Geneva Harrison: Bells Atlas

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By Jenifer Ruano for Tom Tom Magazine

Geneva Harrison has always had rhythm coursing through her veins. Raised on jazz, classical, and rock ‘n’ roll Geneva soon found her love in the heart of Latin/Brazilian beats and emerged as a talented and soulful coalescence of music. Tom Tom was fortunate to catch up with this powerful musician and find out what makes her sizzle.

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Full Name: Geneva Harrison

Age: 27

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Lives In: Oakland, CA

Past Bands: Rachel Goodrich, DRMS, The Jean Marie

Current Band: Bells Atlas

Day Job: Musician, Teacher, Coffee/waffle-slinger

Favorite Movie: The Big Lebowski

Tom Tom Magazine: Hey Geneva, it’s great to have you in Tom Tom Magazine!  So let’s begin with how it all started for you. What inspired you to take on the drums?

Geneva Harrison: It’s great to be part of this, thank you!  I was about 12 yrs old when I started playing drums and percussion. At first, I wanted to play on a kit. I was inspired by mid-90s rock and a need to get my expression out in the most physical way at that age. I grew up dancing and I had stopped at that point. I can never explain how much that affected my musicianship for years to come. Shortly after I started playing drums, I got obsessed with all kinds of percussion and mallets. I was on the orchestral track for a long time, and picked up Latin/Brazilian percussion. Those were heavy loves for me and still are! I ended up going to University of Miami’s Frost School of Music to study percussion which opened up different avenues for me to contribute to like salsa, orchestra, world music, jazz ensemble, playing vibes and percussion in a rock or singer/songwriter setting. It wasn’t until just a few years ago, way after graduating, that I picked up drum kit again. I think what inspired me at that point was playing with my friend, Rachel Goodrich who I’d been playing percussion and singing backup for. At first I was practicing a lot of roots rock drumming, but a never-ending variety of styles soon came to follow, including second-line grooves, soul music, and post rock.

Your current project, Bells Atlas came together in an interesting way. Tell us how you became involved and what is the concept behind the sound?

Ah Bells Atlas!  This was such a blessing to fall into. I moved to the Bay Area at the end of 2010. I’d met Sandra (our singer) at Guerilla Cafe in Berkeley. She was telling me about this band she’d just started and they were having their first show the next week — at the time they were just guitar, bass, vocals, and some auxiliary percussion.

So I went with a couple of friends. The second I entered the room, I fell in love with everything I was hearing, the quirky and inventive percussion, extremely soulful vocals, clever and tasteful music — I was incredibly inspired by what was happening. I approached Sandra after the show and she asked me to jam with them. So I did and the chemistry was simply awesome. That was it. The band was settled. Our sound incorporates a bunch of live looping- predominantly from vocals and guitar. Now we all play percussion and sing, and there’s a keyboard in the mix too. After a few preliminary rehearsals, I started adding vibraphone to the lineup of instruments.

Bells Atlas just debuted their new album in June. Tell us about the recording process and what your experience was like working on the album.

It was definitely the most involved I’ve ever been in one particular album and a learning experience for all of us in time management with the band and creative decisions to make or even just about learning which instruments in our band have the tendency to take up the same aural space. Since we don’t like limiting ourselves sonically, there’s this endless canvas to paint on. I think each time we went in the studio we got better as a family about knowing how to paint that picture authentically. More often than not, we’d record as a live band (Derek on guitar, Doug on bass, and myself on drums), while Sandra was singing a scratch kind of vocal. I think that really got us to get tight in the rhythm section, which was a turning point in our growth as a band. Then began the mad overdubbing sessions!

Ah so fun! How often do you get to practice?

I personally practice as much as I can every week. Being a freelance musician, the free time in my schedule fluctuates frequently and sometimes doesn’t even exist, but I’d say I try to practice a little every day. Any little bit is good for the hands, arms, mind, and muscles, so I like to keep them exercised on the regular.

Do you have any role models in your career that have been instrumental to your success as a musician?

Definitely! Some drummers/percussionists that come to the top of my head immediately are; Steve Gadd, Poncho Sanchez, James Gadson, Phil Selway, Mike Dillon, Rubem Dantas, Tony Allen, Joey Waronker. In my personal life, I owe some past mentors a lot for all their guidance and knowledge. They are all my role model David Krosner, Tom Sherwood, Ney Rosauro, Shannon Wood, Richie Bravo, and all the musicians and friends I’ve played with over the years.

Switching gears for a moment, as a creative person, how do you stay motivated? What drives you?

Experiencing others’ art or creation — going to shows, seeing art, listening to a lot of music, dancing!  Science is also inspiring to me — new discovery. Connecting with people in a genuine way is incredibly stimulating as well. Something that keeps me motivated is to just keep the ball rolling — to be determined.

What advice do you have for other female musicians?

Confidence! It’s an incredibly important thing to remember, especially for us girls. The cool thing about it is that we often trick ourselves into thinking it’s harder to attain than it really is. Failure is necessary for success. Something I heard recently that really resonates with me, and I think with many musicians, is that failures happen . . . mistakes happen. And the great thing about them is that you learn from them. They pave the way for you to get that much closer to your goal. Don’t give up — if you want it and love it, keep working at it!

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