When Bowerbirds, the folksy duo of Beth Tacular and Phil Moore, launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to make a new record in 2013, part of the goal was to fund a record for Moore's solo side project, then called Island Dweller. The band raised more than thirty-seven thousand dollars for Island Dweller, a new Bowerbirds record, and a home studio.
Shortly after hitting their goal, the couple's best-laid plans went awry. They completed their studio and had a baby, but the child struggled with extremely serious health issues that required Moore and Tacular to monitor him closely at all hours. The two were forced to put their combined creative output on hold to care for their kid. In his free time, Moore sketched electropop tunes on his laptop, which would eventually become Tuskha, released in the spring. That didn't come easy, either.
In our recent conversation, Moore described some of the snags he's hit over the last few years—and how, yes, there will be a new Bowerbirds record.
INDY: How did you start to develop your solo stuff outside of Bowerbirds?
PHIL MOORE: So it was basically just a way to kill boredom in a tour band at first. I was kind of just in the back of the van for the last year of Bowerbirds touring, and it was pretty extensive. And we just went all over Europe and took these long drives. I got really bored and anxious, and I just started writing songs on my laptop with whatever program I had at the time. I don't think I was using Ableton yet, I just started drawing out little MIDI notes on a keyboard and looping them and trying them. It was just fun, and not serious, not folk music. It just felt refreshing. It was really just to pass the time.
What made you want to self-release the record instead of trying to shop it around?
I didn't want to shop around really at all. I wasn't looking to change the world with this music or anything. I was just looking to put out some stuff that was a different part of me and creative and fun or whatever. So then I just approached my buddy, Martin Anderson, and asked to see if he knew of any folks that would be able to mix the record, just so I could get it out to my friends and to Kickstarter supporters. Then he heard it, he really liked it, gave it to a couple of his friends, and then he showed it to a record label, the Partisan people. This one guy from the label really dug it. He came back to me and told me he wanted to release the record on the label, do the thing. And I was super hesitant about it because the whole point of this music was just to get out of that zone and not get pigeonholed again into something else, to be totally free from that whole music machine.
Martin's my manager and Sylvan Esso's manager too. Sylvan Esso's first album was out on Partisan. A one-record contract, exploring their options for their next record. So, they ended up finding another label. In that process, the folks at Partisan kind of assumed that because Sylvan Esso has such good success, that of course Sylvan would take their next record to Partisan. But they weren't in any contractual agreement to do that. They went with what they thought was a better option for the second record. One of the guys at Partisan was upset with this, and didn't want to work with Martin at all after that. Breaking the contract with Tuskha was kind of the fallout.
The roller coaster was, I didn't want to do this in the first place. And then we were like, "Maybe we will do this," and then, "I guess we won't do this." Kind of mixed emotions. I'm not really sure if it was meant to be or if I got screwed over. It was just what it is at this point.
There's been confusion about the Kickstarter, and what Tuskha is versus Island Dweller. Could you clarify that?
It is all the same thing. The Kickstarter was just such a great idea for people who could totally pull it off if they didn't have a child. I have as many Bowerbirds songs as I do for Tuskha stuff. It is just that other side of my songwriting or whatever. I don't finish those songs until I finish them with Beth. Those are still all demo forms waiting on my computer. Really stoked to show people, but just haven't had the time or space to finish.
What's the biggest thing you learned through all of the stuff that has happened with Tuskha?
Apparently, not very much, because this is not the first time this has happened. I have been on labels, and it is never a totally easy ride. I just really love music, and I want people to hear it. By the time you get to the end of a songwriting process, you want more and more people to hear it, because you have given so much more work to it. There is just always some hiccup, something that happens. When it comes time to release the Bowerbirds record, I don't know if I will listen to myself as I am going to put that record out. I'm going to be stoked about it, and I know I'm going to want to have the most people hear it as possible.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Scratched Record"