Breathing life into literature

By Amanda Murphy

Beginning its journey almost a decade ago, northern Michigan’s Breathe Owl Breathe has had a long and fruitful musical career. The indie folk band has released multiple albums in its eight-year history, each showing varying degrees of the group’s talent and growth through the years. Taking their artistic abilities in a different direction, frontman Micah Middaugh, Trevor Hobbs and Andréa Moreno-Beals recently released a two-track 7-inch album with the songs “These Train Tracks” and “The Listeners” accompanied with children’s books written and illustrated by Middaugh. Breathe Owl Breathe is currently on tour and bringing its eclectic talents to Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., on March 3.

The Chronicle had a chance to speak with Middaugh about the whimsical nature of children’s books, the inspirations drawn from touring and the fast-growing indie rock scene in the Midwest.

The Chronicle: What inspired you to create children’s books along with the 7-inch release?

Micah Middaugh: Having a project that involved putting my printmaking shop to use. I wanted to have a piece that existed on its own and separate from an album. The last couple winters I was able to carve the woodblocks. It moved along really slow, but I learned a lot along the way.

The Chronicle: Which came first, the children’s books or the songs?

MM: I guess [with] “These Train Tracks,” I was mowing the lawn and I got done with one row, and I got started on another. The way that was made me think of a train that turns into a caterpillar, and the train tracks turn into a ladder, and then a caterpillar into an airplane. Both stories and the songs, they weren’t planned. I just try to be open to something hitting me in the moment. It was a song that was visualized as a story when it came. The pictures were drawn later, but they all really came at the same time.

The Chronicle: Children’s books usually teach some sort of lesson. What lessons were you trying to capture in “These Train Tracks” and “The Listeners”?

MM: “The Listeners” was dedicated to friends, whenever and wherever they happen. Hopefully, it would teach children to be open to relating to each other in this life. Those who are different shine through and make things interesting and full. “These Train Tracks” was about morphing along the way, recreating yourself. When songs are written, I’m more interested in what other people find in them. There’s a direction, but I’m definitely more interested in the open interpretation of things. And that makes it more interesting for us. We like to leave things open.

The Chronicle: Do you have plans to do another project like this in the future?

MM: Yeah, I guess I’m going to be across the way from where I live. And I’m looking for an old letterpress right now so I can make short runs of books and things. You can go your whole life working on a studio and fine-tuning things and cleaning up messes. I would love to do more books in the future.

The Chronicle: You’ve been touring the country with Laura Gibson. How has that been?

MM: It’s been awesome. We’re all in one van, and this is the first time we’ve been in one van with another group. We’ve done tours with Little Wings, which is just Kyle Field. There’s all of these characters in one small space, and we all get along. It’s been a really amazing adventure. Also playing two weeks without a day off has been crazy. So I can’t imagine a better group to kick it with in that amount of days.

None of us had any of our instruments, so we had to borrow instruments from friends. Right now we’re writing some new songs and trying to find songs along the way. Playing instruments we’re not familiar with has kind of opened some doors to try to be inspired for the next album.

The book project was something to exist on its own in its own little capsule and give a rest for a full album. Having a project that was completely different allowed us to get deep into it but also visualize the next album. It was really nice how that came about.

The Chronicle: Breathe Owl Breathe has been part of the Midwestern indie music scene since 2004. Has the scene changed since when you first began?

MM: Well, in northern Michigan we had a tight group of friends and musicians. And we all met through art school and friends, and we had a great time playing different random shows around Michigan. I think we’ve been lucky to make music with really close friends. What’s brought us out to different places is a unique situation. We’ve also been able to do these tours down the West Coast. We have amazing friends and characters along the way, from San Francisco all the way down to Tucson. So a lot of the trips are almost like a returning.

But it’s nice to be able to come back to a dead-end road and create from all the inspiration. A lot of times bands are just friends who come together or friends who know friends. A lot of heroes we’ve met through music, their songs come through and we relate to them. But for me, I’m relating to songs almost like a lifestyle in a very abstract way. It’s trying to not get caught up in how big it may seem, doing all of these different things that are all charted out like South By Southwest. We try to go at a slower pace in the hopes of being a longer vision, through and through.

The Chronicle: What do you have in store for the next year?

MM: When we get back from this tour, we’re going to navigate a few things. I’m really excited about our next album because I think it’s going to be merging all of the inspirations from different places. But also I want to do a patch quilt of different studios. We’re going to be playing in Big Sur in May, and I think we’re going to do some recording around that time too.

The Chronicle: Do you know when the album will be done?

MM: We don’t know. It could be by the end of summer, and it could be by Halloween.

The Chronicle: Do you have a favorite children’s book?

MM: I’m going to tell you about the book I’ve been trying to pick up. I had a book when I was younger, and it was called “Bony Legs.” It’s actually really scary. I was scared of it when I was younger (laughs). That’s a really amazing book.

For more information on Breathe Owl Breathe, visit the band’s website at To purchase tickets for its show at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., visit