Isolation Drills: Dreamswell

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.

As a band, we would like to say: Please love and care for one another. It is all of our jobs to be each other’s allies and stand up for those whose voices aren’t being heard. Here are two organization we stand by and stand with to elevate their voices: Morris Home and Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

Gina Piccari (guitar, vocals): I got called to a meeting with my friends/bosses on March 13 about potentially having to shut down both venues (Union Transfer and the Boot & Saddle). I thought to myself, “Boot will be fine! We are 200 capacity. There’s no way we will have shows cancelled.” Then, one by one, my phone lit up, email notification after email notification. I started to see my whole career and livelihood flash before my eyes. I’ve worked in the bar/restaurant and live-music industry for more than 15 years now, and I have never felt the feeling of panic like I did when we were told to close “until further notice.” My heart sunk down to my gut, pushing all my anxiety and fear up my throat into mouth, eyes and head. It’s been four-plus months, and with every week live music venues stay empty, the less likely they will be able to return. 

I typically start every morning thinking: I miss my job. I miss my friends. I miss playing shows. I miss booking shows. I miss getting yelled at by the guy waving his credit card at me to order drinks, only to go over to him to find out he doesn’t know what he wants. I miss learning from artists. I miss being called “Excuse me, I’ll have a vodka soda with lime.” I miss watching people file out of the venue soaking wet with smiles ear to ear. I miss carrying buckets of ice up and down the steps. I miss meeting people from all over the country and world. I miss live music. It wasn’t as bad when this first started, but as the months drag on, it gets worse and worse.

Besides spending every single second hanging with my dog because I actually have all this time with her since I am not working, I’ve been trying to keep myself busy for the sake of my mental health. I’ve tried to dive head first into my other hobbies: building shelves and plant hangers, learning some photography, Photoshop, Illustrator and stuff like that. I’ve also been learning a lot of handiwork stuff from my dad. I think I may be able to build my own house after all this (ha ha ha). I’ve never had this much free time before, ever, so I’ve been making sure I learn and appreciate everything I can from my dad (the smartest, kindest dude in the whole world).

I haven’t had much inspiration to write music. I find myself setting alarms in my phone that say “PLAY MUSIC,” and then just end up snoozing it and getting distracted by house projects. But my bandmates and friends have been the biggest supports for me to get the ball rolling on finishing up new Dreamswell stuff. Hopefully, we can have the bones of a new record outlined for when we can start practicing and playing together again.

Since we’re all reading this because we’re all music lovers, if you are looking for ways to support musicians/bands/artists/venues/arts, a great organization formed right now is NIVA: National Independent Venue Association (@nivassoc). They’re collecting signatures to ask local representatives for financial support while all live events are closed until further notice. It’s honestly not looking good at all for the entertainment industry, especially the live-music/festival industry, which both give jobs to millions of Americans and create billions in revenue for cities and states. This industry will never be able to recover unless there’s immediate, specific support for venues, artists and entertainment-industry workers, so please check out NIVA for ways you can help. #saveourstages

Candice Martello (guitar): I miss my band. Dreamswell forces me to make music, and I need that. I have anxiety about it until we plug in and start playing together, and then I remember how fun it is. Before lockdown, we had just played our first show in NYC, and when I think about how tight of a space it was with everyone so close together, it feels like a different dimension. It really blows my mind how much has happened in the world since then. I’ve been keeping busy living with a kid. I try to play music when I can, but mostly end up uninspired. My girlfriend and I are determined to beat Super Mario before we have to go back to work, which as bartenders, is very uncertain. Other than that, I’ve been doing what most people I know are doing, which is constantly reading the news and trying to figure out different ways to donate, sign petitions and vote to help the revolution that’s happening. 

Jade Whalen (bass): COVID World Tour 2020: You’re attending whether you want to or not! Let’s fucking do this then. 2020 was shaping into a great year for my bandmates and me. We really made an effort to rehearse regularly, and we always had an upcoming show to prepare for. Besides Dreamswell, I play in two other bands. Staying busy playing music keeps my head on straight and gives me a sense of satisfaction I don’t get anywhere else. Creativity seemed to be on max flow for all of us: spirits were high, shows were booked, gear was purchased. We were working hard on two new singles that we got to play at our last two shows on March 6 and 7. We were focused on the upcoming show season, a tour was in the works, and it felt like Philly’s music scene was flourishing.

I’m sure anyone reading this is aware that none of those great plans came to fruition. COVID crashed the 2020 party my bandmates and I were enjoying. In the first few weeks of the outbreak, I purchased a lot of recording gear so that we could spend the downtime being productive. I was definitely in a bit of denial and did not think I’d be here in July writing about how this “never-ending COVID World Tour” is still affecting my bandmates and me. 

I had so much motivation during March and April, at some point, I felt my focus slip more and more. I think I depleted my energy for a bit there, but I’m on the rebound now! I think we’re all adjusting to the social-distance life but starting to get a little restless—which is great for writing new tunes. I think all of us are taking things day by day; that’s all we can do, and I’m excited to get to a point where we can safely get together and work on new Dreamswell material. I’m an optimist, even though that’s been especially challenging recently, and I’m excited to get back to working on our craft with my crew.

Jon Martello (drums): As the city was in the midst of snatching up every roll of toilet paper they could get their hands on, I was being grilled by a wealthy resident of Rittenhouse Square for not letting her use the microwave at my work. She later called our corporate offices and demanded that they fire every single employee who stood in the way of her and some turmeric bone broth. It was this moment that pretty much set the tone for my quarantine; I was considered essential but not essential enough for rich socialites to treat me with any dignity or respect. God forbid I or COVID stand between them and their gluten-free lifestyle.

When the new year rang in—actually three hours after it rang in, after I had eaten that kind of mushroom—I promised myself that 2020 was the year of clear vision. It was going to be the year that I got back on track and forced myself to make up for lost time. Fast forward to now, and I’ve got nothing but lost time. I’d love to say that I achieved something during this time: that I’ve picked up cross stitching or written the next great American novel, but the only thing I’ve truly achieved is a few extra pounds since discovering Rosario’s Mexican pizza.

From the moment people were tagging me on Instagram to do some kind of new challenge, I immediately lost all motivation to do anything. Everyone suddenly had all this extra time, but I was still on a regiment of going to work and coming home only to watch things like The Simpsons or The Sopranos, shows I had seen countless times but simply needed so I could hold on to some semblance of normality. I’ve been on a steady binge of pure nostalgia throughout this fiasco. 

Going places like music venues and movie theaters was really my only escape to break up the monotony in day-to-day life. I miss my friends, I miss my family, and I miss Dreamswell. The three things that keep me hanging by a thread have been snipped away for months now. I’d like to think that things will return to the way they used to be, but I’m not entirely sure things will ever be the same. I hope that at some point we’ll all be back together to drink copious amounts of beer in cramped basements and dimly lit venues, but until then I’ll just have to put up with these rich idiots who can’t cook for themselves.