Thursday, 30 June 2011 16:48

Breathe Owl Breathe: Mixing Music and Literature

Written by  Kevin VanAntwerpen
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For Breathe Owl Breathe, East Jordan's earthy folk outfit, reaching a national audience may have been a long road (one that spanned over seven years), but the trials never exceeded the joy.

"I'd say the biggest accomplishment for Breathe Owl Breathe is that we're good friends who love to make music together," said Micah Middaugh (vocals/guitar). "We're lucky. The music is bigger than we are."

With two-thirds of the band based out of cabin in the woods near Lake Charlevoix, it's the simple things that keep its members happy. Middaugh describes his favorite tour moment camping beneath the mountains in Nebraska and cooking lentil soup out of a can, while listening to a creek in the background.

Currently, the band is offering Middaugh an opportunity to embrace another love - this time, art. On a tentative release date of July 28, Breathe Owl Breathe will release a 7" vinyl packaged with a children's book, illustrated with hand-carved wood prints done by Middaugh, a former art student.

"One of my early memories is my parents having this record player and the feeling that it would generate," Middaugh said. "It was really magical.  And then, every night before bed, I would open up [Shel Silverstein's] Where the Sidewalk Ends to a random page and my mom would read the two poems before I'd fall asleep. I guess this is just a way to combine those two."

The book will be double-sided (referred to in the publishing world as a dos-á-dos) and will contain two separate short stories, which begin at either end of the book and meet on the middle. On one side the cover will read "The Listeners (The Mole and the Ostrich)," and the other will say "These Train Tracks." The attached vinyl will narrate the stories.

Cellist Andrea Moreno-Beals, who previously spent time as a first grade teaching assistant, says she has hopes the book will open the door for the band to perform at schools and camps. She's not quick to write off an adult audience either.

"I really don't think the album will appeal just to children," Moreno-Beals said. "I'm just as artistically excited about these two songs as I was about anything that appeared on our last album, Magic Central."

While the children's book is a new concept for Breathe Owl Breathe, it won't be a stretch for the band to make appearances in all-age friendly venues. For most of its career now, the members have been seeking out ways to bypass the alcohol industry, so often interwoven with the music business.

"None of us are very into drinking," Moreno-Beals said. "We don't really enjoy that scene very much. Even the very nice venues that serves alcohol - people just listen differently. We really like to play venues where the primary reason that people are there is the music. We've found that when people are at venues that serve alcohol, the primary reason they're there is the socializing."

The band's manager, Terry Groves, says it's part of his job to see these unique considerations and make them happen, so that the members have more time to "focus on being artists."

"It depends on the time of year, but instead they'll do creative spaces that people open to them: barns, places outside, state parks, national parks, campgrounds and amphitheaters," Groves said. "We think about it more in the terms of how a great place would be made even better by a great concert."

As out of the ordinary as such a concept may be, Groves says the band has barely begun dishing its 'out-of-the-box' ideas.

"[T]hey show me their ideas and I have to find a way to make it happen. I think we haven't even begun to get out of the norm here. I think things are going to be a lot more weird in the next few years."

That's the reason the band funded its children's book the way it did — by launching a kickstarter.com page - a website where fans can choose to donate to the project, and in return receive gifts depending on the amount of their pledge. Gifts included art by Middaugh to a one-night private sleepover show with the band. More than 140 donors pledged more than $10,000 — blowing the original goal of $5,000 out of the water.

"It's nice to say how faithful I am to Michigan for having supported us," Moreno-Beals said. "Five years ago I would never have imagined that I could be in a band fulltime. It's still weird when I think about it ... Sometimes it doesn't feel easy because it's so much constant work ... It's not like we've 'made it' yet, but they've given us the chance to try."

Breathe Owl Breathe is scheduled to appear at the Charlevoix Public Library on July 28 to release its children's book, after completing their first European tour which includes stops in Ireland, France and Spain.

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