Name: Raffy Bushman
Occupation: Pianist, cellist, composer
Recent release: Raffy Bushman's new single "Olympus", taken off his upcoming EP E Minor String Quintet + Rhythm, is out now via Bridge the Gap x New Soil.
Recommendations: Book: The glass bead game - Herman Hesse; Series of Paintings: The house of life - George Frederic Watts
If you enjoyed this interview with Raffy Bushman and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official homepage.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up in a musical family playing piano and cello from a young age. Playing classical music was part of our family culture so in a way I took it for granted.
I remember hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time and becoming aware of other kinds of music. At secondary school I started playing bass guitar and joined a band. We played a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Led Zeppelin, Rage against the machine. My bass teacher introduced me to Jaco Pastorius and Herbie Hancock - I remember very clearly hearing the Headhunter's version of “Watermelon man” for the first time.
When I was about sixteen I started getting into hip hop. I think more than anything I've always been most interested in beats and rhythm.
What happens in your body when you listen to music and how does it influence your approach and creativity?
I'm quite a shy, self-conscious person. But, when I really like a piece of music with a good beat, all of my inhibitions go away and you might even catch me having a dance every now and again.
I try to make sure that all of my music has the same effect. I generally start every composition by thinking how the rhythm will go and fill the rest in from there.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
My development began with learning my craft.
In my twenties I mostly just practiced and studied the music that I loved. When I was about 26 I got involved in Unit31 and started running the music there. It was a warehouse that we eventually turned into a venue. Having our own place meant that we could put on whatever gig we wanted to and by the end we were doing all sorts - jazz, hip hop, classical.
Having a chance to perform regularly really built my confidence up and eventually led me to writing the 'Look UP' EP which I first performed there. Also, doing the classical stuff helped me to fall back in love with classical music and gave me a lot of inspiration for this piece.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I used to identify entirely as a musician. I thought that was the right way to be. But since then I've learnt that there are other aspects of life which are just as important - physical health, mental wellbeing.
Now I feel like a more well rounded, happier person and that has had a really positive effect on my creativity. I believe it has given me the self confidence to put this record out.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I believe that good art and music should have both craftsmanship and emotional content. It has to be likeable on an instinctive level but also stand up to closer analysis.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I believe that originality is really just honesty. Anyone that is 100 percent honest about expressing their own personal combination of influences can write something original, but finding your honesty can be difficult and thinking outside music industry standards and norms can be difficult.
I believe I have found a way to express my own unique relationship with music in this project and from that point of view I believe it is original.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Practice, transcription, learning things in every key, playing with other people in many different situations. These are the things that have shaped my musicianship.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Normally I start the day with some exercise.
Afterwards I meditate, ideally before I've looked at my phone. If I have a free morning I will practice the piano for 2 to 3 hours. Currently I'm studying, Bach, Mozart, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum. I'm alway transcribing some gospel organ video on youtube as well. Most days I have some teaching, I work for a music service in Tower Hamlets, East London.
In the evenings I might do some cello practice if I have an orchestra or chamber music concert coming up. In the evening I like to cook, maybe watch the football if it's on. Simple life!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album thats particularly dear to you, please?
I'll talk about “Beginner's mind”.
I wrote it when I was really getting into meditation, which had uncovered a lot of emotions and thoughts which I had always covered up with things like obsessive practice, alcohol, going out. So a combination of lockdown, sobriety and meditation really brought all of these feelings to the front of my mind and fed my creativity.
“Beginner's mind” is a kind of musical document of my mental journey during that time and writing it helped me to find some closure and gain perspective.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
To be perfectly honest I'm not really the best collaborator. I have a very clear idea of what I want my music to sound like so I much prefer to write on my own.
But, when it comes to the playing of the music I make sure that I get people who have good feel and are confident enough to add their own flourishes and identity to the compositions.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
What I would hope is that my journey can inspire other young people to work towards their own goals, creative or otherwise.
I believe that music could have a very significant role in society, but needs to be better established in our education system.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
“Beginner's mind” was my way of dealing with struggles and find a way to express them through my music. It can definitely be therapeutic to have another form of expression to explore certain thoughts and feelings.
On this EP, "Reverie - Sometimes I dream about you" is a piece which is about missing someone. I guess it's a way to bring people together, because we all know what that feels like and you hope that the listener can hear it and understand you a bit better.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
For me it's a very important connection. When I was younger I only thought of the way that music made me feel, but now I really enjoy looking closer at the theory behind why it evokes the feeling in me.
And going back to education, I think the connection between music and science should not be overlooked by our school systems. Learning an instrument is the ultimate brain workout, but requires time, patience and funding. I hope to see it taken more seriously in future.