Isolation Drills: Lia Menaker

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.

Menaker: Between five months in quarantine mode (and counting), the recent and much needed attention on Black lives and social justice, a mini tornado that sent 100-foot trees onto my property and me out of the house for a week, getting engaged last month, and releasing my first self-produced/self-recorded record amongst it all, I can definitely say there’s been a lot going on. None of which I ever could’ve imagined colliding all at once, and all of which sends about 10 different emotions running through my veins at all times.

But if I step back a bit, I have to admit that for most of the time we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve felt pretty lucky. I live in my music room/home studio and spend most of my time writing, playing, livestreaming and continuing to teach much of my private voice and piano lessons online.  I also released my I Am Kyrøs EP on June 16, so I’ve spent a lot of my time preparing for that, which has kept me busy.

Releasing the record was a whole process in and of itself. The songs were written while navigating my early 30s and the self-perceptions, dreams, needs and struggles that constantly arose. They’re meant to explore the very human thing we do: where we claim identities for ourselves that we feel both comforted and limited by—fixed identities we develop entire stories and lives around. But never did I imagine I’d be releasing it during such a difficult time for the world!

As we come to terms with the facts that our systems are failing us—the justice system, the health system—I think now more than ever, the world needs music, especially music that asks us to reflect on who we are and how we live our lives. We need music to help us express, reflect, release and unite us. To help us reexamine on a personal level who we’ve become, what we want to be and what needs shifting in our lives. And maybe even to bring some peace, joy or healing. The process of writing these songs has done that for me, and I hope more than anything that it can do this for others as well.

All in all, I’m thankful that I have these incredible trees and greenery around my house, so I can get out into nature. I’m also equally thankful that I haven’t been too affected by canceled gigs during lockdown. I happened to switch from in-person shows to mostly virtual gigs back in November, months before the pandemic hit. I really only did about one in-person show a per month and would livestream three days a week on Twitch.

For various reasons, this approach has made more sense with my current lifestyle. I still stream on Twitch and recently started a Patreon that I’m very excited about! But I have to admit that during such an isolating time, I miss the experience of live music so much—both from a performing standpoint and as an audience member. I feel like I need it right now, like it would be the ultimate prescription for everything going on. 

On a positive note, I do notice a widespread hunger to create and express, so all these collaborations are popping up, which is exciting! That’s definitely one of the positives in all of this. From my home studio, I’m working on a tune with a jazz/funk band in Paris, adding vocals to a rap song and cowriting another tune with a friend in New York City. I’m feeling really inspired creatively, and with the world on pause, I don’t feel the same pressures I typically feel. So creating feels freer in a way.