Cleveland Gangsta: A Q&A With Musician Bushwalla
While some musicians work to stay within tidy little genres, Cleveland native Bushwalla (real name: Billy Galewood) does not—and rightly so. He says his music is "an acoustic, funk, soul, folk project rooted in positivity, comedy and optimism...a vaudeville show." Using the skills he learned working as a clown in his childhood years, Bushwalla brings an element of comedy and improvisation to his concerts: He'll swallow a balloon animal and balance a guitar on his chin before launching into a song like "Ghetto Blaster."
Put differently: Bushwalla doesn't just perform concerts; "I do like a 5-year-old's birthday party for adults; that's pretty much the Bushwalla show."
With a new set for late April, Bushwalla, the constant touring partner of good friend Jason Mraz, is currently making his own rounds on the east coast. With songs ranging from breezy, acoustic guitar duets with Dawn Mitschele like "Mayhem is Beautiful" to beat- and trumpet-laden fan-favorites like "Gangsta" ("It is hard to be a gangsta, gangsta / With a basket on your bike"), Bushwalla's pretty hard to resist.
Q&A below the jump.
BUSHWALLA PERFORMS TONIGHT AT JAMMIN JAVA, 227 MAPLE AVE. E., VIENNA, VA. $10 IN ADVANCE, $13 DAY OF. (703) 255-1566.
WASHINGTON CITY PAPER: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
BUSHWALLA: I started at 9 years old in a theater company called Kids on Broadway in Ohio, and my earliest influences are probably—a lot of musical theater, to be honest with you. And on top of that, we would do summer shows that were like touring festival shows and that's where I fell in love with John Prine. I also fell in love with ... early forms of rap music. And then my father listened to a lot of '50s music, which I really loved, like the Big Bopper, Little Richard ... a lot of old '50s and '60s tunes that I really dig, and you know, so it was all over the place – it's kinda why I'm all over the place.
WCP: Do you have a preference between rapping and singing?
B:I write and I don't think about it. I sit, and whatever comes out is what comes out. I always like to challenge myself writing to write something that's out of my realm of comfortability, so at the end of the day when you have, you know, your 10 songs or whatever that you just wrote over the last week or couple weeks, there might be one in there that's a gem that's kind of out of your ballpark, but that's going to expand your evolution as a singer or a performer. When you think you got it, that's when you don't got it.
WCP: Do you have a favorite place to tour?
B: I just love touring. I'm happy right now, I'm on the road, I got a couple of buddies with me that are playing, and it's just like, "Shit yeah, this is awesome!" Because for so many years, it's just like, "All I wanna do is get on the road." And I get on the road, and it's like, "All I wanna do is take out my band mates with me" I did a show with G. Love ... it was an after-show, and the earlier show was canceled 'cause of rain, and he turns to me and he says, "Isn't it rad?" and I'm like, "Is what rad?" And he's like, "We get to do this again." And I was like, "Yes! This is rad! We do get to do this again!" And it was really inspiring to hear that from him, a guy that I've been listening to for 15 years, still have that same ... kid-consciousness about it, which is what you gotta have—we're just playing, you know what I mean? We're just playing.
WCP: You hosted Jason Mraz's tour this past year—what's the difference between playing a large venue and a more intimate setting? Do you have a preference?
B: It's really wild 'cause [one] weekend I played Berkeley, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Cricket Wireless Amphitheater, and that was for a total of about 50,000 people. And then the next week, I played a house show for like, 20 people. And the house show scared the hell out of me. Everybody's looking at you. The 20,000 people become this sea, and I'm on stage and I look out and I'm like, "I got this, I got this." But Bruce Hughes, Jason's bass player told me, "Just look at them as a bunch of little clubs." And I was like, "Aw yeah, that's all it is. 10,000 people is just a hundred 100-person clubs." ... It's kind of an ass-way to think of it, but it also made a lot of sense at the moment.
WCP: How important is comedy, your circus background and just improvisation in general to your live music act?
B: The show, you know, is where it's at for me. It's where it's at for my fans. It's everything, you know what I mean? For me... I love improvisation—it challenges me, it challenges my band. And the guys that I play with, my band, who have been with me upwards of 10 years, they're so open to it. Nobody ever gets mad at me for not doing what we planned, and that's huge, because a lot of bands really go by the ABCs and the 123s of performing. They tell their story, they sing the song, they put some emotionality into it, and then they end their song with some emotionality and then they close their eyes and reflect... And I just really like to explode.
Photo of Bushwalla by Maryam, via MySpace.