Deborah Bowen, singer for Bushoong and makeup artist | Chicagoans of Note | Chicago Reader

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Deborah Bowen, singer for Bushoong and makeup artist

“A lot of musicians around this time are suffering from the thought of not being able to perform. There’s a certain level of anxiety.”

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Bushoong: Ron Gray, Glover Washington, Deborah Bowen, and Kemet Pryor - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • Bushoong: Ron Gray, Glover Washington, Deborah Bowen, and Kemet Pryor

Deborah Bowen is a makeup artist and the lead singer for the group Bushoong, who have been performing together since 2000.


As told to Salem Collo-Julin

I'm originally from the west side of Chicago. My bass player in Bushoong, Kemet Pryor, is also originally from the west side, but he now lives on the south side. My guitar player, Ron Gray, and my drummer, Glover Washington, are both from the south side.

In the late 90s and early 00s, I was working for a record store called George's Music Room on the west side of Chicago. I worked for George until about 2005. I started like in . . . 1997? Yeah, it was a long time. I got to see a lot of different artists come in. I met so many interesting nice people. Once, Fab Five Freddy hosted the backyard party that we would do every summer. We would have so many artists perform in the backyard, and there would be a barbecue. It was almost a block party, there were so many people—so many celebrities and just industry people that would come out because George Daniels himself knew so many people.

In 2000, I had just finished doing a recording project with the band that I worked with at the time called Mainstream Breakdown, and my guitar player just happened to be playing the finished project outside the store, sitting in his car. I only knew Kemet at the time because he was just a customer who would come into the store to buy records or just talk to everyone. Kemet happened to hear the music in the car, and I guess the guitarist told him about me. A few weeks later Kemet came into the store and told me he was searching for someone to do vocals for one of his projects.

So I was under the impression that I was coming over to his apartment to meet the rest of his band and do some background vocals, and it wasn't until I got there that I realized that I was auditioning for a lead part. I probably would have talked myself out of it had I known that before I came.

  • Bushoong's most recent album came out in 2018.

Music was something that I really enjoyed doing growing up. I don't remember a time when I wasn't into music. I mean, I would have dreams and stuff of performing onstage, and I would play dress-up like the singers did onstage with grown-woman heels on and a slip over my head. When I became a teenager, I auditioned for different girl groups that don't even exist now. I did that kind of music for a minute, until I realized that that wasn't really the direction that I wanted to go into. I just felt like it was something that I should do.

I always had a really true love for rock music, and I just so happened to meet up with some people over the years who were also into rock music and had bands. Over the years I would go to different bands' rehearsals and watch them perform. I eventually just made my way in somehow.

I didn't have the experience of seeing live local shows when I was young, because I just wasn't around a lot of rock concerts when I was younger. I went to several Prince concerts. I'm a huge Prince fan. In Bushoong we've always set out to reach the widest spectrum of people. We're definitely open to different styles of music. I've always wanted to do a wide range of music, and to me Prince is the perfect example of that. I went to see Lenny Kravitz a couple of times. I went to see the Black Crowes, but as far as local bands? That didn't start until I started performing.

Some of the local bands I've loved playing with—I'll say the biggest thing that comes to mind is Illaziam. They are, well, they were an all-Black rock band. And Calvin Chaos from the Haterz. We did a tribute concert for him in June of last year [at Second Unitarian Church]. We also played on bills with Small Change, Almost Rosario, the Moses Gun, Soma Sound, and Earth Program.

  • Bushoong's 2005 debut album

I remember when there was a time when as a band you always had more control over who you played with on a bill. You could just bring on your sister band or another band that you've played with. Some clubs still run it that way, but most clubs seem to want to be in control of who you play with, and unfortunately sometimes the bands they pick don't have anything to do with your genre of music. Now, nothing is wrong with that in itself, but as far as bringing a good crowd in to come and see you play—that's a challenge. Gallery Cabaret happens to be one of my favorite places; they still do the old-school way. You can pretty much set up the show to your liking, and there are so many local people that come through there on a regular basis. The crowd that's there seems to be really open to a wide range of different types of music—even if you set up a show yourself that has a band that has absolutely nothing to do with the sound of your band, the audience will still be very much open to it. Unfortunately it's not always the same way at different clubs.

Bushoong gets together to rehearse as often we can. We try to do it once a week, but with the way that things are it's kind of difficult now—with the whole lockdown. My bandmates all also play with other bands and do other side work, so whenever we have time, we commit. As far as the secret to us all getting along—you gotta kind of treat it like a marriage. Everyone has to be open to criticism—constructive criticism. There has to be trust; that's just the very foundation of it. You have to trust each other. I think that's what has gotten us through a lot and has allowed us to last as long as we have. We have seen other people that we have played with that are no longer together.

We performed online on our Facebook Live page in July, and we definitely have plans on continuing to do that. The motivation for doing that was to fight depression. A lot of musicians around this time are suffering from the thought of not being able to perform. There's a certain level of anxiety that myself and other musicians are going through now. So there was a need to find a way to perform, in the safest way to do it. And then also to give other people something to look at, some type of entertainment while all this stuff is going on.

A lot of people are feeling down and feeling like a prisoner. When you're a person that's used to being able to go out and enjoy live concerts and stuff like that, it's hard. For a lot of people that's their outlet.

If you're the type that feels the need to be creative and constantly being out there and doing it, it's really tough. It's like, "OK, what do I do now?" You have all of this energy and you need to use it to do something.

It's scary for a lot of artists. We had to figure out another way to do it, because we have to do it. The positive side of livestreaming is that some of the people who normally wouldn't be able to make it out to our shows were able to just watch it right on Facebook. That's definitely positive. So some of the people we weren't able to reach before—we're able to do that now.

  • Bushoong perform their original song "Read My Mind" at Gallery Cabaret in 2015.

I'm a freelance makeup artist, and I do makeup for all types of people, but my main clientele were people in transition. But there's no way to really do makeup now. All of that had to be put on pause. I'm kind of going stir-crazy. So that was another motivation to work on the music—it's like, "OK, we have to make this work."

Our latest album is called Beautiful, and it came out two years ago. We have our music on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon. The song "Read My Mind" on Beautiful is one that I like. It's a song that we decided to make a little more bluesy, just a little bit different than our usual.

  • Bushoong play "War Pigs" at Gallery Cabaret in January 2020.

We love to cover Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" at live shows. There's kind of no rhyme or reason for what started it. We were just rehearsing one day during our earlier years, and I was learning to project more then, because Bushoong plays with much more aggression than the band that I was singing with before. So we tried to practice some songs that we thought would be a good challenge. In my opinion my voice isn't always the most feminine sounding at times, so I just wanted to find a song that I could sing and sort of play around with the sound. Sabbath is one of the bands that we all have a love for.  v

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