Isolation Drills: Emily Drinker

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.

Drinker: The opportunity to share anything about/during this time means a lot to me, so much so that I’ve done a great job for the last month of avoiding sitting down to write this. But that’s right in line with my whole experience these last seven months, which has been characterized by intense moments of productivity (fueled by anxiety), then exhaustion and an inability to imagine sharing things ever again (also fueled by anxiety). And vice versa. Over and over again. I know many of you can relate, and that comforts me.

I am so fortunate to be healthy, to have what I need and to be close to the ones I love. I basically haven’t stopped trying to create, trying to share and trying to connect. Turns out, it’s exhausting to be like this. I am nonstop with the livestreams, with the song releases and the press, with constantly trying to put myself out there.

I have somewhat of a bad habit of saying yes to absolutely everything offered to me, without always pausing long enough to consider if it’s what I want or what I have time to do. That said, I’ve also been practicing putting less pressure on myself. Which is hard work. Even this self-work can become a stressor if you let it. I’ve had to escape to the woods numerous times to decompress around a campfire.

The personal growth I’ve undergone during this time has been wild. I am lucky to see my therapist on Zoom each week. (And am lucky to have a therapist at all.) I also rely on yoga and running to help with all the emotional ups and downs and anxiety of living through “this time.” I meditated for 28 days in a row over the summer and was quick to pat myself on the back, but I haven’t meditated since then.

I’ve moved twice during the pandemic, the first time from the lovely Brewerytown house I’d lived in for the last three-and-a-half years and into my boyfriend’s parents’ basement (Steve and Sharon, thank you for putting up with me constantly filming videos in the backyard and doing endless livestreams on Facebook!), then to an apartment in Roxborough with my boyfriend (drummer Josh Steingard) and our good friend/bandmate (guitarist Ethan Cain).

It feels amazing to be in our own place now, three creatives and a cute dog under one roof. Since we’re all musicians, I had high hopes to be collaborating and creating more than ever. But I’m still adjusting to my new environment, and I appreciate that this takes time. I have to remind myself often that it’s OK to rest, to take time to process and adjust to change, to lay around and do nothing sometimes.

When it comes to music stuff, like I said earlier, I’ve been kind of hyperactive, while at the same time feeling blocked from writing new songs. I feel a new batch of songs stirring within me, which excites me. In the early days of quarantine, Josh and I did a bunch of Facebook livestreams together, singing silly duets such as “Let’s Duet” from Walk Hard and “A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow” from A Mighty Wind.

I released a song at the end of April and celebrated by performing a big livestream show from my Philly rooftop. Many of my neighbors came to their backyards to watch and enjoy, but my next-door neighbor was furious and screamed her head off at me. The story is kind of funny to me now, but at the time, I literally sat down on my roof and cried after she slammed her door and went back inside.

I went down an insane spiral of self-loathing about being a musician, which my neighbor had equated with being a self-serving asshole without consideration for anyone else. But the show went on! And I got an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from everyone else who tuned in. I think that’s why I’ve been eager to share; it feels so good when a connection is made, even when it’s online.

A few months ago I started a bi-weekly livestream series on Facebook with a fan-turned-friend of mine (Edmond Tiryak) called Every Cent Concerts. We feature local artists and thanks to generous donations from viewers, we are able to guarantee fair pay for all artists who we feature on the show. I host the concert and interview the artists before they play a set, and I am still learning how to not be painfully awkward during the interview portion of the show. It brings me joy to be able to showcase some amazing artists, and having a regular show like this has helped me feel somewhat more normal.

Throughout the warmer months I was able to take on a good amount of outdoor performing opportunities. I have gotten way better at asking for and receiving tips. And I’m happy and thankful to report that folks have been very generous with tipping! Before any outdoor gigs presented themselves, I was busking semi-regularly on Main Street in Manayunk with Ethan and donating all tips to BLM Philly.

I’ve also been practicing performing solo now more than ever. I’ve always had an irrational fear of playing guitar, but I’m finally sort of getting over it! Performing alone and backing myself up has been empowering. Still, there’s nothing like playing with others, and I was super grateful to play a set with my band for the virtual Philly Folk Fest in August. I’ve said for months now that I’ll be releasing a new album this fall, but now it’s fall. I’m not sure if I have the energy to push that out right now, and that’s OK. I’m so grateful to get to work on music at all, and to get to do this for a living.

The country is a train wreck right now, and it’s easy to be left feeling powerless. But I believe that artists have a responsibility to amplify their voices for good. I’ve been doing my best to use my voice and whatever platform I have as a local artist to stand up for what’s right. What that looks like has been changing and evolving all the time; sometimes it’s donating my tips to organizations I care about, sometimes it’s writing songs about injustice, learning protest songs or sharing resources online about what’s going on. But when I have the mic, it’s always about mentioning that Black Lives Matter.

I want to end by expressing my thanks for this Isolation Drills series. It’s been wonderful to hear from artist friends, acquaintances and those I look up to and admire in our music community, and to read what they’ve chosen to share. Chris Sikich’s photos have been incredible.