The TVD Interview

North Carolina’s Bowerbirds, comprising Phil Moore, Beth Tacular, and Mark Paulson, is a folk trio with an honest and soul-engaging sound. I had the opportunity to talk to Phil about the band, his background, and how the ‘birds took flight. 

Can you tell me a little bit about what drew you to music?
My folks bought me a guitar at a very young age and my sister was already writing songs about a little dog named Spot, and things like that. I just kind of got into the idea of playing folk songs like Bob Dylan.

How did you begin playing with Mark?
I started playing with Mark in sixth grade. He was my friend from way back in grade school. We just thought it’d be cool to play music like Guns ‘n Roses and Metallica and Van Halen. So we started a band with our other friend, Wes. It was really different.

That’s awfully different from what you’re doing currently.
Yeah, I guess for me I can see the path that I went on with hardcore as well, but I can see from an outside perspective how it wouldn’t make much sense. But we got into punk rock, prog rock, …we grew up in a really small town that had an amazing college and we learned a lot of what we learned from playing shows at the college when we were in high school. There were all sorts of groups—hip hop stuff and funk groups and straight rock—that was our schooling.

How do you feel that musical background influences what you’re doing now?
What I’ve noticed is a lot of folks who grow up in Chicago for example, have so many different bands there that you just fall into your identity. I think growing up in a small town, we were the only band in our class, and the class above and below didn’t really have a band. We were free to experiment and define ourselves in different ways. We had all these influences and were able to experiment for so long, and when things didn’t feel right anymore, we just went down a different path to find our actual voice.

How did Beth get involved?
Well, Bowerbirds was kind of a side project of mine. I was in a band with Wes and Mark and I had written a lot of songs that were more finger-picking—kind of the style of Nick Drake or Bob Dylan or Paul Simon—and I just wanted to do those songs. So I would take them to the band, but they didn’t really want to do that. There wasn’t space to do that because then they would have to put on their parts as well and they wanted to do more post-rock soundscapes. They really just wanted to do that, smaller scale and stripped down. Beth and I had started dating and she was a really talented person who could pick up anything and learn it—she’s a beautiful artist first and foremost. She picked up the accordion and learned it in a month’s time.

What’s it like to be in a band with your significant other?
It’s definitely been challenging at points but it’s also been rewarding, especially when you’re out on the road for two months at a time. There’s other members of your band that have significant others at home and you see how difficult that must be to actually be away. This is kind of our thing and sometimes it’s a little much, but it’s also really nice to be together.

Where does the name come from?
Beth was looking at a children’s encyclopedia to get art inspiration for a project and she happened across the bowerbird and was fascinated by it and she started talking to me about it. At that point in time, it was my solo project idea and she named me that.

I feel like nature is an ever-present topic in your music.
I don’t exactly know, but I feel like it’s just kind of a part of my makeup. I’m not really a person who likes to frequent cities. I like to have a little bit of isolation for my creative side. I can write in the city but it just doesn’t come off with the focus and purity of my voice. I think it’s really kind of an ADD thing, like nature really helps me ground myself.

Have you encountered any particularly inspiring places while you were on tour?
The Guadalupe mountains, but we didn’t really get more than two hours there. The Southwest is always really majestic. European cities are pretty majestic in their own right.

You just released The Clearing in March. How do you feel it sounds compared to the previous two albums?
For me, lyrically, it’s a little more solid and honest. I guess it’s a little more grown up. I really wanted to not leave holes in the lyrics, I didn’t want to have any moments where there’s a song that I’d sing and over time feel like I’m just over the thought.

The soundscapes on the newest album are definitely a larger palette and scheme. Everything is bigger in a lot of ways, more majestic, but maintaining an honest quality to it. I think it’s more diverse than the other two albums. I was self-limiting before this album, and I think it was necessary for the first two albums, but I kind of let go here and we evolved with the tools we had access to.

Cleveland, if you’re free tonight head on over to the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern and catch Bowerbirds. They’re playing with Basia Bulat and White Pines. Show starts at 8:30pm and $12 gets you all of the majestic beauty your ears can handle. 

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