Isolation Drills: Red Desert Motel

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Tony Yates (vocals, guitar): Looking at the Isolation Drills posts that have gone up before ours, it dawns on me that everyone looks and sounds cooler than me. (I would say “us” as a band, but Tim’s pretty cool, too.) 

I just got over a case of hiccups before I wrote this. I realize hiccups are pretty insignificant in almost any circumstance. I almost never get them, but when I do, I immediately attempt the remedies we all learn when we’re little. Whether you’re waiting for a spoonful of sugar to dissolve in your mouth or drinking water super slow or just trying not to hiccup, you can’t help but feel a little silly. And eventually they go away. You don’t exactly know when or what made them go away. You’re just glad they’re gone. I hope this passes for most of us in a similar way.

We don’t know quite how this time will look when we look back on it. And we won’t know until it’s behind us. We’re still in it right now, and it’s scary. And not silly.

Tim and I have been playing together for a few years. We’d played a bunch of gigs and released an EP, but we hadn’t really done much with livestreams. A few weeks ago we were getting ready to do our first livestream, when I mentioned to Tim’s son something about my misgivings. Seems like any time you look on social media, somebody’s going live from somewhere. Without hesitating, he replied matter-of-factly, “Yeah, but if that’s all you can do right now.”

We’ve all been pushed in different directions as of late. Tim and I gonna keep “doing what we can do” and hope you’re all doing the same. Can’t wait to see some faces, new and familiar, when it’s safe to do so. 

Take care!!

Tim Zatzariny Jr. (upright bass, vocals): I’ve spent some time during quarantine checking out livestreams by musicians from Philly and South Jersey. Some are my friends, some I’ve never met. But I hope we can play shows with all of them someday soon. I’ve been impressed by their resiliency and their ability to shift to a different way of presenting their music. South Jersey often gets overlooked in terms of its music and arts scene, but there are a lot of really talented people down here.

We’ve done a couple livestreams ourselves (while practicing appropriate social distancing), and they went pretty well. When we livestreamed a set of Uncle Tupelo/Wilco covers, we were able to raise some money for the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. Like shelters around the country, they’re struggling right now, so ever little bit helps. Another livestream was a set of Sam Cooke covers. We’re trying to expand our horizons a little, so we’re not just that boom-chicka-boom band all the time.

I’ve also been spending time playing along to older jazz (especially anything with Paul Chambers on bass) so I can get better at walking the bass. Playing along with a recording by Mr. P.C. sure isn’t easy, but my walking definitely sounds less wobbly these days.

I own a small record shop called On The Record in downtown Woodbury, and things were going really well until we had to close in late March. We’ve shifted to online sales for now, and that’s kept the shop afloat. I’ve been really grateful for the support from our online customers. People seem to want music in their lives now more than ever. Not so much as a distraction, but as a tangible reminder they’re still connected to the world outside. 

John Prine’s passing in April hit Tony and me really hard. As songwriters, he was one of our biggest influences. The storytelling, his ability to speak directly to the listener—those are skills to which we aspire. I hope once we start playing live shows again, we can be part of a John Prine tribute show or two. So, if you’re organizing a John Prine tribute show, give us a call.

Although I usually start writing songs by coming up with lyrics, I’m constantly recording bass riffs on my phone. At least some of those bits and pieces are going to become songs. Our plan had been to go into the studio in the spring to start recording a double album. By the time this is over, we’ll have enough material for a triple.