that are around you.

Also just joy in the things you do in life and taking joy in the things that are wonderful about your life. Embracing the dark things in the world, the hard times in your life.

Dive: I understand you split the recording process between here at home and Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio. What was that process like and why did you choose to do it that way?

Phil Moore: It was really not meant to be like that all. We were supposed to go up to Wisconsin and record the whole thing there. We had 11 songs and ten days and we were attempting to do that all in those ten days, and we had too much ambition for what the songs were. That was just an impossibility.

We came back and started recording on our own like we had done on the previous albums and that whole long drawn out process kind of formed how the album turned out.

The demos we recorded before that were a little more simple and we had all this extra time to layer ideas and take stuff away as well, kind of figure out what each song needed.

Dive: Beth, I know you sing more on this album. What spurred you to do that?

BT: I think that people just came up to me at shows and wanted me to sing more. I like singing but when I started being in the band, I didn’t think I could sing at all, so I never thought I would be recording lead vocals on a song in my whole life.

It’s a totally different thing to be the lead singer. I feel it requires more performing out of you. You’re interacting with the audience more and the audience is looking back at you more. When Phil’s singing, everyone is looking at him 90 percent of the time and then gazing around and then looking back at him.

PM: It’s nice to not have that role on a couple of songs. I can just play music and look around more. It’s nice for me. And then I get to hear Beth, which is awesome.

Dive: Musically, what are some of the newer approaches you used on this album?

PM: On the previous albums, we had a set palette of instruments that we were working with and that was very intentional. On this latest record, we just forwent that entirely and decided to use all the tools, all the instruments, all the effects and everything that we possibly could and still make Bowerbirds records.

We really wanted to add some more textures and I think that is really the main difference. Lyrically, I think the lyrics are more honest and less preachy. Not that the other ones were so preachy — they were also coming from a first person point of view — but I think these are a little more balanced in that way.

BT: Phil had been in a band, Ticonderoga, before Bowerbirds and they were very experimental in terms of what instruments they used. That’s why he purposely shrunk it down to just a few instruments in the palette for the first album especially.

Then he was ready to try more things and I was too — I’m a very visual person and so with the new songs, I envision a lot more detailed things and it’s more suggestive of visual things in my mind than a simpler arrangement.

Dive: Your tour starts in a couple of weeks. Are you excited to get back on the road?

PM: I’m excited for everything that goes along with touring, because we haven’t done for two years now. We’re going to do it for two months straight and that’s going to be really fun.

The only thing I’m really regretting is that I’m going to miss the dogs, but we are very excited to play our music for people.

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BT: It will be fun to play a show every night and to be in cities. I love being in the country, but sometimes when you just sit in a cafe window and people are so different, it’s really cool.

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