Musicscan: Since „Hymns For A Dark Horse“ has been re-released you have received remarkable media feedback. In how far has that changed the way you perceived your own music? Do you actually read reviews and stories about yourselves?
Bowerbirds: We try not to read too many reviews, and we actually can't read a lot of the European press, because it's not in languages we can read, but we sometimes get our European friends to let us know if the reviews are good or bad. While I don't think the reviews change how we feel about our music really, they do let us know what people outside ourselves seem to be getting from it - how they perceive our music. Sometimes it's surprising, what people think of it. I'd say we care more about the reaction of people at our shows and of the people who buy the music, rather than the opinions of music critics, although critics do have a lot of power to affect whether people come to your shows in the first place.
Musicscan: How did you first get in touch with Dead Oceans and how would you describe your relationship thus far?
Bowerbirds: We met Phil Waldorf from Dead Oceans at a show we were playing in Austin, Texas, when we were on tour in support of John Vanderslice. He later called us and asked us about signing to his label. We absolutely love being on Dead Oceans. They are really good at what they do, they are in continuous contact with us, and the roster is also great, and we think a good fit for our music.
Musicscan: How would you describe your average audience? What would you like people to take away from a Bowerbirds show?
Bowerbirds: That's hard to say, because most of our tours have been opening for other bands, so the audiences were mostly there to see those bands. I guess that when we play our own headlining shows, there is a pretty big range in ages of the people who come out, which is cool. I don't really know how I would describe them. They are usually very polite, and they listen to us, which is nice, because we're pretty quiet. I think we would like for people to find some sort of beauty in the music, or to have some sort of emotional connection to it, because we are up there feeling a lot of emotion and trying to project that in our singing and playing. Some people won't like it, though, which is fine. I think it all works a lot better when the crowd is quiet and attentive; otherwise the mood can be sort of lost.
Musicscan: Please tell me a little bit about the creative community in Raleigh. Are there any artists or musicians that you associate with or that have influenced you to a certain degree?
Bowerbirds: Raleigh is a great place to live if you are an artist of any sort. There are several universities and colleges in the area, so there are always new people doing new things creatively, and there are also lots of jobs, so they can stick around and keep working on stuff. Also, in the music community, people are very supportive of one another, go to each others' shows, take each other's bands out on tour, etc. Friends of ours who live or have lived in the area recently are in bands like: The Rosebuds, Des Ark, David Karsten Daniels, Bellafea, Schooner, Bon Iver, Goner, Megafaun, Midtown Dickens, and like a hundred more. I think there is a lot of cross-influencing going on locally between all our bands. I'm a painter, and there are a lot of amazing visual artists in the area who we hang out with and who support our band. Eric Amling is one, who made the collage on our album cover.
Musicscan: Do you believe in the theory that your immediate environment is directly reflected in your music or at least influences it? In how far do you think that having lived very close to nature has had an influence on your music?
Bowerbirds: Yes. We have lived in the country or wilderness during the times we have written most of our songs, either in North or South Carolina. But we also have written songs in hotel rooms or city apartments. But having lived in wild places stays with you for a while, even after venturing back to the city to live for a bit. When you are surrounded by quiet, and by the sounds of insects, birds and other animals, and the wind through tree branches or reeds, it quiets your mind and makes for more peaceful song writing. Also, you think of these other animals and plants as your community more than you do when you live in a city and interact mostly with humans, dogs and cats. And houseplants. And squirrels.
Musicscan: How important is it for you to be as independent as possible when creating music? Would you agree that it is maybe better to keep working a day job in order to provide the freedom to work on your art exactly they way you want to, so that you won’t have to compromise what you are doing artistically in any way? Do you see that as a viable way for yourselves in the future?
Bowerbirds: We don't really have day jobs most of the time right now. We have been building a cabin in the woods, so that we can keep our expenses really low and not have to work at day jobs very much. But sometimes we do have to take day jobs still. So I guess we aim to keep our artistic integrity by living frugally as well as by finding other ways to make money when we need to.
Musicscan: What are you looking for in a song? What makes for a good song?
Bowerbirds: With each song, we try to do something new, but also make sure it's coming from an honest place, in terms of what's in our lives at the time. Phil is the main songwriter, and I think he is very interested in experimentation. I think of part of my job as making sure he doesn't edit out the hooks, and Mark has the job of making it sound more beautiful with violins or other instruments. That's a hard question. My favorite songs I guess are just ones that make me feel something emotionally, or that sound different from what I've heard before. Like the first time I ate Indian food.
Musicscan: Do you think there is a difference between art and entertainment? If yes, please elaborate a little bit on the differences you discern.
Bowerbirds: Sure. Art is expression and creativity, being your individual self and showing your experience or ideas or how your mind works to other people. Entertainment is more about the goal, whereas art is about the intention and meaning behind the form. Art can entertain, and maybe an important part of performance is being entertaining. I think honest, open performance is the most entertaining, if you like the music being performed.
Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements?
Bowerbirds: There are new sounds to be discovered. Maybe we are combining old forms and elements, but our ears are different from how they were a century ago; our minds are different, so we hear things differently. But there are so many different kinds of voices, and combinations of musical instruments or computer-generated sounds, and so many varied production techniques, that the possibilities are infinite.
Musicscan: I have recently read that you don’t necessarily consider your music but the way you live to be political. Could you elaborate a little bit on what constitutes the political for you and where do you still see the most effective avenues for change with artistic means?
Bowerbirds: Being an artist is in and of itself a political act. Also, our lyrics are often very political. I don't think we ever meant to say that our music is not political, just that we don't think of the songs as "protest songs." But maybe we misinterpreted the meaning of protest songs. We were trying to say that these things that come up in our songs are issues we think about in our daily lives, and that affect our lives and what we think about when it's time to write lyrics. It's natural that if we think about things in terms of politics, that our songs would reflect that. But I think we were trying to just point out that it isn't that we are trying to write political songs; it's that we just think about that stuff often enough that it's what we write about, what we care about. I think a lot of artists and musicians are making art about the same issues these days. We are all sort of scared and angry on a lot of levels about a lot of things that are going down in our world, and we are all trying to figure out what we can do to change things, in every aspect of our lives, including through our music.
Musicscan: Does music have a social impact or is it another entity that does not really have any direct effects on social life?
Bowerbirds: Yes. I know that lyrics of Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Ani DiFranco, for example, made an impact on my thinking when I was growing into an adult. But if a person isn't open to the message, or isn't already thinking about the issues, they may just gloss over the words and like the music for its sound alone. I also think artists whose music isn't obviously political are making a big impact politically, in that the focus of their songs is on something other than what some corporation wants you to buy or think, and also in that they are choosing to express themselves and make something amazing, which is inspirational to the rest of us.
Musicscan: How would you describe the current political climate in the US and how does it reflect on the artistic community?
Bowerbirds: We have a terrible president. There is this crazy resurgence of conservative evangelical Christians who are actually trying to take over the world. We have been involved in wars for the profit of large corporations. I think a lot of people are ready for a change, but a lot of people are also apathetic, or are kind of immobilized by not being able to believe that things could get so bad, that so many people could be so uneducated about what's really going on in the world, so that it's easy for power-hungry people to herd them like sheep. I think it makes for more politically-minded art, because people are angrier. But it is hard to survive financially as an artist in the U.S. There isn't much money or public support for the arts. A lot of people think art should be free, freely given. I think there is more respect in European cultures, or even in Canada, for the purpose of art in a society, and for the role of the artist, than there is in the United States.
Musicscan: What can we expect from Bowerbirds in the near future? Any new releases planned, any collaborations, tours?
Bowerbirds: We are currently in the middle of recording our next album, which will be released sometime in the spring of 2009. We only have a few local shows planned before our next tours, in the spring, including a rally for Obama in Raleigh on November 1.
Musicscan: Is there anything you would like to add?
Bowerbirds: We loved playing in Germany! The people were very welcoming, and we just love the culture. We don't understand why all the salads are pickled, though. Why are they pickled? Thank you for the thoughtful questions. It was fun.