Bowerbirds - Biography
With a name that is sincerely taken from the field of ornithology, Bowerbirds are a backwoods acid folk act based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, who—like Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family—are bandied about in the conversation of the freak folk movement. Fronted by former Ticonderoga member Phil Moore (vocals/guitar), Bowerbirds use a multitude of rural instruments—such as accordion by Beth Tacular and violin by Dan Westerlund—to create a soporific, uplifting soundscape of plucked strings and wavering boy/girl vox. The Bowerbirds message is usually centered on the interconnectivity between all living forms, a deeply soulful momentum of things going on behind the curtain of perception. Since forming almost by accident in 2005, Bowerbirds have toured America and released two full-length albums, while becoming one of the more pensive indie folk acts going.
Upon recording Ticonderoga’s sophomore album, Moore took a job with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science tracking migratory and local birds in a journal. While undergoing his position, he invited girlfriend/visual artist Beth Tacular to join him to paint in the solitude and nature of his bucolic cabin. By night, the extreme deprivation of modern technologies and complete quiet made for a welcome foray into creativity, and the duo began writing songs together reflecting the patient, Thoreau-esque setting—and inadvertently, the Bowerbirds (named after an Australian chirper) were born.
With very little previous musical experience, Tacular picked up the accordion and learned to play it inexpertly on her own, and ditto the bass drum. Much like one of freak folk’s earliest practitioners, New York’s the Godz from the late-1960s, the limited knowledge of the instruments became a freeform way to communicate untrained ideas and, alongside Moore’s acoustic flourishes and plaintive singing voice, the tandem began penning songs that would end up becoming a six-song EP called Danger at Sea (2006). Using themes of flitting ephemera, wilderness observation and plenty of sound experimentation, Bowerbirds emerged as a player in the naturalismo movement (akin to Vetiver, Panda Bear, Sean Hayes, et al) and would later enlist a third member, producer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Paulson (violin, percussion, drums) to help fill out the spartan sound.
The band’s first full-length—Hymns For a Dark Horse (2007)—appeared a year later, first on the Bowerbirds’ own label Burly Time Records, and later on indie clout label, Dead Oceans, with two added tracks. The 10-song album was as meditative as the settings that the lyrics were dreamed up, with a sense of the nurtured and tempestuous spontaneity of nature—particularly on tracks like “The Marbled Godwit,” which is taken from the shorebird, and the accordion-centric “Bur Oak”—and soon the Bowerbirds were touring in the album’s support, bringing the remote to the populace just as Bon Iver would later do.
In 2009, Bowerbirds would release their second LP on Dead Oceans, Upper Air, and again the vivid imagery of the cabin-dwelling band made for positive reviews and comparisons to Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Iron & Wine. Centered on flora and fauna, counter-civilization and introspective reveries, the album further evinced—and warmly embraced—a pastoral picture of solitude. As a whole, many reviewers used the word hypnotizing when describing it. Lucid songs such as “Ghost Life” and “Silver Clouds” pass by in drifting vibes, positive-feeling if slightly untamed, bizarre instruments plashing and thrumming over poetic, ruminative lyrics, all of which prompted critical acclaim and a cult following of fans. When bringing the songs to festivals such as SXSW or venues across America, Moore wore a trademark beard and generally communicated those difficult-to-fathom depths of feeling and creative solitude to the room, very much in the vein of Bon Iver or Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Into 2010, Bowerbirds have toured the United States and Europe, opening for everyone from Elvis Perkins to The Mountain Goats. 2012 saw the release of The Clearing.