Jherek Bischoff Walks a Tricky Line

Jherek Bischoff

Jherek Bischoff

Ah, the life of the itinerant musician, roaming the wide world with a guitar to play and a song to sing! Or, in the case of Jherek Bischoff, with a symphony to write and an orchestra to conduct.

The 34-year-old musician recently moved from Seattle to Los Angeles (for the weather, he says). The day we speak in early August, he’s just started composing a commissioned piece for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; that’ll play at the Brooklyn Opera House in November. On Sept. 4, Bischoff lands in Seattle for a homecoming performance at the Moore. Immediately afterward he flies to Australia—where he spent seven weeks recording earlier this year—to play bass for pop star Missy Higgins on a two-month national tour. (“She’s a big deal over there.”) When that wraps up, he flies to Vienna to rehearse a musical he composed for the Schauspielhaus Wien, an acclaimed theatre in a city full of them, famous for its production of new works. He won’t be back in LA—to, you know, actually begin living there—until December. That’s when he’ll start work on his second solo album, a follow-up to his masterful debut, 2012’s Composed.

We’re exhausted just writing about it.

About that show at the Moore: Expect something more intimate than the large-scale orchestral pop Bischoff is known for. And something more abstract. In 2011, Bischoff spent a month at Fort Worden State Park outside of Port Angeles, part of his Centrum residency funded by Artist Trust. While he was there he discovered something called the area’s Cistern, an empty, two-million-gallon underground water tank. Inside the Cistern with a couple of friends, Bischoff recorded music on his laptop (rigged to a car battery for power) and found a new direction for his composition: a spacious, reverb-heavy style he calls “ambient orchestral.” 

Why the smaller group this time?
The more I’ve been playing with smaller ensembles, the more I feel it benefits my music. With an orchestra the personality of each player doesn’t come out—that’s the nature of the orchestra. The smaller ensemble heightens the intensity. When the viola player is the only viola player playing that part, they have to get it right. I also wanna take the chance to highlight these specific people who are the ensemble, who are all people who have greatly inspired me, players I was friends with and working with at the time I was making Composed and was taking my first step into the classical world. I’m completely self-taught; I still don’t now what the heck I’m doing most of the time. They were always there saying, “You got it! Write it down, get it close and we’ll figure it out.” It really inspired me to be a composer and head down this path I’m on now. I wanted to take the chance to celebrate them and the music we’ve made together. Do it with just my deepest crew.

Seattle has a really strong field of artists in this pop-classical-jazz realm right now.
This has been the one time in my life where I accidentally ended up a part of something that was building right at that moment, and feeling like I’m part of something exciting happening. When I’ve been in bands I would play weird indie rock music—but that had always been around. When I made Composed I wasn’t even familiar with other chamber pop, as people call it. With my record being out I noticed people want this kind of music: How amazing! Usually I’m looking at other people like, “Man, it would be great making that music at that time. Why didn’t I think of that?” I’m actually doing something that feels of the moment and really good.

You’re collectively walking this line between genres, which is really exciting but also hard to place.
It’s tricky. All my favorite music and art are things that walk that line between genres. That’s where exciting things happen. If you’re a rock band, you’re like, “This is what we do, we show up and just rock out shows.” If you’re a classical ensemble, you’re saying “We can play this Mozart piece super well and you’re familiar with it already and check it out.” Whereas with me it’s kinda classical, it’s kinda pop, it’s different every time we play it, different players and singers. We’re mixing it up. I understand why it’s a tricky sell but I hope it’s not for long.

Jherek Bischoff
The Moore Theatre
Sept. 4