Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bowerbirds interview: What's 'nu'?

Out of Raleigh, N.C., come Bowerbirds, a nu-folk (or freak folk, or indie-folk, or whatever) band that is garnering critical raves for earnest hymns about saving the earth and loving each other. "But Bowerbirds' pro-Earth proselytizing is more endearing (and inspiring) than precious or cloying, and if anything, all that earnestness will just make you adore them more," wrote Pitchfork's Amanda Petrusich in granting that influential Web site's stamp of approval.

We spoke with Beth Tacular, who plays accordion and sings in Bowerbirds, in advance of Monday's show at the 930 Listening Room.

Are you OK with the nu-folk label? Do you fear that it sounds like a folkie version of Limp Bizkit? How do you explain your music to your older relatives?
I'm not really sure what to think of that label. I don't really like the word “new” being spelled “nu,” for one thing, because it sort of reminds me of “cool jazz” or something. And besides that, it seems like a sort of vague or meaningless label, sort of like “Americana.” We tell our grandmothers it's like a minimalist Harry Connick Jr. mixed with Lawrence Welk. (It's) acoustic, apocalyptic, ramshackle melodies and harmonies.

There are bands who could be compared to you — The Arcade Fire, Beirut and Bon Iver — who have all had success. Do you enjoy bands like those, or do you spend your time in the van listening to Iron Maiden?
We will obsess over one particular band for a while. Recent examples are Sharon Van Etten, The National, Antony and The Johnsons, Yeasayer. Justin (Vernon) from Bon Iver has been our friend and fan since we released Danger at Sea in spring of 2006, and we were one of the first people to hear his new recordings that would become For Emma, Forever Ago when he showed them to us in May of 2007. We were touring in support of Hymns for a Dark Horse, and opening up for The Rosebuds (Vernon's former band). He handed us his new CD to listen to. He didn't know what he was going to do with it. ...So yes, we listen to Bon Iver. We own a couple albums by Beirut and The Arcade Fire, who are both great, but we also listen to a really wide variety of music. Although I don't think we have ever once put on any metal music in the van, unless our Dutch tour manager had something to do with it. Our favorite young, living musician is easily Joanna Newsom.

Was the process of making your new record, Upper Air, different from making Hymns for a Dark Horse?
We recorded Hymns really quickly, in a few days, at (producer/collaborator Mark Paulson's) house. Upper Air we tried to record over a couple weeks before our monthlong tour with Bon Iver, but then we weren't home for three months, after a two-month European tour, and the new songs had matured by playing them every night, so we re-recorded them. ...It's a more complex album and took longer to record.

How do you coordinate being nature lovers, and being out of step with mainstream America, while maintaining a Twitter and a Tumblr blog and all that modern technology?
There are bad uses for technology and good uses for it. The fact that we are trying to survive as a touring band means that we are reliant on getting people to know about our shows, so we recently discovered that we could use Twitter once a day or so, just to let people know where we are, or if a show is about to sell out, or something like that. Honestly, we'd really rather not feel like we have to keep up with all the technology — the MySpace, Facebook, e-mails, cell phones — but they are sort of necessary for us to make enough money to even be able to tour as much as we do. The Tumblr blog actually makes touring feel more human and makes us feel more connected to other people when we spend the whole day on the road in a car by ourselves, missing other people. We have followed other friends' bands' blogs, and we really like being able to keep up with them that way. We really avoid technology for the most part, as much as we can, when we are home. ...The Internet, as long as you can keep from being addicted to it or using it to just waste away your day, can be an incredible resource for connecting with other people who care about the same things you do, or for learning about things. I wouldn't know half of what I know about, say, contemporary artists, natural healing or DIY cabin building, without the Internet.

While on tour, how often do you get to shower?
Almost every day, which is important, because we sweat on stage, and also like to go running and do exercises on tour. I like yoga, and our new drummer, Yan, is into Pilates. Phil does pushups and sit-ups.

c. 2009 Velocity Weekly

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