“Kooky and honest” is how Nick Walker ’16 describes the band Westrio that he and fellow sophomores James Sullivan and Jacob Ellis formed last year after performing together at a cross-country talent show.
“Weird, definitely weird,” said Sullivan.
“I would say that we’re energetic,” Ellis added.
Bowdoin’s Westrio is a folksy acoustic trio, with Walker on guitar and vocals, Sullivan on bass and Ellis on the banjo. Sullivan said that their style, “started as much more folk pop and folk rock and [has been] digressing to more standard folk songs—a little bit more bluegrassy.”
Although the band has only been playing together for a year, it’s changed enormously since its first show.
“I remember the first time we played we were so bad, but we got the biggest rush after we played,” Walker said. “We were just not really fluid at all…we just kind of learned to start listening to each other more.”
Over the past year they have learned how to work together and developed a music style that they all feel more passionate and confident about.
“It was really easy [at the beginning] to put together a song that everyone loves to play, but maybe without as much talent as is needed to play other songs and have fun,” Ellis said. “As we’ve gotten better as individuals and better as a group, we’re able to play more mellow songs.”
Westrio has even begun to experiment with songwriting. So far, they have worked on about five original songs.
“I didn’t really know how you brought the lyrics and the song together,” said Walker, but he has since learned that “if you have some image that you want to tell, you bring that out in the mood of the song.”
Ellis looks forward to incorporating more songwriting into the band’s future. “Every time we write a new song, I think [it] is our best one yet,” he said.
Westrio is still in the process of figuring out where they fit in the Bowdoin music scene.
“We definitely don’t fit into the two guitar, one bass, one drummer mold,” Ellis said. “We struggle a little bit trying to find what venues and what types of shows fit our sound best. And then on the flip side, [we struggle with] how we can make our sound more full. Having an acoustic trio is really cool, but it definitely lacks some power.”
Walker concurred that the band is definitely “less punchy” and “folk music is less get up and dance music.” Ellis added: “we’re definitely a little off-center from the music scene [at Bowdoin].”
The three have all found that being a part of Westrio has had a huge impact on their Bowdoin experience. Walker said that joining the band “totally changed things for me at Bowdoin.”
Sullivan, who had been unable to run on the track team due to injuries since he arrived last year, said that Westrio is one of his main commitments on campus.
“Freshman year, you don’t really know where to go, in terms of friends,” Sullivan said. “Westrio was the first stable, fun friend experience I had. It was the first strong connection I made with anyone or anything here.”
Ellis mentioned he has “become much closer friends playing music with [Walker and Sullivan]. Having a common goal brings you together in a way that you wouldn’t get just hanging out.”
For Walker and Ellis, the experience of being in a band is completely new. All three had come from musical backgrounds; however, Westrio presents a unique opportunity for all of them. Even for Sullivan, who had been involved in bands in high school, said that their band is “very different” because it was “space-rock shoe-gaze genre.” Ellis only started playing the banjo last year, when the trio thought that it was a good addition to the group. The idea to include the instrument actually derived from their desire to perform a Mumford and Sons song at the cross-country talent show.
The band has come a long way since then, and is constantly experimenting and trying to improve itself.
“I think we have good energy,” Walker said. “We may not be the rowdiest band out there, but we have a pretty fun time.”