Isolation Drills: Andrew Chalfen (I Think Like Midnight)

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.

Chalfen: Time during Corona starts and stops like a misfiring engine, floating through a limbo land. Reality has become oddly bifurcated: on the global macro, a climate and political dumpster fire; on the personal micro, taking refuge in the daily satisfactions of making music and art and domestic routine, even though at times doing so feels like Wile E. Coyote pulling down the shade to avoid seeing the oncoming train. The main shared commonality is loss—loss of human contact, loss of opportunities, lost collaborations, lost futures, lost serendipities, loss of dear loved ones.

I’m one of the lucky ones. In some ways, my routine hasn’t changed much. I still wake up and make art and write music, and I’m continually humbled that I get the opportunity to do so. Writing and painting the catchiest visual and sonic riffs I can, iterating new ways to scratch that constant creative itch. But I miss playing with the rest of I Think Like Midnight, the jovial camaraderie, that more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts special feeling attained by a group of musicians/longtime friends locking in musically with one another.

Spring and summer ITLM gigs cancelled. We were slated to begin recording our third album back in April. So much was unknown about how the contagion spread. Now it looks like we may be able to record safely this fall, fingers crossed. Being an instrumental band helps: no vocals, always masked. We had an outdoor rehearsal. It was so rejuvenating and psychically essential. And fun! We even played a socially distant backyard show. It was awesome. Just like riding a bike.

Stuff that helps: riding a bike, tending the vegetable garden with my wife Audra and reaping the harvest, two loyal felines, the addictive daily Duolingo Spanish lessons, weekly Zoom band tea with the ITLM gang, spelunking and binging on Bandcamp, getting more fluid with fingerpicking, hearing from excited pals who heard ITLM played on the radio between public-radio news segments, applying to gallery shows, selling art, getting out into nature and away from screens.

I occasionally get asked how the pandemic has affected my art, and it’s a hard question to answer. Mainly it feels akin to my reaction to the election of 2016 in that I want to self-medicate with music and art. The urge to disconnect is strong, and I have to fight it; many don’t have that option. I’m trying to educate myself more about the history of structural racism in the U.S. The current moment has made me even more keenly aware of the ephemerality and fragility of our world. It’s all so poignant, wistful, vertigo-inducing, maddening, overwhelming. Art and music can seem so essential and pointless at the same time, though I guess that’s nothing new. I’m just grateful I get to generate and broadcast positive vibrations in my own little way.