Saturday, December 7, 2013

Artist Interview: The Bowmans

The Bowmans, twin sisters Sarah and Claire Bowman, have produced one of the finest Christmas albums of the year, “Make Sure The Snow Falls” (also featuring sister Emily Bowman on violin). And if producing and releasing a new album wasn’t enough, Claire Bowman wrote and illustrated a Christmas book “Mert the Anxious Evergreen”. The Bowmans have toured and performed with artists such as The Avett Brothers and Rasputina, and have developed a strong, dedicated fan base. The first time you listen to “Make Sure The Snow Falls” you will understand why. Sarah and Claire very graciously agreed to answer a few questions for the readers of Merry and Bright. I wish to thank them for their time, and for giving us such personal insights into The Bowmans as multi-talented artists, and to their down-to-the-wire Kickstarter campaign. I am extremely pleased to bring you Q&A with The Bowmans.

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Merry & Bright: Welcome to Merry and Bright! Thank you for taking some time to answer a few questions. Your new CD “Make Sure the Snow Falls” is an album of traditional and original Christmas songs. What led you to record a Christmas record?

Sarah Bowman: I knew you'd ask! This is our first Christmas album, and it was always evident that someday we'd do one. Both of my sisters and I always made music together at Christmas, which remains as the happiest tradition of all. Claire and I always took the songs we knew and made them into something our own by adding movement to the melodies and harmonies. Emily plays the violin on the album. Together again at last!

Merry & Bright: The musicality – vocal harmonies, song arrangements, performances on instruments – is complete, precise yet smooth, and just beautiful. Tell us a little about the Bowman sisters’ development as musicians.

Sarah Bowman: We helped each other grow. It was always natural for us to express ourselves this way. Emily used to turn the lights off and we'd sit in the dark and have instrumental conversations. Claire and I used to challenge ourselves by singing 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' a minor second apart from one another- and similar 'games' that I later found out in college were excellent ear training methods. For us it was just our way of goofing around. Dad said the first time he heard us sing in harmony we were in the back seat of the old Volvo. We were just 3 years old.



Merry & Bright: The title song “Make Sure the Snow Falls”, written by Sarah, is not only a seasonal song but also a powerful message of environmental responsibility. What is the inspiration behind this song?

Sarah Bowman: The first line is literal. I live in the Alps. Easter was colder than Christmas last year. I am so connected to the weather, and the seasons. You'll find this in many of my songs- so, like many things, when Christmas doesn't *feel* like Christmas, it makes me want to take action more than ever.

Merry & Bright: So, tell us about the last five minutes of your Kickstarter campaign.

Claire Bowman: Well, we'd been busy touring and recording throughout the campaign, which started to look like a bad decision when the last week rolled around, because we hadn't been able to reach out directly to as many folks as we probably needed. On the morning of the last day, I'd almost given up hope. But then, I though, heck - there's no harm in just emailing every last person I know to see if they want to chip in to help us make this happen. And so I got a pitcher of water, some snacks, and got to work. I didn't get up for hours. The last half hour, our mixing engineer called with questions and I barely said three words to him. He must have thought I was the rudest person on earth. But I wouldn't stop emailing while I told him how to reach Sarah, who had stepped away to get some air. Then I started getting phone calls from folks having trouble figuring out how to increase their pledges or trying to make pledges from their phones, so I was fielding calls while still trying to get emails out. It was chaotic. I wasn't watching the numbers. I was just emailing people and talking on the phone. Then, just as I was trying to walk someone through a transaction on Kickstarter, I noticed the time. Ten seconds left. We were like $1800 away from our $30,000 goal. I politely ended the conversation and laid down on the floor with my hands over my eyes. I was devastated. So much work and so close, but I thought it was impossible that we'd bridge that $1800 gap in ten seconds. Then, Sarah's husband said matter-of-factly, "you reached your goal."

Sarah and I were like, "what?" And he repeated, "You reached your goal. You did it." Like - as if we had no reason to be freaking out. I had to see it to believe it. And it was true! Somebody had their finger on the button or something - one substantial pledge had come through along with 30 other pledges in the last seconds of the campaign. It was unbelievable. I started getting texts and FB messages from all the backers who'd been watching the nail-biting end of the campaign, refreshing their screens to see the numbers change, calling folks to get them to pledge. I had no idea so many people were out there rooting for us. Sarah and I just gripped each other and howled. Within seconds, I'd gone from giving up on the floor to jumping up and down with my sister in celebration. It was incredible! I'll never forget that moment.

Merry & Bright: Who are The Bowmans’ primary influences as musicians?

Sarah Bowman: Mom and Dad's music collection combined? You have Dad on the one side with early polyphonic choral music, medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music... and Mom with Pete Seeger and Joni Mitchell and the protest folk singer-songwriters of the 60s, and Gospel music and the Beatles on the other side. Later in life you have The Avett Brothers, who were like us when we met many moons ago in NY- brothers working hard to make it happen. That's why I'm so happy Scott Avett plays on this record, he is a true inspiration. Lastly, add in everything Jim Henson ever did, and you have The Bowmans.

Merry & Bright: What’s next for The Bowmans?

Sarah Bowman: We have enough songs to record another full length album that is not particularly seasonal, and we want to make a series out of the Christmas project. We just need to finance it, and this summer's Kickstarter campaign was enough excitement for a short while. We would like our fan base to grow before we crowd fund again.



Merry & Bright: By the way, I love your artwork on “Make Sure the Snow Falls”, as well as your previous releases “The Bowmans” and “Live at PowerPlay Studios”. It’s so colorful and energetic. And, your art gives life to your book “Mert: The Anxious Evergreen”, which was also part of your Kickstarter campaign. Tell us about Mert, and how he came to be.

Claire Bowman: My twin sister, acting on a hunch, challenged me to write it as part of our joint Kickstarter campaign (for this book and our forthcoming Christmas album). She was already deep into songwriting for the album. (It took her over two years.)

I spent a lot of my life dreaming of being a children's book author and illustrator. Though challenging, writing Mert's story felt so natural that I think I discovered a call that I “could not hear” previously – yet it seemed like it was there all along. (This call is like the music in the book, except that is a call that resounds on more of a collective level.)

I did not come to writing via a traditional path. I've always had too many interests to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I've always loved art/painting/drawing and singing and losing myself in my imaginary world. It turns out that my inability to relinquish my stuffed animals and my tendency to greet and thank inanimate objects is paying off.



Merry & Bright: Artist, musician, writer – you must stay very busy! Thank you for spending time with Merry and Bright! 

Claire Bowman: Thanks so much for taking an interest in The Bowmans and Mert! Happy Holidays!

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“Mert the Anxious Evergreen” on Amazon

The Bowmans website

“Make Sure The Snow Falls” on Amazon

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