Isolation Drills: Moor Mother

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.

Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother): When COVID-19 began spreading rapidly throughout the world, I had just returned from a solo European tour in February.  I had shows in Italy and Spain, which then became two of the largest regions hit. I lost a lot of shows and two canceled tours due to COVID-19. My heart travels back to memories of performing in these places that are currently undergoing struggle, isolation and collective grief. I feel grateful knowing that I had been able to bring aspects of sonic joy, power and care to those communities during that time.

Since the stay-at-home order began in Philadelphia, I have been cooking and organizing my house. I am so fortunate to have a small home studio, and I’m really excited about the new music I have made  I haven’t had this much time to work on music and art in more than four years, so I am really leaning into this moment. I have collaborated with many artists during the quarantine, and it has been a healing process for everyone involved. I have been getting into tea drinking and cooking. I’m getting ready to release the music that I have been working on. I want to create music that can be a healing force for the universe. My next release will be an instrumental project for writers and visual artists. I am looking forward to more creation—it helps me heal and stay positive.

Isolation Drills: Mannequin Pussy

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.

Marisa Dabice: What am I doing during quarantine? Probably a lot of the same things you are. I cook at least once a day. I play video games. I listen to music sometimes, but listening to music makes me miss touring, so I think I subconsciously avoid it. I’ve re-watched The Office up to season five, episode five. Every time I watch it, Jim and Pam become more pathetic to me. I watched Tiger King, and I don’t think Carole Baskin killed her husband. He faked his death and is living somewhere in Costa Rica.

I’ve packed up and shipped out more than 650 Mannequin Pussy merch orders to fans around the world. I want to cry, but I’m blocked. I wrote a new song I like. I wrote two that are trash. I’ve taught guitar lessons through Instagram. We painted the wall in the backyard a light pastel coral pink. I like it, but I don’t think Vinny does. I’ve scrubbed toilets. I’ve swept. I’ve stared directly into the sun. I’m starting to lose steam. I walk around the house. I’m having trouble focusing. I’ve bought toilet paper and food. I got Logic Pro X and am learning to use DAWs. I’ve paid my bills.

Finding motivation to do anything at all becomes messy. I’m fantasy real-estate shopping in Florida. My sweetheart squeezes me and cracks my back once a day. I’ve tie dyed shirts and pillowcases and bedsheets. I’m taking a MasterClass with Timbaland. I want to dust, but can’t find the energy. I dance in the kitchen. I’ve kissed Vinny in every room of the house. I want to scream. I want this to end soon. I’m afraid it won’t.

Isolation Drills: Sean Byrne (Lazy Salon, Camino Sound)

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.

Byrne: It’s all a bit surreal, isn’t it? The pandemic has put many of us into a collective weirdness and an unprecedented change in daily life that really doesn’t have any roadmap to follow. Everyone seems to be trying to figure out how to make it work in their own way, and it has been inspiring to see so many people choosing to make positive actions, both large and small, in spite of what sometimes feels like an aimless drift.

There seems to be such a divide between the realities of those on the front lines of this situation and those who are just “riding it out.” It can seem very inconsequential to be concerned with a creative endeavor like music or art while people are putting their lives at risk everyday to help pull our society through such turmoil. I don’t say that as a way of placing any guilt on those who are simply stuck at home, only to keep from losing sight of the staggering work going on outside of our limited views.

I’m lucky and grateful to be home with my wife and children; we’re finding our way through this together and hitting our own groove of a daily routine. I think of family and friends who are navigating this by themselves and what that must feel like after five or six weeks. We do our best to reach out, engage, keep in touch and let them know they are loved and missed.

I’ve seen some discussion about whether it is appropriate to keep creating during a time when much tougher challenges require our energies. I think it’s a fair argument, though I lean toward the side of the conversation that says “keep creating, keeping doing, keep engaged” because there are benefits (known and unknown) to putting some light out there into the darkness. Everyone could benefit from a bit more light these these days.

Sean Byrne has been releasing solo music as Lazy Salon since 2014, with a new album out May 15. He’s now also playing drums with instrumental rock trio Camino Sound, whose debut, Western Excuses, is out now. Previously, Byrne was a songwriter in the Twin Atlas, and drummer in Lenola, Mazarin, BC Camplight and others.

Isolation Drills: Presages

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.

Angel Ocana: My situation is slightly different than most. During the day, I’m a head supply chain manager for Jefferson Health System Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. It’s a physical rehab hospital located in Center City Philadelphia. The days are isolated but in a different way, I guess. With the current COVID situation, my days are long and pretty intense trying to supply our hospital with all types of medical supplies and PPE materials to protect our patient population and staff.

The musician side of me is definitely missing my Presages bandmates and creating music with them. We had to cancel our tour dates and rehearsals, and that reality has been very difficult to accept. On weekends, I usually take time to decompress and create demos for Presages. Ironically, I isolate in the bathroom playing my guitar for better acoustics, then practice playing to an empty street with the Philadelphia skyline from my window. Though this process has been lonely, I believe it has challenged me compositionally in a positive way.

I think as artists, we are great at learning new ways to adapt and connect. I see a lot of locals on social media doing that, and it makes me happy to know we will always find the light in any situation. 

Isolation Drills: Ross Bellenoit

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.

Bellenoit: Firstly, it’s almost impossible to write this, given that every day presents new challenges, new frustrations, new joys. By the time someone reads this, things may have changed. But, for the moment, the future is uncertain.

I woke up March 12 in Dortmund, Germany, having played a fun, yet ill-attended solo gig in one of my favorite venues over there. It was 5 a.m., and I couldn’t sleep. I checked my phone, and saw the breaking headline concerning a vague “travel ban” for the U.S. There were no details yet concerning U.S. citizens, due to our frighteningly incompetent federal administration. I bolted to my rental car and drove for five hours back to Berlin, spending the entire time on hold with United trying to get on an earlier flight for the next day. I was successful and canceled the rest of my tour.

After that, the dominoes started falling. My band, Muscle Tough, was about to tour for a few opening gigs that would have been an incredibly opportunity for us. We had to cancel everything for the foreseeable future, due to all venues shutting down and a ban on public gatherings. Turtle Studios, my record production home (and where I make a good half of my income), is also closed. ASCAP, my royalties collection agency, has seemingly putting a halt on monthly distributions. 

The only thing I have left is my one teaching job for a university, which has moved its entire platform online. But once the semester is over, I will have no regular source of income. That federal stimulus check is nowhere to be seen, and the state of Pennsylvania seems to believe that I am unable to qualify for both regular Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. (As of April 20, there’s a glitch in the system that is apparently being worked on).

With music streaming platforms like Spotify seemingly unable to distribute royalties fairly to the creators of their content (i.e., hard-working musicians), artists are forced to livestream concerts from their homes, perform to a blank nothingness and hope someone throws a buck in a virtual tip jar. Some people can do this, and they are making it work, and I applaud their tenacity and willingness to adapt. Perhaps, with time, I’ll be able to get over myself and jump on this train. However, at this moment, I’m having a hard time finding the platform to get on board. 

In a time when music, the very magic that we all try to conjure and connect with, the very essence of what keeps our collective humanity in balance, the very thing that stops us in our tracks and moves us to tears of joy or sadness, has become so devalued (in a monetary sense) and reduced to ones, zeros and even $00.0001s, it’s difficult for me to see a way into this new, albeit temporary, reality.

And while my situation seems to be somewhat tense and uncertain, the biggest thing that breaks my heart is knowing that there are millions of people who have it way worse off than I do. There are so many real heroes and real tragedies happening during this pandemic, I think to myself “boy, do I sound like a whiny, privileged twerp” while writing all of this. But my reality is no less real than someone else’s reality, and we are all going through a collective trauma as a nation, and as a world.

But I have to continue to create. Perhaps not on a public platform, but I am writing music for a new record in a way that I’ve never done before. I have a document called “Projects That I Still Want To Do,” and I’m slowly putting some time into these ideas. (Electro Nick Drake project! Retro Beatles style record of all McCartney/Costello songs! Next jazz record! “Songs That Kill Me” covers project!)

My plan for this spring was to release a new record of songs that I had written over the last few years. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m so incredibly proud of this record, that my original plan was to put it out on vinyl and do a proper campaign for it: hiring publicists, booking agents, etc. With all of that seemingly out the window, I have decided to make it available on Bandcamp (the last music outlet that delivers the majority of its revenue back to the artist). It will be released on May 1. It’s called Where Does The Light Go?, and I’m sitting here, still wondering, hoping for an answer.