Isolation Drills: April Mae & The June Bugs

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.

Mae: It’s hard to know where to begin and what’s worthy of focusing on when thinking about how being an artist during COVID-19 has impacted us. The “us” here being my husband and musical collaborator, Dave “Catfish” Fecca, and myself.

Of course it’s been a tough time on so many levels, I feel like I’m saying something that doesn’t even need to be said, but for the moment, it feels like the place to start. Emotions have been like a tidal body, ebbing and flowing in so many directions. That saying “going with the flow” would be a most helpful quality and one that I’ve personally struggled with as we realize on a daily basis just how many things are “outside our control.”

Like so many other musicians, we watched our calendar of dates and tour excursions vanish. No use dwelling on all of the effort and time that was put into booking and routing strategies. We watched it all coalesce into a whirlpool that ran swiftly down the drain, along with all of its associated income. The sobering reality being that, all of that means nothing in comparison to the incredible suffering that this virus has left, and continues to leave in it’s wake.

We spent the rest of the spring in a fog, hoping it would all go away in a few months. In the meantime, we spent countless hours exploring the wetlands behind out house; seeing wildlife delighted us. The stillness revealed raccoons, deer, beaver, geese, ducks, blue herons and hawks. Over the course of the spring, we got rid of more than 10 wheelbarrels of plastic bottles, countless balls, a bike, a shopping cart and other trash that waters from previous storm surges had deposited into the wetlands.

Mother Nature helped to soothe our frayed nerves and minds. We took great pleasure in putting out birdseed and watching birds, squirrels, chipmunks and a ground hog visit every morning to eat. These sound like little things, but the smiles they brought were most welcome. The M’sing totem that Dave carved presiding from the cedar tree with its whispering in Lenape “Wela’nkunte’waka’n, We’miawe’nik, Xkwithakamika” translates as “peace everyone on earth.”

After the initial waves of depression and anxiety receded—and the sobering reality that this was not an acute outbreak came into view—practicing gratitude became a salve and a strategy. Trying to bring that clarity in, when things get muddy in the mind and tensions run high. We are so very grateful for our health, each other, our loved ones, the beauty of nature, the comedy on YouTube (laughter is indeed potent medicine) and coming back to creativity.

During this time, we did some livestreams from home, with the intention of raising peoples spirits and uplifting our own in the meantime. We struggled with the technology, but have learned so much in the doing of these things we would not have otherwise have attempted.

Coming back to creativity. 

Before the pandemic, I thought I was being creative. Playing shows, promoting shows and booking shows took up the majority of my time. Creating was on the back burner; I didn’t even notice it sidelining, somewhere in the invisible.

The inspiration to create came from the muse of the magic and mystery that is the spirit of Halloween. I wanted to create music that had those qualities to it. Magic, fantasy, spooky, fun music that uplifted me—and that I hoped would uplift people in the same way. In this unprecedented time, with all of the struggles and sadness, I wanted this music to transport me to somewhere else, to a place that felt magical. We brought in as much of the stories of these songs as we could illustrate through the music, lyrics and natural sounds of the wind, the rain, the owls and the unknown.

We came back to creativity by fighting our way through the technology. Learning how to record from home, arranging and recording songs that we had been wanting to, but never got “around to” when we had been caught up with playing shows. We were excited to hear that the musicians we work with could contribute their parts from home as well. Thankfully our engineer, Tony Mascara of the Audio Lab, wove it all together seamlessly, and we learned that we could indeed create in this way.

This past week, I found myself creating a shadow set to record video, trying to make art in this previously uncharted way. Wanting to create joy, not just for myself, but for others. Art and music have the power to heal. I’ve always believed that, and now I believe it even more. It has the ability to uplift the spirit of the listener, while simultaneously having the same effect on the artist. 

I don’t know where I’ll be with my career after this pandemic is over. All of the years that it took me to make music my full-time career, that place where I was when all of this began, I don’t know if I can go back to that place. We’re all changed through this experience. It forces us to stop, be within ourselves and experience those parts of ourselves that we may have been too busy to notice, or may not have wanted to.

I would never have thought I would be releasing what I feel to be our most expressive and developed art during this time.*

The art of music gave us a purpose and saved us from spiraling into continued depression. As we got back into creativity, that specter of depression that greeted me when I opened my eyes in the morning began to loose it’s oppressive grip.

Being an artist during COVID allowed me to cope, I believe, better than I ever could’ve if I wasn’t an artist. It reminds me of a conversation that I had with my dad. He reminded me that artists, musicians and creatives have the ability to cope with the kind of seclusion that happened during lockdown, in a different way, because as artists we have the ability to go within our inner world and create. The expression of creation can be like alchemy, like the alchemists that strived to turn lead into gold. The expression of creativity—singing, playing music—releases so much emotion that there’s healing in that process. In a time like this, of such sadness and turmoil, of course it doesn’t clear it all, but any relief is a blessing. 

So, being an artist, during this incredibly challenging time, has truly been a blessing.

Wishing everyone peace.

*The artful music we released is called Boogie Boo! Deluxe Edition: a collection of 17 songs inspired by the magic and mystery of Halloween. We invite you to visit here if you’d like to hear it. There’s joy and the spirit of magic in this music. It’s uplifted us, and it’s our hope that it uplifts others.