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Bows Unleash A Sci-Fi Odyssey of a Debut Album 

Wednesday, May 25 2016
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Don't call Bows a band.

It's not that Kaila McIntyre-Bader and Luke Bace have an aversion to the term. It's just that the Berkeley duo would rather be described as a "recording collaboration."

Former members of the Bay Area band Big Tree, McIntyre-Bader and Bace will release Bows' debut, The Day We Left, a concept album with a beguiling, intergalactic story arc, on May 27.

Not that any of that was supposed to happen. In a moment of impeccably bad timing in 2013, McIntyre-Bader, the vocalist and keyboardist, suffered two broken elbows in a bike accident on the night before Big Tree's trip to New York for the annual CMJ showcase. Relegated to life in two casts and away from her piano for several weeks, McIntryre-Bader started writing and recording demos using GarageBand to stay sane and pass the time.

"I was going crazy," she says. "I couldn't play piano or sing in the way I was used to for a couple weeks. I think there was just a creative buildup, and then I had this idea that maybe I wanted to try something different."

She decided to start her own band — calling it "Bows" after her broken joints — and set to work constructing an album, writing lyrics and melodies that revolved around an ecological disaster and space travel storyline.

McIntyre-Bader enlisted Bace to help arrange, record, and produce the record — a far cry from the jam-style songwriting tactics they'd employed together in Big Tree. Bace used real instruments to imbue the songs with richness and depth, swapping the software's presets for psychedelic guitar solos and synth riffs. Using the synthesizer at all — which makes up a large portion of the album — was a big deal for both musicians, who come from traditional rock backgrounds.

"We used to talk so much shit about the synthesizer," McIntyre-Bader says. "As it turns out, synthesizers are pretty cool."

The final result? The Day We Left, a full-length, space-pop concept album inspired by Earth's real-life environmental devastation and Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood trilogy. The record's subtle, synth-driven power draws inevitable Grimes and Sylvan Esso comparisons, while McIntyre-Bader's voice sounds like Feist's even when altered with a microshifter for a more intergalactic effect.

The story of the album follows a young woman as she departs a ruined Earth for a space colony on a replacement planet built by the ruling totalitarian government. Once there, she starts hearing voices, which she is convinced are coming from a highly evolved alien species. After a brief stint of imprisonment for telling others about the voices, she ventures out to find the source, and, in the final track, decides to leave her own species to uncover the mystery herself.

While writing, McIntyre-Bader was adamant about maintaining a sense of ambiguity in the album. There's some question as to whether the voices are real or whether she's going crazy — think Hamlet and his father's ghost — and there's no confirmation as to whether or not she finds the source of the voices.

"My fantasy — and this is so indulgent — is a bunch of nerds, maybe middle school kids sitting around listening to the record and being like, 'What do you think? Do you think she's really hearing aliens or do you think it's all in her head?' " she says. "That would be so fun."

Although 11 of The Day We Left's 12 tracks take place on the opposite side of the ozone layer, the record's motivations are strictly earthbound. Widespread environmental damage and the human race's apathetic response are integral pieces of the album's underlying message.

"Humanity is a little bit short-sighted," McIntyre-Bader says. "We're like, 'Well, it's not affecting me personally.' But who knows in a generation or two what this planet is going to look like?"

From its onset, The Day We Left was always going to be released as a full-length concept album. Despite the duo's reservations that most people don't listen to albums in full anymore, neither musician was willing to cut the record short.

"It's not a cultural trend I'm stoked on, and I certainly don't want to have it inform my creative process," Bace says. "I have no interest in making music for the ADD generation."

Still, they have faith in their audience, their music, and The Day We Left. Bace points to the vinyl revival as evidence of renewed interest in the full-length album as a cohesive work of art amid the playlist-heavy listening climate. They're also confident that their audience will meet them halfway.

"I believe that there's a lot of people who actually do want to listen to music this way and hopefully be excited that somebody put out something that was meant to be listened to as a whole piece of work," says McIntyre-Bader.

But what if she had never broken her elbows in the first place?

"We'd be collaborating in some way, but it probably would not be a post-apocalyptic space album," Bace says.

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Elle Coxon

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