Isolation Drills: Tyler Asay (Tisburys, Riverby)

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.

Asay: How we as a society all perceive time differently is a funny thing. Especially in recent years as social media has evolved, the concept of the “anniversary” has become such a driving force to push certain events and artifacts back into public consciousness. I rewatched my favorite movie of all time last weekend, 2000’s Almost Famous, for what seemed like the 20th time, so I could once again hang with Stillwater and Lester Bangs. I wanted to go to the record store to visit my friends. 

The “anniversary” as a concept has only gotten increasingly complicated due to COVID (among many other time-related things: time doesn’t even feel real anymore, what day is it, etc.). Titus Andronicus was teasing 10th anniversary shows earlier this year for The Monitor (one of my favorite records of all time), but those, of course, got canned because of lockdown. 9/11 saw its 19th anniversary a couple weeks ago, reflecting a completely different but strangely similar America to the one that we find ourselves in today. (We’ll see where we’re at with that next year.)

I know I’m a little early on this, but because one of the few ways I interpret life is through the music I love and my relationship with it, I just wanted to talk a little bit about a record that will be turning 20 years old next April: Isolation Drills by Guided By Voices. Probably my third favorite GBV record (behind Alien Lanes and Universal Truths), it’s an interesting pivot point. Isolation Drills shows the guys on the back slide of their tussle with success, success that they rightly deserved but in no way wanted. It’s Uncle Bob lighting the ship on fire. Perfect pop songs with a lo-fi heart wrapped in a bubble of pristine production. 

Now the titles that Robert Pollard chooses for songs and records can always be up to interpretation, but Isolation Drills as a “concept” sounds like a band fretting with exterior forces beyond their control, wistful for the days where they could make a record on a four-track for the cost of a case of beer. COVID has done the opposite. It feels like all I’ve done for the past few months is sit in my basement and work on music (except now it’s recording on Logic and getting the case of beer delivered via an app), which has been both a blessing and a curse. Like everyone else, I miss going out and playing music with my friends more than anything.

I’ve been getting by fairly well, I can’t deny my privilege. My partner and I adopted a dog (or “pandemic puppy” as they’ve come to be known), named Ziggy after Bowie. Her and I planted a semi-successful garden of tomatoes and sunflowers. I blew through The Sopranos in a couple weeks and joined a fun-as-hell quarantine film club with some high-school friends. I also play in Riverby, and we put out a great album that I’m really proud of. The Tisburys are also releasing a new record soon (Sun Goes Down), that was put together mostly via us sending music back and forth to each other during peak-lockdown times.

All in all, it’s been a lot of time spent reflecting on my privilege and my place and just listening to and writing about music. I’ve been really lucky to continue to work. (Support local businesses! Shout-outs to Dawson Street Pub and Main Street Music.) We all just want love and respect, so just give that to other people as much as you can, and hopefully we’ll come out of this on the other side with some semblance of normalcy—whatever that means anyways. Wear your mask. Complete the census. Register—and don’t forget—to vote. 

How are we going to look back on the 19th, 20th or 21st anniversary of COVID-19? Is it going to reflect the back slide of American democracy? Is it the moment the ship set on fire, or have we been on fire the whole time and didn’t even know it? Tomatoes and sunflowers? Are we even still going to be here in 20 years?

Time is a funny thing.