At Greenstock, Bowdoin’s annual sustainability festival, Erica Hummel ’16 caught up with Westrio, one of Bowdoin’s most popular student bands. The festival took place Sept. 14 on Coe Quad, and featured bands and green-themed booths.
With Nick Walker ’16 on guitar, vocals and percussion, Jacob Ellis ’16 on banjo and piano, and James Sullivan ’16 on bass guitar, the trio specializes in folk covers and original songs with a distinctly poetic flair. Walker is a prospective neuroscience major with a minor in music, Ellis hopes to study an interdisciplinary major in math and computer science with a minor in government or economics, and Sullivan is interested in chemistry and environmental studies with a minor in government.
Erica Hummel: Could you tell me about the history of Westrio?
Jacob Ellis: We all run cross-country at Bowdoin, so we were freshmen together last year. There’s a cross-country talent show every December, so we thought it would be a lot of fun if we could do a Mumford and Sons song. I knew that Nick was a good guitar player and singer and that James was a good bassist. We needed a banjo player and I thought, “I could learn the banjo,” and over Thanksgiving I learned the banjo and we played the talent show. It was a lot of fun and we decided to keep playing!
EH: How did you get your name?
James Sullivan: We were trying to think of a name for a long time: from when we first performed in December until the BMC [Bowdoin Music Collective] Showcase in February.
Nick Walker: We didn’t have a name, so the BMC guys just wrote down “The Walker-Ellis-Sullivan Trio” – WES Trio – and then one of us said, “Why don’t we just combine it and be ‘Westrio’?” And then that was kind of the best we had and we rolled with it.
Jacob Ellis: And now it’s too late to change it because it’s on our Facebook page.
EH: Why have you focused on playing folk music?
Jacob Ellis: Well, playing the banjo, I don’t have a lot of other options. But more importantly, as a backup singer and a harmonizer, singing harmonies to folk songs is one of the most fun types of music to sing with. It just blends so well and it’s so satisfying to sing.
Nick Walker: I think there’s something so genuine about folk music. It’s very personal. I feel like it tells really cool stories. It’s fun to make – especially now that we’re writing stuff, it’s fun to think, O.K., what do we want to communicate in this song?
James Sullivan: I really like folk because it seems much more plastic than a lot of other genres. In a set list, we can have incredible diversity – we switched to acoustic halfway through for our fourth and fifth songs. That’s why I really like playing folk. I want to stick with it.
EH: What’s your advice for an aspiring Bowdoin musician?
James Sullivan: Stick with it! And it’s just as important to play for fun as it is to play for practice.
Jacob Ellis: Jump into it! Ten months ago I never would have thought that I’d even be playing the banjo, or that I’d be any good at it.
Nick Walker: Be satisfied with whatever your level is. Appreciate whatever your music is and have goals of where you want to take it, but music is such a cool thing, whatever your level.