Isolation Drills: Jay Laughlin (Honey)

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.

Laughlin: The first concert I ever attended was Kiss at the Spectrum in Philly, in 1979. I was 7 years old. I wanted to be just like Peter Criss, so I started taking drum lessons when I was in fifth grade. 

I really lucked out in that my drum teacher was anything but “traditional.” My lessons routinely consisted of learning Stewart Copeland or Mitch Mitchell beats. And once I had the beat—kind of—right, he’d strap on a guitar and jam over my drumming, sometimes for a good long while. “Just keep playing!” he’d say. These lessons took place in his parents’ basement where he had built a little home studio. One day, while we were jamming, he hit record on his eight-track reel-to-reel. When we stopped playing, he rewound the tape and hit play … When I heard myself playing on tape, it was “game over” for me. From that moment on, all I’ve ever wanted to do was write and record songs.

So—after many bands (Turning Point, Godspeed, Lenola, Like A Fox, JJL, Shadow Season, Pointless), tons of ups and downs, endless shows and countless records released—we find ourselves locked in due to this crazy virus. I was on the verge of launching yet another new band called Honey, which I’ve been working my ass off on for the last two years right before this quarantine kicked in, so that’s on hold for now. Certainly a setback, but things could always be worse.

I’m fortunate to have a decent home studio in my second bedroom and have always been one to write a ton of songs. But I also tend to start a song, then quickly move onto another song idea—which leaves me with a lot of half-finished song sketches. Now that I have all this extra time on my hands, I’ve been able to start digging through various hard drives and start finishing up a bunch of songs that I probably never would otherwise. I’m deleting some of them because they’re not that great. But I’ve always believed you have to get the bad ideas out of the way to get to the good ones. So, we’re a couple months into this quarantine, and I have almost enough, random old songs wrapped up to release an odd one-off solo project—while still working on new songs for Honey as well.

If anything, this extra free time has reminded me of how great it was to fall in love with writing and recording music as a kid. And how amazing it is that I still have that same feeling all these years later. So, for now—and probably forever—I’ll just keep making music!

Isolation Drills: Lovelorn

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.

Anna Troxell: Lovelorn was in the middle of a month-long tour when the reality of the pandemic really came down on us. Essentially, the tour was built around SXSW, so when we heard that the official showcases were cancelled, we were super bummed. However, we were immediately approached by several promoters and venues in Austin about unofficial shows, so we decided to continue with the tour. This was the first tour that Lovelorn had any official music released, and it was awesome seeing people respond to it. We did keep up with the news of Corona, and we could see that it was escalating and changing, so our plan was “take it day by day.” Eventually, though, we decided it was time to go home. This was at the tail end of the drive between New Orleans and Houston. Truthfully, we were pretty freaked out. So, we turned around and embarked on a 30-hour drive straight back to Philadelphia. It was just Patrick and I on the tour, so we took turns driving in shifts. Sleep. Drive. Sleep. Drive.

Once back in Philly we were relieved to be home safe, but struck suddenly with the reality of the new situation. Patrick and I both work in venues, so we were both out of work for the foreseeable future. We were lucky enough to receive some financial assistance from our amazing label, 6131 Records, Philly Music Fest and the MusiCares Organization. With all this free time on our hands, we both channelled our frustrations/fears/anxiety into writing. Another fortunate outcome of being a two-piece that lives together and has the ability to record at home is that suddenly we were working on music every day. We always come back from tour extra inspired and wanting to write, but the atmosphere of the current climate really gave us a lot to dig from. And we have a new EP and video we are super excited to share with y’all.

It was heartbreaking to learn that our upcoming tour with Soft Kill and Tamaryn was—understandably and responsibly—cancelled. At one point, it felt like it was just more bad news every day. But, we began looking into livestreaming options as a way to cure that “itch” of performing live. We are a band that truly loves performing, and it’s been hard to not have the excitement of that even being a real possibility any time soon. On 4/20, we had our first livestream set, performed via Twitch and Instagram, and it was so awesome to have the ability to even remotely connect to an audience. It’s far from the experience of being together in person, but it felt good to share our music with people and have them share their energy back. We will definitely be continuing to do these, so stay tuned. 

Right now, our next scheduled “real” show will be at The Fest in Gainesville, Fla., on Halloween night. We can’t wait to party with y’all again soon, but for now we hope all of you are out there being safe, being responsible and considering where you are spending your money in the future. Remember, it truly does have an impact. Some people were taken care of by their employers during this, and some were not. Stay punk, y’all

Isolation Drills: Trevor Leonard (TEOA)

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.

I’m Trevor Leonard of the Philly folk/rock trio TEOA (The End Of America). Life on lockdown has been a challenge for us, like many bands, because we aren’t quarantined under the same roof, or in the same neighborhood. While I love being home to spend more time with my wife, our two-and-a-half-year-old son and our chug (chihuahua/pug pup), I really miss playing live shows with my TEOA brothers. There’s something about the energy and excitement from a crowd of people in a moment in time, all in the same room, that’s been difficult to replicate. 

An important component to the TEOA sound is our three-part-harmony. Since we can’t harmonize in real time over the internet, we’ve been recording our individual performances in our studios and with video, tracking each other’s parts over top to splice into a virtual set. That has actually worked pretty well and we’ve been broadcasting the performances to our fans through a weekly Facebook Live stream that we do every Thursday at 8:30pm EST. We get online and banter, field some questions and then broadcast our set or a new video.

In addition to the weekly live streams, which are helping fill some of the lost income from cancelled shows, we’ve all been posting solo video performances and playing our own live Zoom concerts when we can. As for me, I’ve managed to keep working as a mix engineer, since many of my clients record themselves at home and send me their tracks. I mixed our new single, “Not The End,” at my home studio and have been keeping up with mixing and mastering for other bands through this. I’m hopeful that artists will keep making music and keep needing another set of ears to bring their songs to life. I’ve certainly been writing and demoing a lot myself. We even did a TEOA co-writing session over Zoom the other night. There’s lots of material to record and mix, and the writing for sure isn’t going to stop. The workers on the front line are truly the brave heroes in this saga. As artists, we’ve got to write our way through this pandemic, and hopefully bring some positivity and perspective along with the songs. 

Isolation Drills: Birdie Busch

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.

Busch: I started quarantine a little sooner than many in that I returned from a trip to Spain on March 10. We were being advised to self-quarantine for 14 days. So we returned with the experience of witnessing within a short span Spain going from business as usual to closing down the schools as we flew out of Madrid. We told family and friends of our need to isolate; within a week, everyone here was headed to a similar state of being.

I work various jobs in tandem with music, but when those jobs all dropped off due to the mandated sheltering, all of a sudden I became focused in this immense stillness on what means the most to me. I brought out all my old journals and reread a lot, looking for clues for future songs. Music is my life force; it never leaves me, and it is my ultimate tool and transmitter.

That being said, I’m wanting to support the community with the work that I can do and finding ways to do that—raising money for Covid-19 relief through virtual concerts and recordings. We contributed to compilations like Co-Mission​ (put out by Folkadelphia to help musicians who can’t play live at this time) and Fuel The Fight​ (a 61-song effort to raise money for essential workers spearheaded by Philly’s own Madalean Gauze). One of the reasons we moved to this house was because it is free-standing, which is more of a rarity in Philadelphia. It allows us to record everything with total abandonment knowing we aren’t affecting the neighbors. Todd Erk and I have recorded and mixed all of the music here. We sent one of the tracks to a long-standing collaborator, Devin Greenwood, to be mastered at his studio, The Honey Jar in Dumbo, Brooklyn. He’s an amazing musician and engineer, and it was a treat to be able to work remotely right now “together.”

I started playing live online, something I never did before, and it’s been a centering activity. Every Sunday, as long as we’re being told to stay home, I am on Instagram from 4pm-5pm EST playing what I call “The Secret Hour.” It’s a promise I plan to keep. It has me contemplating the communion of live performance. In some ways, virtual performance feels akin to being an astronaut radioing from space, but it is still a shared experience happening in real time with extra strong aspirations for connection at this time. I hope that if anything, I come out of it all more attune and that music can continue to carry me to where I need to go.

I recommend checking out the two compilations we participated in that support Covid-19 relief: Co-Mission and Fuel The Fight.

Isolation Drills: Katy Otto

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.

Otto: During the COVID crisis, I’ve been working from home full-time while trying to entertain my four-year-old. Early on, as a project, he and I created a video on how to play drums for kids stuck at home. We used our kit and sticks but also showed the viewers how you can use a wooden spoon and a pot or a magazine and pencils. I haven’t been practicing with my band Rainbow Crimes sadly, but we do keep in regular touch.

I’ve been trying to play drums a little. Particularly, I’ve been trying to relearn some songs I wrote in my first band Bald Rapunzel as a challenge to myself. We had some fun, mathy beats I enjoyed. I also made the hard decision to turn my record label’s 20-year anniversary celebration into a virtual event. It’s slated for July. My label is called Exotic Fever Records. For its first decade, I was in D.C., and for the second I’ve been in Philly. It just seemed the right thing to do at this point to cancel an end-of-July in-person gathering.