Isolation Drills: Hezekiah Jones

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.

Jones: What does life look like in our house during the current pandemic?

Sometimes a lot gets done, sometimes nothing gets done. I go to bed earlier. I wake up early and dig another couple of feet of trench behind our fence. Maureen made a baby last September. Caden loves having us both home. I plant and tend to a lot of flowers and plants. Bandmates email me their parts to songs we are working on.

I flip through TV channels for about a half-hour at night and realize it’s trash, but do it anyway. I make up and sing stupid songs to the child; the hits are “I Don’t Know If You Know, But I Know That A Baby Is A Baby” and “Everyone Says Your Baby’s So Cute, And I’m Like Duh Duh Duh.” I sometimes play more “adult” music. The roses first bloomed through May and early June. I planted more snap peas (sugar/honey) and lima beans (Fordhook) than maybe I should have. I write sometimes. We go for walks. We cook a lot. I do an awful lot of laundry. I record and mix music when I find time. I dig up daffodil bulbs and randomly plant them in the woods.

We listen to music (Chris Bathgate, Louis Prima & Keely Smith, Chris Kasper, Adam Torres, Frontier Ruckus, The Singing Nun, etc.). We planted a kousa dogwood in the front yard. Caden and I play piano together; I play bass lines, and he plays the melodies (or what can maybe be construed as melodies with his open-handed, key-mashing technique). We are extra frugal. We cancelled Hez Jones venue shows probably through til 2021. I, luckily, love my family.

We planted peppers and tomatoes and basil. We have had some more time to work on the full-length album that has been on our plate too long. Maybe our jobs never come back, and we have to find new kinds of work. Hopefully that’s not true, but if it is, we’ll figure it out. I take a lot of pictures. The garlic was ready to harvest early. We cancelled a festival (Robin & Beth) that Daniel Bower, the Depauls and I work really hard on every year.

We currently drink about one and half gallons of almond milk in a week and about that same amount of orange juice. I have some extra reading time. I wait in line for up to an hour to get into a grocery store and buy twice as much hummus and lentil soup as I normally would. The zinnias started blooming in early July. The Super Sweet 100 tomatoes have turned out to be prolific along with the Better Boys and the Long Hots. July has been hot. Caden is beginning to figure out the door knobs he can reach on his tip toes. He is tall like his mother.

That is some random basics boiled down that my family and I lived for the first few months of the pandemic. The mundanity of that insular domestic life seems so absurd and trivial when framed in the context of humanity at large in disaster mode and the very real suffering going on, like relaxing on a cloud while nuclear missiles are flying between continents. It’s just so damn surreal—to see the politicization of wearing a face covering. Or people being flippant about instituting small measures that would help keep their at-risk family and friends safe. Or a tractor trailer bearing down on a large group of protestors. It’s a strange and confusing time to be alive.

It’s been really heartening to see the uprising of voices loudly calling for the very necessary and long past due unraveling of the deeply entrenched racism in this country, a calling of attention to a festering, national wound. It’s been encouraging seeing the institutional changes taking places, and even better knowing there are deeper individual changes happening in private. There are a lot of Black intellectuals/activists/writers, from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, that speak on these important issues more knowledgeably and with more intelligence than I can. A friend was kind enough to share this Google drive link full of some of that writing, and I would urge you to take some time to look through the collection. There are a lot of organizations working toward a more equitable world that are worth donating to. A couple that resonate with us are Equal Justice Initiative and Code2040.

Thus far, 2020 has been heart-wrenching and eye-opening, anxiety-inducing and a much needed slowing down (for some). It’s revealing the best and most ridiculous of us as a country, and there’s no real way to tell which direction we’re headed in. Our trajectory changes depending on the data sets you input, and none of that data takes into account the stupid decisions humans make when thinking in mass and panicked. Or the selflessness of a nurse showing up to work everyday for a month straight. Or the bravery of a person who puts themselves between police and protestors and calls for calm. Or the extra chaos the federal agents are adding to cities in the midst of protests. If anyone tells you that they are sure of where this is all headed, you can be sure they are full of shit. Looking into the future right now is like opening your eyes underwater in the Schuylkill River. I have no idea where we will be when 2021 hits, but that uncertainty makes me optimistic for the chances of a better collective path in our future, no matter how far away it may seem right now. 

Long live the spirit of Gene Shay.

Isolation Drills: Gladie

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.

Augusta Koch (guitar, vocals): As of this writing, the world has been different for 89 days. I’ve made a running list of things I’m grateful for since COVID hit to remind me of simple pleasures. Reading it back now, it paints an abstract still life of this strange, mundane and yet radical time in history. 

A few but not all: potato Salad, plants not dying, 5 p.m. coffee, Matt (Schimelfenig; guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals) watching all of Star Wars for the first time, building forts, a fresh box of ice-cream sandwiches, enjoying reading again, phone calls that last four hours, video of Neil Young playing music to his chickens, finding lost socks, cooking that lasts hours, orange peels, the plants are still alive, not wearing bras, actually taking vitamins, talking to my sister more, recording music with no objective, childlike creativity, mom is safe, cold Dr. Pepper, Bandcamp days, Black educators, access to information, BLM.

I feel grateful for this time to really be able to read, learn, listen and unlearn. Grateful to access a library of information on anti-racism and Black history and the privilege to work to fill in some very, very large gaps in my knowledge. If I could pick one word to describe these 89 days, it would be “learning.”

Isolation Drills: Ghösh

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 result of the pandemic, we’ve had to re-evaluate our approach to Ghösh, and it’s actually been really exciting! Pre-COVID, we recorded songs that we had intended to release as an EP. As soon as it was clear that the future of live music was indefinitely uncertain, we had to change the plan. We decided to put out multiple small releases instead; that was the first of many.

We’re still figuring out how to adapt to this ever-changing landscape of Corona America. We had really found our performance flow, especially after touring with NAH back in January.  We were very bummed to have to pump the brakes on one of the most exciting aspects of this project. We had to figure out how to transfer that energy using the tools available to us. When we couldn’t see each other, we worked individually. And now that we can meet up again, we’ve begun the process of piecing together our creative approaches to the new world.

In terms of what’s happened in the world—the pandemic, the protests, this being an election year—we’re still processing everything, but it’s put into focus what really matters and given us conviction in the art we’re making and to keep going. Things feel incredibly chaotic and uncertain, yet we remain hopeful and optimistic.

We’re literally on fire. We’re ready to get the world lit.

Isolation Drills: Scantron

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.

James Everhart (guitar, vocals): I work as a graphic designer in the music and events industry, so when I was temporarily laid off from my job at City Winery, I was forced to get creative. After being a full-time touring musician with Low Cut Connie for six years, being constantly home is wonderful, but I can get start feeling cooped up very quickly. Add a pandemic into the mix, and you have a recipe for acute anxiety. Thankfully, I’ve refused to embrace that negative energy by remaining positive and taking on a host of new projects and freelance clients.

When I’m not playing guitar, I’m writing new songs for the debut album by a new psych/folk project, Cosmic Guilt. Having the ability to access recording equipment has been a wonderful distraction and reason to keep moving and to keep looking forward. As I write this, we are within our 11th week, and I’ve written 14 songs. Suffice to say, I’m happy to have had the time to compose a full-length album, something I always say I’d never do. With the continuing of free time comes the opportunity for new projects, and added to the list is a new puppy and carpentry lessons. That should keep me busy.

I’m determined to come out of this quarantine on top. I look forward to playing music, eating at a bar, traveling and hugging friends. Remaining safe, healthy and vigilant is the only thing that is going to get us through this, and I look forward to the things that lie around the corner.

George M. Murphy (guitar, vocals): In early February, I came back from a short vacation out west with my wife, pretty much directly into quarantine. I think if it hadn’t been for that trip, we both may have lost our minds by now. A few big projects that were on the docket for this year fell through, including scenic design for a major summer tour. Despite how bleak it seemed at first, I feel like we fell into the groove pretty quickly and found the silver lining in being home.

Usually, I spend four or five days a week working out of our office in Newport, Del., with a good hour-and-a-half or more of commuting every day. It’s been nice to trade driving for walking—exploring our neighborhood and getting myself a bit healthier. Normally, March is the height of my seasonal depression, but looking back on it, I feel like this whole situation let me hit the “reset” button a bit. On the other hand, my productivity has been a rollercoaster. Some weeks, I’m through my to-do list by Tuesday. Others have seen me rewrite the same to-do list five days in a row. I’ve come to terms with it and learned to be a bit easier on myself where I can.

I was in a pretty bleak spot for musical creativity in the second half of 2019. We played a lot of Scantron shows last year, which meant we weren’t even practicing all that much—just sorta walking onstage. The shows were some of our best, but I found myself less inclined to pick up an instrument other than to carry it out the door. In late January, after 15 years of searching, I found a Melodigrand apartment piano (a miniature upright with 64 keys) on Craigslist. Having that around has been immensely therapeutic. I’ve spent many mornings learning songs and composing ideas for future projects. I think my neighbors are over it, though.

Interestingly enough, the playing field has been completely leveled without touring. While the livestream bubble is likely going to pop a bit as people start going out again, there’s a huge opportunity to build some habits around connecting with fans across the country, even the world, in ways we haven’t been able to as a band that hits the road very little. We’re working on something very special for Scantron fans, as soon as it becomes a little bit more feasible to be in the same room together.

Isolation Drills: Adam Shumski (Vita And The Woolf)

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.

Shumski: I used to play drums for a living. Very quickly, it’s been made clear how even though music is an essential part of so many of our lives, the reality is that living comes first. There are more important existential priorities at hand.

This isolation drill has afforded me the opportunity to consider not only the world’s challenges born from the pandemic, but how it has exacerbated many of our society’s disparities. Black and Latino Americans are three times as likely to become infected—and nearly twice as likely to die—from COVID-19 than white Americans. Only five states in the U.S. have reported testing data by race, a crucial public-health indicator that’s often a primary policy driver to reopening. It’s clear that public health is not only clouded, but threatened, by our country’s perception of race, and this pandemic is no different.

For a much deeper look into the data associated with COVID-19, I recommend reading this article and this statement by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research And Policy Center at American University. 

And here are some links if you’d like to learn more and take action. 
Antiracist Research And Policy Center
Oshun Family Center: Focusing On Black Maternal Mental Health
Ancient Song: Supporting Community Based Doula Organizations
Philadelphia Bail Fund
Black Lives Matter