An Interview with Bo Malcolm

I interviewed Bo in his room. It was small, incredibly neat, with more books than decorations. He sat across from me at his desk chair while I sat on the bed. He asked me if he should play some of his songs and pulled his guitar out from under the bed.

“How can you interview me without knowing the music, right?”

I said of course, and he proceeded to play me two songs. When he plays he looks down, out into nothing, or at the window, but never at me. He has a look of deep concentration with hints of ease in it. Something is going on in his head, but I have no idea what it is. He smiles to himself occasionally as he’s playing, but I’m not sure if he notices he’s doing it. Most of the time his eyes are wide and open, concentrating, expressing.

Bo’s parents bought him a guitar when he was young, around eleven years old, and after taking classical lessons for a year he decided to drop it. He says he wasn’t passionate enough, for the mind of an eleven year old is busy in the imaginary world. Now playing guitar helps him rediscover that feeling, but back then he didn’t need it for that purpose. He didn’t pick the guitar back up again until the fall semester before he came to CC as a winter start. It was at this time he wrote his first song.

“It was kind of an exorcism. I felt really troubled I was a bit heart broken you could say, but there was more than that going on. I was very isolated. I’d been thinking for a while. I had an internship on a farm for a few months and that whole time I was thinking about music and really wanting to involve myself with music. I had remembered 3 or 4 chords so I just played those until lyrics occurred to me.”

He played that first song for me. It was melodically advanced, honest, and beautiful. When he finished playing I wished he’d play it again. Bo approaches his songwriting in an incredibly mature way. He seems to have a tight grasp on where he stands in his musical capabilities and knows what he wants to keep working on.

“I still work on annunciation. I think singing has been a visceral act, it’s very cathartic, but I also like to write lyrics and be very deliberate with what I sing. I’m trying to find a balance between losing myself and singing and conveying a message to an audience.”

I asked Bo about his influences. The first few that came to his head were Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Marvin Gaye. Talking about his influences brought up a concept that he referred to as the “anxiety of influence.” He talked about the pitfall of touching too much on your influences and never achieving a sense of individuality- something that happens when you’ve been too cultured into a movement of singer songwriter. It’s not definite, but rising above it requires practice, attentiveness, and time.

“I think it has to do with really… it has to do with practice, and close attention paid to your influences. It’s tricky in that way because many say that the beginning is imitation. All you can do is imitate the greats and maybe create something that touches on the excellent qualities that you admire so much, but at a certain point after you’ve read and read and are a more experienced player and writer, I feel that those artists are in dwelling, you know, you carry them with you and you’re unconsciously writing with certain turns and techniques that they used. But because you don’t realize it, it’s something unique and original. It’s applying a different aesthetic quality than your own to your perception of the world. It’s really living with those subjects.”

Bo says he is still working towards achieving an individual style. He doesn’t think he’s old enough or that he’s had enough experience. I understand what he’s saying, but I don’t think I’m a close enough listener to really notice this lack of uniqueness. I’m inclined to disagree with his assessment of himself. I haven’t heard another performer at CC that sounds like Bo, or even comes close to echoing his creative ability. His lyrics are honest and creative, and he delivers them in a way that is incredibly deliberate.

I’ve only seen Bo perform a few times outside of our interview, and every time he was alone. I asked him about it, and he told me he’s started to play with other people more recently. Bo isn’t musically educated, he plays by ear, and so in the past he hasn’t been confident in his abilities to play with other musicians. As he’s grown more experienced that’s changed, however, and he’s even given some thought to starting a band.

“I’ve thought about cover bands, that’s a really interesting idea to me. A band that would do all rockabilly music, like Buddy Holly, of Chuck Berry, those kinds of songs. It’s part of my music preference, and it’s also music people still dance to even though it’s 70 years old, which I think is fascinating.”

Bo says that music is about sharing each other’s creative work, and that sometimes the music scene here can be too exclusive.

“We need to engender creative conversations, and that starts with people wanting to share.”

Bo says he’s going to continue playing open mic at Sacred Grounds, and maybe even try to play at Coburn Unplugged. If you’ve never heard Bo play, you really should try and go see him. He has a sound that will make your heart hurt- not in a bad way, but in a way that’s incredibly vulnerable, even meaningful. Listening to Bo play alone in his room left me feeling inspired, and all I can say is that I am waiting to hear his voice again.







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