Geneva Harrison

:: AGE

31

:: LOCATION

Oakland, California, USA

:: MEDIUM

Music, percussion, sounds, drums, keyboards, live performance, movement

:: IDENTIFIES AS

drummer/percussionist/multi-disciplined musician; youngest of 3, daughter and sister to a bunch of beautiful humans; seeker of compassion, challenges, the unknown and the surreal

As a womxn, why do you think it is important to create?

In college, a friend–someone I was dating–was a saxophone player and wanted to cross over from classical music and hop into jazz school. She inquired about it and rather than having a staff that was encouraging, “you have these skills sets, you’re bright, you have some work to do…” –instead of that approach, it was like “you have to accomplish this before you do this” and there were one or two females in the entire jazz school. Don’t you think you should be opening spaces for women, for different people, to be coming in? Why shut that down?

The thing that I feel is that, if you see you only have one or two female students in your entire school, it’s less likely that other women are going to want to come to your school and think this is something they can do. When that visibility and representation and solidarity isn’t there, it can be a deterrent from trying to actualize and initialize that.

If I was 14–a prime time for me to be inspired, to see the world as what it could be for myself–if I go to a music performance and it’s like 6 women playing different horns in this big band, and six men–that alone to me, oh, it’s a given, like yeah, there’s a space for me in this. It’s not that it’s a conscious thing that when there aren’t any women that you’re like, there’s no space for me. It’s not like that, but I do think that the alternative of what it could be would open up so many more, wow I’m inspired, no doubt. It’s different when you see a window open versus no window at all. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing to have all female spaces, but ideally in my mind it would be just to see mish mash of all of it and to just not have it be about any of that at all. I felt really lucky in college that it felt that way, and i didn’t realize until a couple years ago–talking to Dani Markham, we went to school together–it didn’t even dawn on me that our professor consciously admitted females, picked lots of females because he wanted to encourage women. I didn’t know that when I was there, so me living in la la land thought “Oh, we’re all represented! What are people talking about when they’re like, “Oh, you’re a female percussionist?” Duh, yeah, aren’t there a thousand of us per square foot?” It dawned on me that it was like that because he consciously made that effort, which was great because he fooled me, so I kept going. I think that does a lot.

I grew up in an area where there was way less representation and more skepticism, like, “you’re a girl that plays drums? I actually had a girl in high school who asked me in class, “You play drums in band? I didn’t even know they let girls do that. Her friend was sitting next to her like, “Are you an idiot? Of course girls are allowed.” It’s just funny because there is that perception of that in some spaces. I’m probably very jaded because I feel like I have grown up in supportive spaces and been around supportive communities, but even still, in a lot of those supportive communities, there aren’t as many women performing or playing music or working in recording studios. There still aren’t as many women doing it as men. I believe women are still the majority of the population on the planet. Unless you’re talking about singers, tons of female singers, and they’re the front people. I don’t know if that’s the same thing in art where women are glorified–not to say all women are divas and glorified, that’s not why they do it–it’s just kind of an interesting thing. I generally feel like most creative people are open minded people who do want to make spaces for everybody so in that world, I don’t know. Maybe in the business side of things, how people want to cash in on the art, maybe there’s more bias there. In the music business in general, in the past ten years, it’s wonderful. There are many women in the music industry now. It’s very common to deal with a lot of female managers and booking agents, everything. Maybe that will affect it all as well? I also live in the Bay, it’s such a bubble here. I feel like people talk about this kind of thing way more than the rest of the country.

What are your favorite parts of the Bay area music scene?

Probably that it’s very eclectic here. People are seeking interesting results from their music. I feel there’s a lot more room for breathing with your art, experimenting with your art, kinda doing your own thing and finding yourself in your art. Whereas in a lot of other cosmopolitan places, the focus can be on “How do we access this sound the best way possible? How do we capture this pre-existing sound?” I’ve had many conversations with people in New York about that versus here. There’s a pool of amazing stuff in New York, on any given night there’s 50 amazing things to catch, but there’s not necessarily as much different stuff going on. Out here, there’s lots of different things going on and there’s awesome different communities around those things. As a percussionist too, I love playing all kinds of different music and this is a great place to tap into a lot of different things. Also, in general, it’s very nice here. It’s beautiful, people are cool, it’s a great place to do your thing.

How do you define love?

There’s so many different kinds of love. I think there’s so many different ways to access it. It definitely feels like the busier I get in my life, the more I’m playing music and performing music, and that’s almost all I do is performing for people. Love to me–because my life has become so saturated of a million things but of the same ebbs and flows–those moments are when my heart’s about to explode, and that usually happens when I’m experiencing music, and very much so when I’m performing. Love to me is sharing this inexplicable force with someone else. Whether that’s romantic love and you feel a thing and you feel it and it’s almost like you’re giving what you’re feeling, or if it’s with music and you’re performing and it’s this thing you love so much that you want to shower on other people–that feeling. If I were to say what love is made of, I think trust is a huge thing. It’s trusting yourself and trusting those that you’re sharing with or feel it for. There’s gotta be a certain level of–yeah, this can be vulnerable and I’m pushing this, but I’m trusting that it’s gonna be okay. I think that allows you to feel that emotion and experience it at its fullest.

Do you have any words of advice for young womxn/artist/creators out there?

Try to learn and listen. Listen. Find the stuff that gets you going. Find all of the things. Just go for it. Find all the inspiration that you can. That stuff especially when you’re young will carry with you forever. Specifically, percussionists we have to do a lot of different things. There are a lot of different contexts that we can and do play in, so it’s natural to find affinities for lots of different things. I feel for any creative mind and specifically in music, just listening and transcribing–trying to figure out what’s going on, even if you don’t know–the more you try to understand what is going on in someone’s creative process, I think that informs a lot of really good tools that you can learn from.

How do you make time to create?

Creativity is such an interesting brain space because you can’t always turn it on and off. It comes when it comes and there’s ways to make space for it and try to harness it, get into rituals that help with that. But sometimes when you’re super busy and you only have half an hour to work on something it’s actually beneficial because you’re forced to do it. And sometimes when you have all the time in the world, it’s like having this massive canvas and being like, “Where do I start? There’s 5000 things I’ve collected in my bag from the past 20 or 30 years and there’s so many colors to choose from.” And if I’m not on top of my stuff, I feel crazy. I like to know where things are at in the process, where I’m at, and there’s a lot of managing and get that out of the way to have a clear open space for myself. I also love, LOVE creating with other people. Having that space with people is really a comfy wonderful place to be. Not that I’m super dependent on other people, but it lights my fire in a different way. Collaboration and bouncing off of ideas–it’s a fun interplay to have. I think I also really enjoy learning and when you’re doing that, you’re kind of learning in the midst of experiencing in the moment. That’s a lot of fun for your brain to have.

Who are your influences/inspirations?

Bjork–her idea of what art is or can be, and also being a woman who is totally just doing her damn thing, is so inspiring. Not to mention being a total badass. I love being able to see artists, musicians hearts in their work. I feel like in everything she does, you see it and you feel it, especially when you watch her perform, it’s such an inspiring place to be. I feel like people can get jaded when they’re doing one thing with their entire life. It’s easy to get lost in a groove. She keeps reinventing it. You feel her heart in all of it. It’s a rare thing.

Photo credits: Ginger Fierstein, Sandra Lawson-ndu