Isolation Drills: Jesse Gimbel

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.

Gimbel: In mid-March, we confirmed a summer date for a release show at World Cafe Live for an album I’ve been picking away at between gigs for years. A week later, the world started to shut down. I’m not sure what will happen at this point—I’ve heard all the conjecture about live shows, but with so much uncertainty, we just have to let things fall where they may and see what happens.

Similarly, I’m not sure about the festivals we were planning on playing, or attending. The folk music community has been devastated by the loss of folk legends John Prine (who was slated to headline the Philadelphia Folk Fest this year) and Gene Shay (who helped found the festival in 1957). We don’t know yet if it’ll still happen this year. Everyone is stuck in this dichotomy, both being prepared to snap into action whenever the time comes with little preparation, and mourning possible loss.

Without the emotional outlet of playing shows, I’ve been taking time where I can to keep my head on straight and lose daylight in music. I’ve finished up the last of the songs I’ve been pushing on, and now I’ve moved on to recording them in my home studio set up, which people affectionately refer to as “Jesse Gimbel’s Basement.” I’ve also found some unexpected relief in the livestreaming world. Since everyone is home, there seems to be a huge surge of people watching livestreams who never have before. I’ve been streaming a couple times a week on Facebook, and I’ve been amazed at the response, especially in the Delco Quarantine Open Mic group, which has managed to gain more than 12,000 members in a month. It’s awkward while we all figure out the best way to stream, but at this point, it really feels a lot like playing a show, with the ability to reach new people who otherwise may not have seen us live. We’ve made a lot of new friends, and made headway in looking for some additional musicians to tour with us once this is all over. Getting to play for all these people and interact with them has done a huge part to lift some of the weight on musicians’ shoulders right now.

This is a good time to make sure you’re considering people outside of yourself and what they’re dealing with under these circumstances. Some are stressed finding new ways to work from home, with spouses and kids around 24/7, while others are in full desperation, potentially losing their entire business almost overnight. I’m so fortunate to have a roof over my head and be able to do mixing and mastering work remotely, but since all of my potential clients are affected, the risk isn’t alleviated even with the ability to work remotely. We’re in a time when the casual choices you make under normal circumstance—choosing who you hire for a job, taking a gig away, supporting a large corporation vs. a small business—can literally be choosing who is in business when this all finally ends. It’s heavy, but the reality is we can make a difference by being conscientious about where our money is being spent.

Isolation Drills: Great Time

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.

Jill Ryan (vocals): Other than some cancelled shows, we are doing a lot of the same before the quarantine began. I feel for all our peers who had album releases and tours scheduled right now. I’m proud of them for all their beautiful work and love seeing fans support them by listening, buying merch, not getting refunds on show tickets and sending love! We didn’t have a major tour scheduled, although our show with Lawrence at the TLA was rescheduled for October. We all teach lessons on the side and have been lucky enough to continue teaching a majority of them via Zoom. I’m extremely grateful that we all live together in our studio. The first week of the stay-at-home order, we mostly kept to ourselves, felt all the feels, but then came back together and started creating again. We’re making new things and also working on our next album. It’s nice to have all this time, but I also experience bouts of sadness, anxiety and fear, which I think we’re all feeling. My mom works as a nurse in California, and I worry about her health and safety and that of all of the essential workers putting their lives on the line right now and always to help the rest of the world! I am thankful to have music not only as a means to express myself but also as a way process the feelings I have regarding such a tumultuous time in our lives. 

Donnie Spackman (drums): Much of what we do in the studio hasn’t changed as a result of the current outside circumstances. I am generally one to stay home/in the studio for days at a time, although there are now obvious reasons why it’s important to adopt these kinds of practices. I know we all feel lucky to have the studio at a time like this as a place to direct our creative energy, and I feel for artists who are without the means to create during this time of self-isolation. It’s inspiring to see how the restrictions of quarantine have invigorated a widespread push toward streaming/virtual events and that the general response to this pandemic seems to be one of support and a desire to connect. I hope that this mentality continues after this global event has finished and we can all walk away with a greater awareness of how important it is to show up for one another.

Zack Hartman (bass): Luckily, we had planned to be in the studio for the first part of 2020 and only missed out on a few shows. I tend to stay home a lot anyway, and since we have our studio here, there’s no shortage of things to do. It’s unfortunate that a situation like this is happening, though I think all we can do is make the most of it and continue working as hard as we can. I find myself spending a lot more time outside—we live in the middle of nowhere; no people around—and generally having a few more hours in the day to pursue whichever hobbies/projects I’m feeling. Besides the tragic circumstances that I’m fortunate enough to avoid, I am definitely drawn to this type of lifestyle and do believe it has its benefits. We’re being forced to modernize in ways that perhaps we’ve been putting off in favor of the “old way” of doing things. That isn’t to say that things are better now—quite the opposite—though I think we’ll learn some valuable lessons that can be applied to “normal” life—whatever that means—when this is all over.

Isolation Drills: Cliff Hillis

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.

Hillis: It’s crazy how the world changed so quickly right in front of my eyes. When the news started to break about COVID-19 spreading in the U.S., I was in Florida doing some gigs. And washing my hands more than ever before. By the time I returned to Pennsylvania a few days later, I immediately self-quarantined and have been sheltering in place ever since.

All of my immediate gigs have been canceled, including a couple that I was really looking forward to with Rhett Miller from the Old 97’s. Like everyone else, I’m not sure what the future holds for live gigs, so I’m working on a few things I can do when I’m housebound.

I knew I wasn’t the only person affected by a loss of work and income, so in an effort to entertain and help out, I decided to do a Facebook Live show every Sunday where I donate half of all tips I get to a different local charity each week. It has gone over really well, so I decided to make it a regular event, 12:30 p.m. every Sunday.

I’m also using this time working on my own music and have been writing and recording songs for an alter-ego project I have called the Inside Passenger

Luckily, since I have a small studio at my house, I’ve been able to finish some ongoing mixing and mastering projects, including a new record for a fantastic singer/songwriter from Minneapolis: Hayley Lewis and her band Corzine. Check her out! I have some other projects that I can do remotely, so that helps, too.

Isolation Drills: Joy Ike

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.

My name is Joy Ike, and I’m a singer/songwriter writer who lives in Germantown. The last six weeks have been a bit surreal for me. I think everyone can fairly say that they have to blink a few times each day to remind themselves that all of this is real. At the same time, as someone who is on the road a lot less than I used to be, I’m used to working from home. So being home for long periods of time is familiar and welcomed. However, I have to regularly remind myself that so many people aren’t experiencing this season in the same way. This is a very difficult time for so many people in so many ways. That grieves my heart. I’m reminded of how important it is to check up on my loved ones, friends and people who pop into my mind randomly.

90% of my income comes from performing out, so that’s on hold for now. However, I’ve been so grateful for the support of my fans this past month. Their donations and purchase of merch through my online store has been sustaining me single-handedly. I can’t begin to say how grateful I am for them.

I’ve also noticed that I am way more creative then I’ve been in a long time. The time and mental space to create without distractions has been priceless. I recently wrote a quarantine-related song and put out a music video just a few days ago. While sitting at my piano several weeks ago, I was considering the fact that I had spent my first week of quarantine reconnecting with friends and family that I hadn’t talked with in such a long time. That’s the spirit that this song was written in.

This time has also allowed me the space to launch a consulting component to my music that I’ve been wanting to do for years. After running a music marketing blog for a while and doing contributing writing for Bandzoogle and Indie On The Move, I started this year with the plan to do more artist coaching for young artists and those trying to cast a better vision for what they do. This down time has given me the space to formulate and launch that. Any artists who are interested in the free group chats can sign up for Cultivators and consultations.

Last but not least, during this time I’ve put together a page on my website where my fans can contract me for assisting them with the skill sets I’ve learned from running my music for the last 15 years. So I am also doing graphic-design work and website setups for those who would like support in that.

Even though its been a highly creative time for me, I am trying not to fill all the moments of the day with productivity, which can often be a distraction. That can be hard for me, but I know that if I don’t leave space to take in what’s happening to the world, I might as well be living in a bubble. At the end of the day, we are in a new normal, and I’m trying to be ready for that on all fronts.

Isolation Drills: Fire In The Radio

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.

Hey everyone, my name is Rich Carbone, and I sing and play guitar in Fire In The Radio. When we were planning to release our new record, Monuments (Wednesday), we could not have predicted we would be doing so in the middle of a global pandemic. And while this has caused use to cancel record-release tours and a performance at Montreal’s Pouzza Fest, those things seem small when placed against the backdrop of friends and family who have been lost and the people who are risking their lives each day to help us get through this. 

It took us a minute to decide that making music at a time like this was even appropriate. What we concluded is that with self-isolation, finding ways to communicate and stay connected is now more important than ever. We are reminded music provides a sense of community and hope. By engaging with others (even remotely), we are doing something to help people find comfort. As a result, we’re more strongly embracing our friends by offering livestreams, unreleased demos and videos to stay in touch. Each member of the band has dedicated a space in their home to write, record and stream online, allowing us to be more interactive and responsive. We’ve also set up the Fire In The Radio Friendship Society. It’s certainly not the same as being together in a live setting, but it’s a way to stay connected in the interim, and we look forward to doing more in this direction in the coming weeks and months.

My wife and I continue to work through this pandemic, but it’s clear how the line is being further divided between the haves and have nots. The gaps we have in resources, information and overall stability is staggering. Social distancing still remains an important preventative measure, but there are many ways we can still help our communities. Non-profits have been hit incredibly hard by the reduction in donations, and I encourage folks, if possible, to please consider supporting the local non-profits in your community that are making a difference.  While not directly related to COVID response, one charity that’s important to us is the Ronald McDonald House. They provide meals, housing and support for families who have children with serious illnesses and must be away from home for long periods. Also, please consider supporting your local restaurants and cafes that have had to reduce or close operations. You can donate to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation.

We look forward to seeing everyone on the other side of this thing.