Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Bushwick Book Club's Geoff Larson

The man who helps Seattle songwriters turn books into songs talks about the process and which books he won't do.

By Seth Sommerfeld September 18, 2013

Geoff Larson (left) helps turn books into songs with Bushwick Book Club.

The lyricism of Pride and Prejudice. The rhythm of 1984. The melody of High Fidelity. Since October 2010, songwriters have been turning cherished literature into sweet songs for Bushwick Book Club Seattle. Each month, the volunteer-based organization selects a book and asks performers to write songs inspired by their reading experiences, which are then performed at a local venue. Musician Geoff Larson founded the operation in Seattle after becoming entranced by the original Brooklyn-based Bushwick Book Club while living in New York City. For its latest act, Bushwick travels to the land of the Yellow Brick Road to present songs inspired by L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful World of Oz at the Crocodile on September 20.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Larson about crafting a Bushwick show, the books he won't do, and taking baseballs in the face.

How has Bushwick Book Club Seattle grown since its inception?

I would say in the word about Bushwick is out. I had to create a new artist application because I couldn’t continue answer everybody’s email. So many people want to do it, so we’ve grown with the amount of artists that are interested and excited about the project. We’ve grown in the amount of programs we create; from the adult programs, which is the normal thing, to the children’s programs with kid’s books by the likes of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. This year, we are expanding to what we’re calling S.T.Y.L.E.—Songwriting Through Youth Literature Education—where we’re gonna go into schools and use books that are already in the curriculum and create a unit and lessons for the teachers to use to write music inspired by the books. It’ll give them a chance to teach the book a different way. We actually won a couple grants, and we’re going to be doing our first this year at Aki Kurose Middle School in February, but we’re in talks with a bunch of different schools.

How do you pick which books to do?

I started off with a book that really made me understand that reading was cool - Slaughterhouse Five. And then I was just going down the line thinking of books that people would know. I tried to pick things that had a sense of humor in them, as well as some serious thoughts, so that the artist could go either way. I didn’t want to pigeonhole them into having to write a comedy song because they don’t all do that. I actually have the season booked out through April right now, and I tried to pick different books that would compliment each other. I’m not trying to be as mainstream as I used to be.

Is there any book that is undoable for Bushwick?

No, I don’t think there are. The reason why I say that is because what I ask of the artist is to create something inspired by the book, not about the book. I think it’s an important distinction to make. We’ll have anything from somebody writing about a character to somebody writing a synopsis of the plot. A lot of times people will go a whole different direction; they’ll be reading the book and it’ll remind them of their life in a specific way. And to me, that’s okay, so long as they explain how they got there. How did the book get them there? That’s why reading’s cool. There’s nothing that’s “Un-Bushwickable,” but there are some books I won’t do.

What sort of books won’t you do?

An example is Harry Potter. Because there are already so many Harry Potter bands. I don’t think we should be attacking some of those really teen lit popular ones. I won’t do that in my adult programs. If a teacher asks me to do that for a classroom show, I will do it, but I won’t do it in my own shows.

What’s the pre-show routine for Bushwick?

The week before I am often in a mad scramble to make sure that I have all the information to make the show run as smooth as possible. Stuff such as, hey are all you musicians actually going to be there? Because I do have people who drop out and get really nervous or stressed out and can’t write their songs.

The night before I’ll start getting the set list in order, I’ll call a few musicians to see what their songs are like. I don’t ask to hear the songs before the show, because I don’t want to influence anything. I’d rather them just do it on their own. I’ll see if their songs are upbeat or slow so I can make the show flow.

Day of the show I try to get the performers to come early—I usually offer a free dinner to get them to show up on time and meet each other. They network if they want to network or talk about the books. That’s kind of the book club part.

What’s your favorite show you’ve seen over the past year?

I’d say Crystal Beth and the Boom Boom Band at the Royal Room. It blew me away because I didn’t know what I was gonna hear when I walked in the door. Beth Fleenor is this jazz clarinet player, and she has a band called Crystal Beth and the Boom Boom Band. And it’s just got this sick, dark, beautiful sound. And it’s not just jazz; it’s rocking. Very intense. It really gets inside you and twists it up.

If you weren’t a musician what other line of work might you have pursued?

Oh, baseball player, for sure. That one’s easy. I would’ve been catcher, except for my knee stopped working when I was in high school, so I just had to be wherever they put me. But I was the kind of guy who could kind of be anywhere because I wasn’t afraid of the ball like the other guys were. I was the one who would take a ball in the face.

Bushwick Book Club Seattle Presents Original Music Inspired by L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful World of Oz
Sept 20 at 9, The Crocodile, $10

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