Shoshana Bush ::: Vocalist & Musician ::: Brooklyn
In the battle of pizza vs. coffee, pizza won. On an unusually warm afternoon at the end of April, I met Shana at Paulie Gee’s - a renowned pizza joint in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was the third time in a week we’d met; the two previous were to shoot a short artist profile video. Shana is a jazz singer and vocalist for two other musical side projects: Blue Green Gray, an electronic duo, and Maya Angeles, a hip hop collective. Because we did a pretty in-depth interview for the aforementioned video, our 50 Coffees conversation was immediately a bit more philosophical than some of my other interviews. The main theme remained how do creatives work but it was fun to go beyond some of the typical logistics-based answers.
One thing I’ve always loved about your story is how perfectly your two career trajectories have lined up with the city you live in. You pursued a jazz career in New York for the past three years & are now moving back to LA to shift focus & work on your other projects: Blue Green Gray & Maya Angeles. What will change about your daily routine when you are living in LA?
Logistically, I’m giving up music that makes me money. Paid gigs, essentially. I mean I will be doing that, but on a smaller scale. I’m going to have to have a regular-people job or a lot of part time jobs - some combination of babysitting, waitressing, bookstore clerk at my friend’s dad's bookstore, and having gigs or shows at cool places. And any or all of those things minus one or two ends up being a majority of my time. In terms of band practice, the plan for Maya Angeles is to meet every Saturday or once every weekend, because all those guys have regular jobs.
What do they do?
Work at offices & restaurants and type on the computer! I mean we will also meet week day nights if we have a specific show coming up. And my partner in Blue Green Gray does music full time, so I can meet him on a week day. But mainly: I gotta figure it out. I don’t know yet. There will be some sort of balance between working & music on a larger scale.
It seems like one of the main differences between NYC and LA is that most musicians in NYC do music full time, whereas in LA, most musicians have day jobs.
That is true for some of the people I work with, but not my assessment of the musician community as a whole. There's a hustle that exists for everyone in NYC -- a sort of work hard, play hard mentality that's engrained within the city. And you feel it and perpetuate it as a working, gigging, hustling musician here. I think LA as a city cultivates a different mind-set, a different way of being. Plus with the whole hollywood-biz-thing, there tends to be good studio work for musicians. And that is something that comes with the move: I had to get over myself. When I started playing around with the possibility of moving back to LA, I literally had a crazy person conversation with myself and finally told myself “Just get over it. Making money from music was not why you did it in the first place." Granted, there are perks to making your living from music; for example, the ability to say “Hello my name is Shana and this is what I do.” But even though it's a perk, a good thing, I also don’t for a second judge musicians who don’t make their living off of music, their band, paid gigs, or whatever. But I kind of judged me.
It’s the why.
Exactly. Whether you have a job so that you can afford your chosen career or you have a day job and then a creative outlet are very different paths, but not necessarily seen that way to people outside of the industry.
How do you define success?
My most personal answer is: if i’m able to wake up & work on music that I create, make a living off it, have the opportunity to work with other talented people, & avoid having another job, that's success. This presupposes of course that I’m still happy doing it. I’m very aware of all the bullshit that comes with becoming packaged. especially as a woman and as a singer. It especially has to do with being a singer because I’m speaking the language the audience is hearing. There is just automatically a performance aspect to it. It’s acting. Frankly, I almost decided against pursuing music professionally because of that. I don’t have a big desire to have all eyes on me or know how to pose the right way. I didn’t and still don’t have the desire to be famous. But the truth is that creating an artistic persona matters. That said, as long as I’m happy enough with that part of it, then I feel very lucky to do the music part of it. My mom was an actress. i grew up around ’the business’ and I thought “not for me! I’m not going to cut a bitch because she gets the lead.”
You went to Columbia University for school, then back to LA for two years, and now you’e returning after three years in New York City. Do you feel like you’re a much different person now than you were when you lived in LA before?
Well yes, but also no. I’ve been back and forth so much since college and LA is my home, so I feel very comfortable there. The main difference for me is: I’ve never been 28 years old and living in LA.
Right. For the most part, I think people operate based on fantasy futures where anything is possible. The information age does that to you, too - you think you can do anything when you really can’t. But I love that you operate completely based on reality. I like people who are romantic about their own realities.
And to me, that feels purely logical. I know I’m a really positive & optimistic person (or so I’m told) but to me it doesn’t feel positive or optimistic, it feels logical. Because listen: bad things happen & good things happen. The thing you don’t know is how you’re going to handle it until it actually happens. So it’s just as dumb to think something bad is definitely going to happen as it is dumb to know something good is going to happen. Just moving forward & feeling strong about your direction is the positive or optimistic thing. If today I feel this way & if something happens to make me change the way I feel or I just change the way I feel, then I hope & trust that I’ll act accordingly.
But in order for that to work, you have to be extremely & consistently introspective. You have to be aware of what’s happening to you & how you feel about it.
True. I remember meeting with this manager friend, and we were talking. He asked what my goals were. I said, “I would love to be the 12:30 slot at a festival.” And he said “the 12:30 slot!? No! You need to say you want to headline!” And I realized: Oh, he doesn’t get it. I manage myself. He’s used to artists having the dreams & then he manages the dreams. But to me, yeah of course I’m saying that I also want to be the headline! But that’s not what I can plan for. I can plan for the 12:30 slot and be ready as hell for the headline, if that opportunity arises. I’m planning for the next door to open and if the one over there opens, then you better be fucking ready. And guess what, I’m ready. I’m going to be on my shit every day. This is my job. Head down. This is what I care about. I don’t feel stifled by the fact that I don’t have ‘big dreams.’ They just don’t feel helpful. What is helpful is doing good & hard work. Getting better every single day. Applying for the 12:30 slot.
It reminds me of that phrase “Luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparedness.”
That’s what I talk about when I talk about serendipity. Things have just happened to me, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am very present. I allow myself to be vulnerable. and also to be creative. It’s not advice, but for me it works.