Isolation Drills: Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner

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.

Brenner: When the seriousness of the lockdown became apparent, my first thought was, “OK, time to get some practicing in.” I’m obsessed with the pedal-steel guitar. I have mostly played lap steel and dobro with bands and artists over the years, occasionally some pedal steel, when it sounded OK. I constantly continue my efforts to get better on pedal-steel guitar when I have some time.

When it became clear that I would have a lot of time, I kicked into some serious OCD practicing: scale work, exercises, internet lessons, whatever, etc. I would try to start early, around 8-9 a.m., after my daughter started her online schooling, go for three or four hours, grab a bite and push on until close to 5 p.m., which would usually signify cocktail hour. 

After the first month of six-to-eight hour practice days, I started to burn out a bit. Luckily, while I was practicing, a bunch of remote recording work came in, and I was able to shift from endless practicing to actually trying to lay down some decent work. The tracks sounded better than before I had started this marathon grind, so that was encouraging.

After several completed recording projects, I’ve taken a little break, but I’m about to dive back in for another round of shedding. I hope to drag the pedal steel out to a live gig when we are able and, you know, show off my snazzy new skills, but that moment exists sometime in the future, hopefully not too far off.

For now, any form of self-improvement seems to leave a positive glow, be it grinding away on an instrument or going out for a run. Just trying to stay positive for my daughter. I think it’s important for kids to see ways of being productive besides just sitting in front of a screen ranting about our horrendous president. I know it might be a while until I get to play live, but in the meantime: practice, practice, practice.

One recent development was the start of a recording project with Susan Werner, with me producing and playing steel. Susan is a longtime XPN fave and a very pro, seasoned writer and performer. For most of us involved, it was the first significant person-to-person activity we had had since lockdown. Several of us, myself included, were still working limited hours at our day jobs, but, for the most part, didn’t interact with other folks too much.

The recordings at Studio 1935 have gone well, lots of recording with masks on and taking outside air breaks. At the time of this writing, we’re about three weeks into the project and all goes well. We discussed doing this as an all-remote project, but restrictions started to lift, and we just decided to be super careful, use protocol and get to work. The record should be out in the fall.