Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Organic nature



with Julie Doiron
8 p.m. Thursday,
Feb. 11
Will's Pub

Raleigh, N.C.'s, Bowerbirds embody a kind of musical onomatopoeia. The old-fashioned gait, relative simplicity and raw backwoods spirit of the songs reflect the band's back-to-nature attitude. Fueled by Beth Tacular's accordion, Phil Moore's ragged acoustic strum and their joint harmonies, they conjure stark, arresting soundscapes that waver majestic and guileless. Their rootsy intensity recalls freak-folk artists like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom while the smoldering melodic warmth invokes the Felice Brothers and Bon Iver.

The first inkling of Bowerbirds occurred while Moore was playing in Raleigh art-folk trio Ticonderoga. He began to chafe at the competing visions of three multi-instrumentalist songwriters and the struggle to re-create the odd mélange of studio sounds on stage.

"I wrote a few songs for the band that I just wanted to be played more simply and straight, and that didn't really go over, so I just kept the songs," recalls Moore from his trailer homestead in the woods of North Carolina. "I was just trying to explore different kinds of songwriting, and I remember listening to a lot of Joanna Newsom and thinking to myself, ‘All she has is a harp and her voice and it's just amazing.' It made me reconsider what I was doing."

Many of the first songs were written in an abandoned schoolhouse in South Carolina, where he and his girlfriend, Tacular, were living while Moore tracked birds for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. The experience not only informed the music, but shaped the way they lived. Images of unspoiled nature and animals crept into his songs, and they undertook to create a simpler, sustainable existence. Tacular, a visual artist, took up the accordion.

Their 2007 debut, Hymns for a Dark Horse, expressed these beliefs. The haunting, avian-adoring "In Our Talons" admonishes, "It takes a lot of nerve to destroy this wondrous earth," while the loping "Slow Down" announces their plans to "retire to the tidepools," lamenting the way we spend our lives "drowned in the deep of this over-sweet porridge/Blind to all of the blood and carnage."

"People don't even necessarily look at it as weird, they look at it as naive," says Moore. "I don't see the naiveté in the songs. They're written from a place where this is just kind of a dream maybe, but it would be awesome if we could all get to this point."

They live in a trailer with a solar panel and a rainwater collection system while they finish building a house on their two acres. It's taken a while because they spend most of their time on the road. Lately they've been supporting last summer's follow-up, Upper Air, a somewhat richer, more fleshed-out disc. "We kind of found our limit, and what we could do with a bass drum, an acoustic guitar and an accordion," says Moore. "We just kind of felt like there were other things that we wanted to explore."

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