Bowerbirds on the Power of Paul Simon and Parasites
Phil Moore explains the inspirations behind 'The Clearing'
For a couple intent on living a simple life in a cabin in the woods of North Carolina, Bowerbirds’ Phil Moore and Beth Tacular have had a complicated few years. First, there was a messy mid-tour split that left them reeling (and their bystander bandmate, violinist Mark Paulson, ready to jump out of the van.) Then, while navigating single life for the first time in half a decade, Tacular fell and broke her ribs. To cap it all off, months later during their long, arduous road back to couplehood, Tacular was struck by a sudden (and undisclosed) illness that sent her to hospital where she spent five days staving off liver and kidney damage. But somewhere amidst the heartache and health scares, the pair found the push they needed to begin crafting songs for the new The Clearing, their stunning third LP, which the band is currently supporting on a European tour. (They’ll be back playing Stateside in June.)
“Beth’s illness was the impetus for us to change our perspective and get serious about writing music,” Moore says. “It just made us realize we don’t want to write about surface-level stuff. We want to write something that’s extremely meaningful and extremely honest. Not to sound over-dramatic, but when you go through something like that you feel like you only have so much time and you should probably make something as beautiful as possible while you’re on the earth.”
As a result, the trio rounded out their signature sparse folk sound with ornate string arrangements, furious guitar picking, and lush vocals that conjure the bittersweet beauty of a sunny fall afternoon. Moore shared some of the creative (and less heart-wrenching) inspiration behind the ambitious offering.
Though Moore admits he tries to avoid listening to music while penning his own songs, he makes an exception for his Graceland hero. “For better or worse I always listen to Paul Simon,” he says. “He’s had some really bad moments in his songwriting career, but I just think some of the way he writes is absolutely amazing. The song ‘Peace Like a River’ is just awesome. I think maybe I’m really attached to him because I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel.”
Wild, spirited, and light years away from the modern indie rock palate, Moore says jazz greats like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus serve as an aural cleanser before song writing. “It just kind of clears my head,” he says. “Modern music can be this one thing. [Jazz] lets you think about music in a different way. To be specific, Charles Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of my all-time favorite albums.”
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek By Annie Dillard
Dillard’s 1974 nonfiction book-length ode to the mountains, creeks and gut-sucking parasites of Virginia, delivered in a compelling narrative, helped Moore craft his own rich lyrics about nature. “The way she writes about nature, you get to learn all these amazing things and yet it’s told to you in a completely poetic, beautiful way,” he says. “There’s this really vivid stuff about these parasites that kind of bore into grasshoppers and eat out their insides. Then those grasshoppers continue to live, but they’re basically a means of transportation for these parasites. It’s full of these amazing details.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet gets a nod for spinning quiet moments with birds, ponds and the outdoors (sensing a theme?) into an elegant tribute to nature. Or, as Moore says, “She’s really dark and sad actually, but her imagery is amazing. You definitely take a lot from it. All her poems are beautifully constructed.”
While their music careers have temporarily derailed plans to finish building a cabin on their plot of land, Moore and Tacular currently live just down the road from the half-finished home. “I’d be writing songs and go on walks with the dogs if I was stuck,” Moore explains. “I would take my iPhone out there with me and put on voice memo and come up with things as I was walking around in the woods, just like change lines or passages out there. Definitely the woods were really inspiring.”