Isolation Drills: Ill Doots

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.

Ill Doots: Collectively, we’ve been processing and adjusting to the new normal as best we can. It’s given us time to rest, plan and activate the continued mission of learning, living and loving. Pre-COVID, we were gearing up for a release show for our upcoming album, The Mess.

When we realized that the city would be shut down for longer than a few weeks, we started thinking about alternative options to commemorate the release. Which then sparked our idea to migrate the celebration online. So, these past months we have been preparing to share a place for us and fellow artists to think out loud, to let out the art within us as a means of healing and activism. We call this sharing and airing-out event, The Let Out.

(n.) a pre-determined location—decided upon among friends—that signifies where to meet after an event has ended: a party, club, church, movie, date, work, etc. Or even right outside of the event itself. 

In our case, The Let Out is an online meetup, the official event celebrating the successful release of Ill Doots’ second studio album, The Mess; the album will release earlier in the day, and this event will be in the evening after an afternoon of livestreamed listening parties. The Let Out will also be an “outlet” for our 30-plus fellow artists of all genres to share their work and “let out” the stories, songs and expressions that have been building within us in these truly unprecedented times.

Finally, the title of our event aligns with our mission in partnering with the Village of Arts and Humanities: to abolish youth incarceration. Let them out.

Isolation Drills: Ali Awan

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.

Awan: Before the COVID virus became a pandemic, I had a tour booked like a lot of other musicians. It had to be cancelled, but boo hoo. It was necessary. 

I don’t think music or the business side of it will ever die, but people will. Whether it’s by a virus or systematic oppression and brutality. Our country’s “leaders” have dropped the ball repeatedly on all fronts: politically, morally, economically, you name it.

We have to stay the course together. Protests are still happening, and action can still be taken. We can’t let desensitization and misinformation overwhelm and divide us. Anger pointed in the wrong direction becomes hate, fear and revenge. Anger pointed in the right direction becomes education, reform and justice.

The effects of both this pandemic and cultural revolution are global. I believe our collective reactions to them have the same potential.

I’ve been using my personal time to work on different types of art and random projects around the house. Lots of cooking, reading and music/podcasts as well. I will release new music when the vibe feels right. Or, at least, as right as it can during this time.

Stay well, and thanks for reading.

Here are links to a Google Doc of national resources in relation to the BLM/cultural movement and a COVID-19 testing-site resource.

Isolation Drills: Chris Kasper

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.

Layin’ low in lockdown and haven’t been going anywhere. Staying busy by renovating an old country house in Chester County, Pa., built a recording studio in the garage, a chicken coop out back, rain collector, garden … One day we’ll get to the bunker. The house is close to hiking trails, the Brandywine Creek and a thing called the Stargazers’ Stone that I think has magic powers. It’s such a beautiful area, but I have a lot of family that I miss, friends I’d love to see and places I’d like to visit this summer, but I’m in no rush to risk anyone’s health.

I had to up my communication practices and try to take advantage of social media in a more personal way whereas before, it was mostly business and bad jokes. I’ve been working on songs bits and soundscapes, slow jamming into the a.m. and just having fun making noise during this isolation, even if it never sees the light of day. It’s good brain/soul exercise, and I’m refining my studio production skills. I got a few decent mics, a computer and an old four-track reel-to-reel tape machine, as well as a large variety of instruments including an old tractor out back that I hit with a stick and sample as drum parts. I’ve been posting a few creations here and there on my Patreon page like early demos, new songs and videos.

Once in a while, I’ll put things on Facebook and Instagram, but I haven’t really been flooding anyone with content. Instead I’ve been doing a livestream concert every Sunday (7 p.m. EST), taking requests and being weird, which has been great, and my fans have been unbelievable. Their donations and tips have helped keep me afloat and allowed me to donate to various charities and tip other artists. For that, my heart is full and the urge to play for an audience is fulfilled (sorta). 

All of my shows have been rescheduled for 2021, so I’m trying to maintain a sane level of balance with runaway emotions, basic logic, focused energy, etc. Besides a few gut punches, like the passing of John Prine, Bill Withers and Gene Shay (among others), things haven’t been too heavy. I’ve been inspired by watching friends’ live shows online, loving Dylan’s new record, watching old movies, learning survival tips on YouTube. If I get a little stir crazy, I’ll have some coffee and weed and go for a walk or throw a ball and watch my dog explode with joy. Since no touring musician, manager or venue worker will be going back to work anytime soon, getting back to that old normal is off the table. It’s time to get creative or just wait it out. 

I also think many of us are waking up to a new voice inside of us, too, a new consciousness even. COVID-19 limited our distractions, and we were forced to live with ourselves and left to our own devices. We all saw the brutal murder of George Floyd and could not turn away. We had a different presence with it after that long period of lockdown, and we absorbed the full nature of what was going on and how deep the problem was rooted.

It was a wake-up call to the fact that far too many innocent lives have been killed by the hands of racist authority figures; destroying systemic racism throughout our beautiful American landscape should’ve been our first priority as a nation all along. It’s been amazing to watch millions speak up and speak out against this injustice with their newly found voices. Taking it to the streets was also necessary and worth the risk of gathering in large crowds. 

Another spike is on the rise as predicted, so gathering for a live show (or a rally) seems pretty obtuse and ignorant at this point, because these types of gatherings are not a reason to keep spreading this thing. For now, I’ll continue to stay hunkered down, balance my extremes, diversify my vices, express my voice when I can through whatever medium is available and do my best to better myself through love. I may even go touch that Stargazers’ Stone and see if a portal opens. 

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. 

Isolation Drills: Namarah

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.

Namarah: 2020 has proven itself time and time again to be the year I will always remember. Ironically, I felt the urge in my heart early March that this year was going to have a lot of huge moments; I’m sure some other intuitive folks felt the same way. That’s when we all began to quarantine and stay home. During that time, and even now as we try to navigate the phases of reopening the city of Philadelphia, I’ve learned that being present is hella important but hella hard and that I actually have no idea how to relax. I guess you could call me a doer, but I have watched myself now (because what else is there to do?) get up multiple times in a day to start a project and finish it, sit for max three minutes before getting up and doing something else. Many have called me the busy body. I used to be offended and claim, “That’s not me. I’m not that busy” I’m throwing out the flag on this one: IT ME. I see myself. 

During this period of quarantine, I have been forced to truly see myself and redirect my energy. Which inturn has allowed me some amazing creative moments; I paint more often, using watercolor on canvas and paper or on whatever is around. I don’t start with a plan. I go with the flow of how I’m feeling that day. It’s become a great meditative process for me since I am teaching myself how to settle my mind and body. I have had the pleasure of collaborating virtually with friends and strangers; one song in particular is now featured on Fuel The Fight 2, a local collab album for essential workers. You can find the song “Keep On” there; we wrote it for fun, and something beautiful came out of it. I love those moments.

While I teach myself to relax, I also have been allowing my superpower of throwing myself into work to push forward in building community. I truly believe the best work comes when individuals come together and create spaces for new innovative ideas to flow. With this in mind, I can’t help but look forward to today’s launch of Deia Tribe, a week of virtual experiences for creatives to connect, lasting until July 11. There are coaching sessions, music exchanges, conversations, dance classes and even virtual concerts. I’ve partnered with creatives based in Philadelphia and beyond, and I can’t help but smile ear to ear just thinking about it.

The word “deia” is an anagram for “idea” and also means new perspective—it came to me a few years back when I was in college and stuck with me. The Deia Tribe is the medium in which all my work flows. I write music, produce events and create with the community in mind. As we all were inside our homes, some of us were the most isolated we have been in our entire lives, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What does it look like for a community to connect digitally?” Deia Tribe is for all those who know that they need to break free from isolation in order to grow, thrive and embrace who they are. 

The time we take to embrace who we are happens at the rate of how many people who are in our life pour into our heart and spirit. As I stayed inside, I saw on the internet how quickly our society ran to Instagram Live to fill that void of community. I saw how we had deeper conversations and focused intentions. I saw how we, across the globe, rallied and marched for justice and continued to push forward for equity and equality. We would not have had these moments without the stay-at-home order.

It’s a dark time, and yet, I find myself wanting to shine brighter with hope and love each day despite it. My creativity has expanded in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and if it were not for the ones in my life who chose to love me and seek me out when I was quietly being my busy-body self, I would have stagnated. Thankfully, the universal truth of “it takes a village” is real, but villages don’t just raise children. They raise cities and people, strength and love—and, most of all, new ideas for the future.