Isolation Drills: Chris Wilson (Ted Leo, Titus Andronicus, Hammered Hulls, Hound)

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.

On March 12, my band Hammered Hulls played the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. The next day, the venue tweeted that they were cancelling all events for the foreseeable future. The evening before, at practice, we learned that the first band on the bill dropped off, and we wondered if we should do the same.

We wound up playing to a quarter of the folks who bought advance tickets. In hindsight, not cancelling might’ve been a little irresponsible on our part, but as far as we know, no one was infected with the virus that night, and it’s been a nice “last night out before lockdown” memory to hold on to these last couple months.

The next day, we were at Inner Ear Studio beginning to record our debut LP when I got the news that I had been laid off from one of my jobs. Shortly after, I got a call from my sister that my grandfather had died. I finished my drum tracks the next day, took a completely empty Amtrak back to Philly, got in the car with my fiancée and began the 18-hour journey to Arkansas.

I don’t think either of us will ever forget the 2,400-mile round-trip drive to a funeral during a global pandemic, but I’m glad that my family was able to get closure. I know so many folks have had loved ones pass during this and aren’t able to celebrate that person’s life. Not to mention all the people who are ill and alone in hospitals. 

So far, I’ve lost three tours—including one that would’ve brought me to Poland for the first time and my first Irish shows in a decade. One coast-to-coast trip is still on the table, but I’m checking my inbox daily for word that it too will be called off. Fortunately, none of these shows had been announced, so the majority of them will be rescheduled for next year (fingers crossed), and we didn’t have to make the difficult decision to pull the plug and head home in the middle of a world tour like our friends Algiers, who Hammered Hulls played with that night in March before everything locked down.

Financially, I don’t rely solely on music to pay the bills. I’m getting a little unemployment, and when Bandcamp did a fee-free day (where they waive their fee and give 100% of the money to the artists), Titus Andronicus put up a live set from the soundboard at 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown, W.V., from last year, which a surprising number of people downloaded, and we were able to split up the proceeds from that. Look for Bandcamp’s next fee-free day; every little bit helps!

I’m the kind of person who wants to do all of the things all of the time, so it’s hard to let an entire year of my musical life pass by. But it’s been made a little easier knowing that those shows will be rescheduled and that two of my bands have complete albums that are just waiting for it to be safe enough for two people to be in the same room together while one of them spits lyrics into a microphone.

Thankfully my practice space has not been on lockdown, so I’ve been going there a couple times a week trying to stay productive on my own. My hope is to come out of this healthy and playing better than ever.

In the five weeks since I wrote the above, the closest thing to a revolution that I’ve witnessed in my time has been taking place. It’s inspiring to watch and take part in. But we’ve got to keep fighting. I urge you to donate to an organization that speaks to you if you’re able.

Write, call or email a politician who you think is not doing right by their people (Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron are a few examples). As my bandmate Ted Leo once sang, “Pull on your boots and march.”

Black lives matter.