Ever been inspired to write a song based on Moby-Dick or Ready Player One; The Outsiders or Delta of Venus? The Bushwick Book Club is a group of musicians who create original compositions inspired by books they read. These compositions are then presented to a live audience and their fellow songwriters.
Encore Stages recently sat down with Geoff Larson, Bushwick’s executive director, to discuss playing bass, Commander Toad and how music can help illuminate literature.
What’s your background?
I’m the executive director of Bushwick Northwest, the parent organization to The Bushwick Book Club Seattle and STYLE: Songwriting Through Youth Literature Education. I graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in Classical Performance on the upright bass while studying Jazz and Composition. I’ve spent 20 years working as a professional musician in a variety of styles, having the opportunity to tour the world. I now focus on my executive director role at Bushwick and producing events, education programs and recorded music in the Seattle area.
What is Bushwick Book Club and how did you get involved in it?
Our goal is to ignite passion for literature and support musicians in their creative endeavors. More than anything, Bushwick is a community for artists to gather and share their compositions while supporting those around them.
I moved to NYC in 2009 with my jazz quartet, Das Vibenbass. While living in the city I ended up performing with a variety of groups and seeing some amazing performances, including The Bushwick Book Club right there in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was one of the most electric songwriting showcases I had ever seen. When I made the move back to Seattle, I knew I would need to start up a Bushwick chapter. I gathered a crew and we performed our first event in 2010.
How can music help illuminate literature? How can literature help illuminate music?
Music is something that can bring out emotions in an unexpected way. The way a performer choses to represent their inspiration certainly challenges each listener with their own experience with the same text. Each reader has a unique take on a single passage and will represent their experience accordingly. And then a listener will even have a different inspiration from the music. It’s a beautiful cycle of ideas and creation. Attaching a story to music can help bring a listener on a journey. This is something I always love to do with my instrumental music. I love hearing what journey a listener created while listening to my music. It’s actually a game I like to play inside the classroom with our education program, STYLE.
What books growing up touched you? What books have you gravitated towards as an adult?
In my youth, I loved adventure and exploration. These have been found in the simplicity of Beverly Cleary or in Commander Toad, although I could not deny the beautiful poetry of Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. I have fond memories of my parents reading me those stories. As I grew into high school age, I found Kurt Vonnegut, still one of my favorite writers, and John Steinbeck. As an adult, I’ve counted heavily on those around me to guide me towards what they love. Science fiction is something I love beyond all. The creativity and thought towards the future cannot be matched with these incredible writers. I have to note that Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow has become one of my top reads. It feels so real to me.
How does one become involved in Bushwick? Are you seeking out singers?
Bushwick is always looking for more musicians to perform in our programs. All you need to do is share one song inspired by the written word with us, and provide us with your online presence. We love meeting new performers and bringing more artists together to foster support and collaboration.
We also love volunteers! It’s a wonderful way to help our organization charge forward and get the chance to support local artists and see our performances. You can volunteer by contacting us through our web page.
Favorite Bushwick memories?
Bushwick has too many to count—from our multiple performances at Benaroya Hall and McCaw Hall, to performing with a full orchestra at Town Hall Seattle. My favorite moment is picking up a guitar and performing that first song back in 2010. It was my first performance on guitar and vocals and my goal was to make sure everyone was comfortable to bring their own songs to this audience.
What are you looking forward to most next season?
I am ecstatic that we will have a place to call home next season. Thank you to the Hugo House for providing us with a location for most of our events. Our partnerships are a big deal to us. This also includes Town Hall Seattle, Seattle Arts & Lectures, The Vera Project, Jack Straw Cultural Center and Seattle7Writers.
As for our events, I’m looking forward to our Parable of the Talents event on April 20, 2019 at Town Hall Seattle. Working with our curator, KEXP’s Riz Rollins, is a fantastic experience, and I cannot wait for this second performance (we did Parable of the Sower last season). Octavia Butler is one of the best science fiction writers I’ve read, and the musicians found so much to create.
If you could perform in front of any author, living or dead, who would you pick? What sort of tune would you play?
This answer could change on any given day, but I’ll pick one for today. I’m going with Mary Doria Russell. I know that the song I would write would be inspired by The Sparrow and would be performed with my upright bass with my dropped D. There would be a solid drone with that low note and throughout the rest of the bass giving sense of urgency and waiting (I know it’s weird). I think I might focus on the loneliness our characters might feel while on a long journey through… Ok I won’t give anything away. Read the book!
How can someone help Bushwick?
Come to a show. Bring your friends! You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be supporting local musicians.