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Hear Breathe Owl Breathe
Story last updated at 7/22/2009 - 12:13 pm
Micah Middaugh's first "instrument" was a homemade wooden sword. Having been raised on storytelling and artistic expression in a house at the end of a dead-end road, he has continued many childhood traditions into his adulthood, traditions that he said have shaped his creativity in more ways than he realizes.
The first time Middaugh met cellist Andréa Moreno-Beals, they recorded an unrehearsed album together. The first time he met percussionist Trevor Hobbs, the two made an impromptu zombie film together.
In 2006, the three Michigan-based musicians combined forces to form Breathe Owl Breathe, a musical group that has created an uncategorizable sound all of their own that they now share all over the country.
The trio spent last week in Sitka as a headlining act at Home Skillet Festival. This week they will perform in Haines and Juneau along with Mark Verne, Silver Jackson and Sonny Smith, other Home Skillet Festival artists. They will then head down the west coast for several performances in Oregon and Washington before heading back home.
Middaugh, Hobbs and Moreno-Beals spend most of their stage time at Home Skillet strumming a guitar, striking drums and bowing a cello, respectively. They each contribute vocal layers and also take occasional side trips to other instruments including keyboards, a thumb piano, banjo and other assorted instruments, many of which are treasured garage sale finds.
The subject matter of their lyrics ranges from childhood memories (such as playing dead on the playground) to adventures with animals, including a conversation with a saber-toothed tiger and the bragging rights of the person in the neighborhood who has the most birds in their backyard.
According to Middaugh, the group enjoys creating lyrics that are open to interpretation, such that each listener might take away a completely unique experience.
"Lyrically, it's like a quilt," Middaugh said. "I might go for a run and hear one phrase and I'll try to remember it until I get back to write it down."
During the writing process, some songs come quickly and others remain on the drawing table for longer periods of time.
"If it's slow it's okay," Middaugh said. "Maybe another line will come in another day."
Middaugh described each song as a landscape, the smooth cello creating valleys and the percussion and other elements creating a fine musical balance.
"Each song is kind of its own character," Moreno-Beals said.
In performances, each "character" is often paired with a crowd participation element, whether it be a hand motion, sound effect or singing part.
"Micah really loves just being in the moment, spontaneously making stuff," Moreno-Beals said. "He's always asking us to go to that place with him and see what comes out in a moment."