Isolation Drills: Matt Wanamaker (Maps & His Mothball Fleet)

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.

Wanamaker: This actually isn’t all that unusual for me. Not that I’ve ever been quarantined before, but I’m a Navy vet, so I’m used to being isolated for long periods of time and figuring out how to cope and thrive. Going a few months without seeing my friends, going to shows or eating at my favorite restaurants isn’t as much of a challenge right now as it was when I was doing it for two-to-three times longer overseas. The biggest difference now is that I can have a beer at the end of the day.

This neighborhood has been a great place to ride it out. Every time I step outside, there’s someone to talk to about what’s going on in the world or just how there’s a new cardinal nest in that tree over there. We also have some great musicians on the block, from a Philly Pops violinist to the city’s best drag-artist opera singer, and we’ve been having socially distant porch concerts since early April.

The stereotype that people in big cities live closer together but don’t know their neighbors is flat-out false. I can name every person on this block, and it’s a diverse group that really looks out for each other. There’s nothing better for mental health and resilience than a strong sense of community, and I wouldn’t want to spend the quarantine anywhere else.

I also recognize that I’m privileged enough to still have a day job and that I can do it from home. I’m not struggling like my friends in food service or who make their living through their art. There have still been challenges as a musician, which I’m sure for this series is what you’re really asking.

The biggest is that my second album with Maps & His Mothball Fleet was supposed to come out earlier this year but was pushed back to August. The delay was a good idea, but we’re still not going to be able to promote it by touring even then. That’s a bummer for sure, since we only got to do a few shows in support of the last record and had bigger plans to really hit the road hard this time around.

On the plus side, musically, is probably what you’ll hear from a lot of songwriters: Isolation is a fertile time! On my last two Navy deployments, I wrote about 50 songs each on my downtime that evolved to full albums, and I’m treating this “new normal” the same way. I know they’re not all winners, and most will never go farther than my notepad, but I enjoy the process as a distraction and just can’t stop.

I’m also finally getting enough practice time on the guitar to accompany the new songs live with it. That’s a big development for a guy who usually just rocks a tambourine onstage. If my plans for having the new Maps & His Mothball Fleet single, “Coastal Living,” become 2020’s Song Of The Summer pan out, I’m not going in to the Post-COVID World Domination Tour with just a tambourine.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing and what I’m going to keep on doing until we get out from under this thing. In the meantime, be good to each other, support local artists/businesses, and unless someone from MAGNET drops by to photograph you from more than 10 feet away, wear a damn mask.

Maps & His Mothball Fleet’s “Coastal Living” is available today on Spotify. It’s off upcoming album, Gulf, due August 21.