Meet David Booth: professor, singer, songwriter

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It’s always a shock to find out that our professors have lives outside of St. Olaf, so you may want to sit down before you listen to this: religion and women’s studies professor David Booth spends his time outside of work nourishing a successful music career!
Professor Booth, a long-time music aficionado, plays guitar, sings, and writes his own music, often with a band of Ole alumni. Here, he offers us his insights on his music, his philosophy, and his advice for college women.
 
Her Campus St. Olaf: How did you begin your musical career?
David Booth: I came from a musical family, and in the ‘60s, when we were all thrilled with rock and roll, I postponed college for a year and played in a band that gigged in bars in Colorado. I went to college with the thought that I would be a music major, drop out rapidly, and become a star. Then I discovered that real musicians, like my classmates, are actually a whole new category. I got interested in the study of religion and quit playing guitar. That remained the state until one of my friends turned 50. He said, “David, the only present I want is to be the singer in a band and I want you to organize the band.” So he booked himself a venue in Washington D.C. and asked me to go get my guitar out of its case in my closet. And I thought it was really fun. So starting then, I put together a band again and wrote some songs, and I sort of shared that with some students at St. Olaf.
 
HC: Which students?
DB: The main Oles that I’ve played with are Brett Bullion ’07, who is a drummer and recording engineer and half of the duo Tarlton – he was my student in a religion seminar. I can’t say enough about Brett, and we’ve enjoyed a really nice role reversal where I was his professor, but now he’s like my mentor in my little hobby music career, and he’s taught me a lot. The other former student is Joey Kantor ’07. He studied jazz keyboard at St. Olaf and is a part of Rogue Valley, the band that features Chris Koza, who is an Ole from 2001. Brett and Joey agreed to come record with me, and that was a really fun time because they’re such talented musicians.
 
HC: When did you start recording?
DB: I recorded an album in the summer of 2009 called Ann’s Living Room, which we literally recorded in my living room. When my wife would come home at the end of the day, Brett and Joey would feel like guilty boys who had just built a play fort. Last summer, 2010, I recorded an album called Consolation, and it’s a selection from a whole bunch of songs that I wrote last fall.
 
HC: How would you describe your genre?
DB: That’s such a hard thing to say, because I react to a lot of different influences. It’s all sort of in the rock and alt-country idiom.
 
HC: Is there a message that comes through in most of your songs?
DB: There are a couple main messages, and they’re kind of different sides of the same coin. One side is that when I look at the world and I see the great harm and violence in it, I want to be able to wag my finger in righteous anger at the perpetrators of evil in the world. So there are songs with a sort of political sense that are scolding public figures, and they are a way for me to cope with being angry about public life where otherwise I’m powerless. The flip side of that is that I always want to be able to say a comforting, reassuring word to the people around me. So there are lots of songs that are expressing companionship, love, connection.
 
HC: Does your life in academia intersect with your life in the music world?
DB: Intensely. The famous guitar player Carlos Santana said in an interview, “The world doesn’t need someone else to sound like me. The world needs you to figure out who you are and sound like yourself.” I don’t connect that thought so much to guitar playing, I connect it to songwriting. I think who I am is not a particularly great thing, but it’s a unique thing. I’m a middle-aged college professor in a religion department and a women’s studies department playing pop songs to see if any of my friends like them. Sometimes my songs have religious content, and they definitely have a women’s studies bent in them.
 
HC: What are your three biggest musical influences?
DB: Let me have four and just give you a quick story about them. Everyone my age is in the shadow of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. I’m in the shadow of the Beatles because if I could write melodies like the Beatles, I’d be happy. And everyone’s in the shadow of Bob Dylan because the range of lyrics and the subjects he took up. So when I write songs, I always have the voices of the Beatles and Bob Dylan in my ears. As far as the contemporary, I really do admire Wilco. If I can write songs that remind a person of Wilco’s tunefulness and earnest lyrics, that’s great. There’s an awful lot of Ryan Adams that I admire. In some of his albums he has an intensity of emotion that I think is really great.
 
HC: What’s in the future for your music?
DB: I’m always writing something - it’s a constant pleasure on the back burner. I will probably try to arrange to get the boys together to record something this summer. I’m always looking for live audiences to play to, as well. Being a middle-aged religion professor with a hobby, it’s hard to get a venue to take me seriously, so I have to keep my chin up.
 
HC: Have you ever given a concert at St. Olaf?
DB: No. It would be fun to play at St. Olaf, but there are so many student organizations that are great and ought to be able to play. A professor should not take away from the campus bands. There is something really bizarre, though, about one of your teachers being on stage, so I think the sheer strangeness of it would attract some attention.
 
HC: What is it like being on a campus full of so many talented musicians?
DB: First of all, it gives me a valuable perspective because in every class there’s about ten students who are better at their instruments than I am at mine. There are so many professional musicians, and it’s just a hobby to me. I get the benefit of the talent on campus because I can work with former students, so I am extremely grateful for the music tradition here.
 
HC: Fill in these sentences:
St. Olaf men are…
St. Olaf women are…
DB: I may let you down here, because I may not be able to answer that in a playful way. I admire St. Olaf students so much, and you all are so different from one another, that I’m afraid that I just couldn’t commit myself to saying any one sentence.
 
HC: Any advice for St. Olaf women?
DB: Take your own self seriously, treat yourself with respect, and be skeptical about the media’s way of portraying sex and gender.
 
To check out Professor Booth’s music, go to www.davidboothmusic.com or “like” his Facebook page!

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