Listening to the landscape of Breathe Owl Breathe

Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2009

In lyrics that are at once vivid and obscure, Breathe Owl Breathe sings of mastodons and glaciers, toboggans and boats, evoking landscapes through their music that would be easy enough to imagine were formed right here in Southeast Alaska. However, Northern Michigan is their base, another place where winter encourages creativity.

Courtesy Of Breathe Owl Breathe
Courtesy Of Breathe Owl Breathe

Micah Middaugh's deep bass voice and Andrea Moreno-Beals' gentle soprano describe few coherent pictures but rather hint at images and states. Backed by Middaugh's guitar, Moreno-Beals' cello and Trevor Hobbs' gentle percussion, the three produce unusual songs that linger in the imagination.

Middaugh says he knows his lyrics are often cryptic and admits he isn't always sure what they are about either.

"That's my favorite thing about the music that I love, when it can be interpreted a lot of different ways, and it's a mystery in itself," he said.

Though he is the principal lyricist, he says the band's creative process is very collaborative.

"I usually write the words but as far as the way the song falls together, it could be Influenced by a lot of things," he said.

Middaugh, 27, lives In his grandparents' log cabin in East Jordan, Mich., at town near the top of the mitten-shaped state that's a five-hour drive from Ann Arbor. The cabin is situated "away from everything" and provides a home base and creative playground for Middaugh and the other two members of the group, who live there with him part of the time. The three manage to be great friends, housemates, and bandmates all at once.

"There's so much that we're just inspired by with each other," Middaugh says.

Middaugh and Moreno-Beals met first, when she visited him at a friend's suggestion at his cabin. They started playing music under a tree in the yard and found they had a natural affinity for each other's musical inclinations, and recorded an album that first day.

They played together for three years before bringing In Hobbs, whom Middaugh had met while a freshman at art school. They have since toured around the country, promoting their music independently.

Though the Sitka Home Skillet Festival will be their first trip to Alaska, Middaugh does have a family connection. In the 1970s, his grandfather was the town reverend in Moose Pass, a tiny town on the Kenai Peninsula. He said he is very excited to be heading this way.

"It's always been kind of a magical thought because I've always heard stories from my grandpa," he said.

The band will play at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar on July 24 and 25 as part of the Home Skillet road show.

Middaugh said that his band members are adept at creating music, no matter the medium, and often experiment with different instruments.

"Anything Andrea touches, she can make something out of it - banjo, cello, glockenspiel," he said. "She'll play the fiddle like a cello."

Similarly Hobbs is very creative with his percussive choices. Middaugh describes an igloo-like series of objects that Hobbs places around his drum set for easy access - from marimba to melodica.

The band also makes their own Instruments out of found objects when the Inspiration strikes them.

"We're constantly being amused by different sounds," he said.

With this playful attitude toward their instruments comes freedom to let the songs develop In a more organic way, Middaugh said.

"Up to this point, I've been writing the words and lying down a structure but it's been more exciting lately when I don't have any words in mind and we just start making a map, I guess, of something that feels good in the moment," Middaugh said.

Hobbs, 25, knows something about maps; he is a geomorphologist by profession, a student of landscapes. Moreno-Beals, 23, is a teacher.

"Trevor's always telling us about our surroundings and what the land was like thousands of years ago," Middaugh said, adding that this awareness of landscape finds its way into the music.

"And Andrea and I, we're trying to lay down textures, and illustrate words - but words can only take you so far," he said. "So Andrea - with her cello - tries to stretch scenery out."

Their latest album, "Ghost Glacier," is being released on vinyl. Listen or download at www.breatheowlbreathe.com.



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