Of two minds: Housemates cohabitate and collaborate

For cellist and songwriter Wes Swing and visual artist Bolanle Adeboye, living in the same Woolen Mills house has resulted in plenty of creative collaboration. Photo: John Robinson For cellist and songwriter Wes Swing and visual artist Bolanle Adeboye, living in the same Woolen Mills house has resulted in plenty of creative collaboration. Photo: John Robinson

Sitting on a bench full of pillows at a large, round wooden table she made with her own hands, Bolanle Adeboye smears veggie cream cheese on both halves of a cinnamon raisin bagel. The visual artist is fighting a cold, and her housemate, cellist and songwriter Wes Swing, asks if she’d prefer a cup of coffee or a mug of tea to soothe her throat.

Coffee, Adeboye answers. Definitely coffee.

As Swing brews coffee, they try to figure out (upon this reporter’s prompting) when they met. Adeboye can’t quite remember when, but Swing’s pretty sure he knows. It was 2009, maybe 2010, and Swing was playing a show at The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. Swing noticed that Adeboye was drawing.

Adeboye told Swing that she liked drawing to music, and Swing asked to see what she’d made.  He was intrigued by her work, and they talked art for a while.

Holding a hot mug of coffee in both hands, Adeboye is touched by the fact that Swing remembers that interaction so clearly. “I do remember being blown away by your music the first time I heard it,” she tells Swing. “It was like magic.”

That drawing was perhaps their first collaboration, though an unofficial one. At the time, neither artist had any idea that they’d end up housemates, a living situation that has led to a fruitful creative partnership.

At that point, Adeboye was living in the downstairs apartment of a house in Woolen Mills, a space she’d shared since 2002 with a variety of roommates, all artists of some kind. Not long after making album art for Swing’s 2011 album Through A Fogged Glass, and an animated video for the song “Lullaby,” Adeboye was looking for a new roommate, and Swing, who was looking for a place to live, seemed cool enough to her.

After all, Adeboye says, laughing, she’d heard “Lullaby” a thousand times or more at that point, and she knew she could live with his music.

Adeboye has owned the Woolen Mills house since 2003, and has been slowly renovating it. In 2017, she moved up to the second floor and Swing, who’d briefly left to live in San Francisco, moved back in and took over the first floor apartment. Now the two hang out together, on both levels, often.

On this particular morning, late winter sun shines through the first floor windows, soaking the entire place in beams of light; it’s a veritable showroom for Adeboye’s craftsmanship and vision. She designed the open but cozy floor plan, made much of the furniture and accent pieces (including light fixtures), and covered the walls with her paintings and mixed-media pieces. It’s all “driven by available repurposed and salvaged building materials, determined by ever-shifting function,” says Adeboye of the abode.

“It’s like waking up in an art gallery,” says Swing, who feels constantly comforted and inspired by the house…so much so, that he likes to stay home, and as a result, he makes a lot of music. “It’s the perfect space for making stuff,” he adds.

What’s more, says Adeboye, the home and its décor constantly evolves, so “you have to be comfortable with chaos and uncertainty and change.”

“’Live with it.’ That’s the motto here,” says Swing.

And they do. The sonorous sound of Swing’s cello drifts upstairs to Adeboye’s ears, where she’s usually working on her own apartment (it’s still a work-in-progress), or on one of her fine-art pieces. Adeboye has put a lot of time and thought into creating her living environment, making real her longtime vision for how her life would look, feel, and sound. Strangely enough, she says, when she thought of the sound aspect, she imagined cello. Adeboye didn’t grow up playing an instrument, but she always loved music, and cello in particular.

Adeboye puts down her bagel and puts her hand over her heart. “This is just making me so grateful for my life,” she says to Swing. “I thought I was going to marry a cellist, but instead I just live with one. I don’t actually have to marry one, which is awesome,” she says, laughing.

Swing knows Adeboye’s home when he hears her walking around upstairs or playing electric guitar; Adeboye knows Swing’s home when she hears him playing cello or singing. There’s no setting a time to meet and discuss ideas. All it takes is walking up or down the stairs when inspiration (which can be a vulnerable state of being) strikes. Living in close proximity has cultivated trust in many forms.

They often tackle maintenance projects together (most recently a broken dryer), and there’s no hassle over collecting the rent.

Over time, the nature of their collaboration has evolved from Adeboye creating visuals to and for Swing’s recorded music and live performances into something more intertwined.

Their most recent collaboration, “Now/Now,” is an interactive project in which Adeboye and Swing, along with their audience, produce real-time musical and visual representations of the audience’s reported emotional states. So far, they’ve brought iterations of it into local schools and jails, to various community art performances, and to a school for the deaf and blind in Florida. Each time, it’s a little different, depending on the participants, but the core—the idea of being and creating in the moment, with the people around you—remains the same.

“It took a lot for me to be willing to go there,” says Swing about the intensely collaborative nature of “Now/Now.” He says that before working with Adeboye—who brings chalkboards and sticks of chalk to her visual art shows so that people can react creatively to what she’s doing—he hesitated to work with other artists of any kind, lest they misunderstand or misinterpret his vision. Swing now sees that relinquishing some of that control can yield some pretty spectacular results.

Adeboye says that Swing’s transformed her work, too—she consciously incorporates more interactivity, she’s branching out into other media (such as light boxes), and she’s taught herself to play electric guitar.

Collaboration is such a natural thing for them that they begin a new one as they polish off their breakfast. Swing tells Adeboye that while lying in bed the previous night, he imagined the inside of the Woolen Mills Chapel filled floor to ceiling with her projections.

Adeboye chews her last bite of bagel, thinks it over. “Alright, we’ll talk,” she says, giggling as she realizes: They already are.