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.
Caiola: I began writing this essay yesterday, and it quickly took a turn toward the negative impact this global pandemic and shutdown has had on my personal life and my career. Whilst I think it is incredibly important to maintain perspective and gratitude considering I have not lost nearly as much as some people have, I believe that shouldn’t nullify nor negate my pain/struggle. I have allowed myself to feel every ounce of it.
However, today I took a step back and asked myself why I had even been given the opportunity for this Isolation Drills feature. The answer: due to my new solo project and upcoming album-release cycle—an album I would still not have recorded had the world gone on as it were. It’s been my personal silver lining to this unfathomable, tragic mess.
Like many, I’ve struggled with the new norm this pandemic has created for us. My personal hardship mostly involves the inability for my band, Mo Lowda & The Humble, to tour. We had averaged around 100 shows a year for the last three or four years. Yes, it paid the bills. But more importantly, it defined me. Felt like my purpose. Being on the road, playing rowdy little clubs, people shouting my lyrics back to me, traveling the U.S. and Europe, meeting new people, reuniting with old friends and incessantly goofing off with three bandmates who are like brothers to me at this point.
Mainly though, I just loved sharing our music live. There is no comparison to the feeling of being onstage with a phenomenal crowd. Nothing else in my life has ever given me that particular feeling. So, setting that aside and coming to terms with the fact that touring must be placed on the back burner has tested me. However, with this global “pause,” I was given the downtime to focus on and record a solo project that has lived within me since the first time I picked up a guitar. Without the pandemic, we would have been on the road the entirety of the month and a half we spent recording it.
I’ve always tried to conduct my songwriting within the school of thought that a great composition or song should be able to stand alone as a stripped-down acoustic tune. I especially harnessed the mentality on my album, Only Real When Shared. It was the first time I truly forced myself to keep a glaring focus to the lyrical content and build off of that foundation. Although many of the tracks are still decorated with the textural bells and whistles that I’ve always loved on the production side of things, the songs and the stories they tell are really what matter most.
Ninety-five percent of the album was recorded during the lockdown with Shane Woods. During the many 10-plus hour sessions, my goal was to stay completely present. It was an escape from the pandemic_from reality. Aside from that, this was something new for me, musically. I found it to be quite daunting yet invigorating to be out from behind the “curtain” or “veil” of recording and releasing projects within a group of people like Mo Lowda or my duo side project NightSeason (with Pat Zeinali).
Only Real When Shared would be out under my own name. I acutely felt that responsibility and did everything I could to revel in it. While Shane had—and always has—a sizable impact on the music we’ve put out together, he really let me run with this project, giving me tons of freedom in the studio. All of the other musicians who I worked with—Jeff Lucci, Jeff Sarafinas, Kirby Sybert, James Rubush, Aaron West—did, too. Having the trust of guys like that may be my biggest point of pride as a musician. There are so many days when I sit back and think, “How the fuck do I get to play music with so many freakishly talented dudes?”
Aside from the long nights I’ve had during the lockdown lamenting over what the landscape of live music might look like for years to come, I was indirectly given the opportunity to record and release 10 songs that feel like the most honest music I’ve ever made. An album I am extremely proud of. It is vulnerable. It is real. It feels like it was meant to happen now and I shouldn’t ask any questions.
I hope it comes across the same way to the listeners. I hope to play it live to a crowd one day. And I hope my next solo album comes long before the next global pandemic.