This week I sat down with CC student and musician Bo Malcolm. I interviewed Malcolm in his room; it was small and incredibly neat, with more books than decorations. He sat across from me in 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. Most of the time his eyes are wide and open, concentrating, and expressing.
Malcolm’s parents bought him a guitar when he was around 11 years old, but after taking classical lessons for a year, he decided to drop it. He says he wasn’t passionate enough; the mind of an 11-year-old is busy in the imaginary world.
Now, playing guitar helps him rediscover that feeling. He didn’t pick the guitar back up again until the fall 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,” said Malcolm. “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.
Malcolm 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 enunciation. I think singing is a visceral act; it’s very cathartic, but I also like to write lyrics and be very deliberate with what I sing,” said Malcolm. “I’m trying to find a balance between losing myself and singing and conveying a message to an audience.”
I asked Malcolm about his influences. The first few that came to mind were Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Marvin Gaye. In talking about these people, Malcolm introduced a concept that he referred to as the “anxiety of influence.” He talked about the pitfall of relying too much on one’s influences and never achieving a sense of individuality, something that happens when one has 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 practice, and paying close attention to your influences,” says Malcolm. “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 have become a more experienced player and writer, I feel that those artists are in dwelling; you carry them with you and you’re unconsciously writing with certain turns and techniques that they used,” Malcolm continues. “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.”
Malcolm says he is still working towards achieving an individual style. He doesn’t think he’s old or experienced enough.
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 Malcolm, or that even comes close to echoing his creative ability. His lyrics are honest and creative, and his delivery is incredibly deliberate.
I’ve only seen Malcolm perform a few times outside of our interview and each time he was alone. I asked him about it, and he told me that he’s started to play with other people more recently.
Malcolm isn’t formally trained; he plays by ear and in the past he hasn’t been confident in his abilities to play with other musicians. However, as he’s grown more experienced that’s changed 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,” said Malcolm. “It’s part of my musical preference and it’s also music people still dance to, even though it’s 70 years old, which I think is fascinating.”
Malcolm 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,” says Malcolm. “That starts with people wanting to share.”
Malcolm 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 Malcolm play, you should try and 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 Malcolm play alone in his room left me feeling inspired and all I can say is that I am waiting to hear his voice again.
This article is a part of a series of interviews with on campus musicians by the Sounds of Colorado College (SOCC). If you are interested in reading more about music on campus head to thesocc.org to see past interviews and stay tuned for more.