Isolation Drills: Joseph Carlough And Katie Haegele

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.

Carlough: This has been a year of peaks and valleys. I’ll talk about the valleys first.

The pandemic has caused me to be in a state of constant duress. My internal tension has a new, heightened base level, and problems that may not have pushed me over the edge do so more often now. Mix that with a constant feeling of political depression, and it’s been a hard year on my psyche. But I just have to keep fighting and keep being there for those who need me, those I can bolster. I started seeing a therapist a couple months before the quarantine period began, and that has been invaluable during this time.

There have been peaks, too. Katie and I worked on the largest project we’ve tackled together in Out And Aboutwhich began as a zine idea and grew into an illustrated guide book to the many walks we love to take around the city. If we hadn’t been afforded the quiet time to dream it up, work it through and perhaps be forced into more walks than ever before, it might have stayed a zine. One thing I really miss is having shows at our house space/zine library, the East Falls Zine Reading Room. We’ve been trying to hang in there with it, though, doing some readings on livestream, reviewing bits of our zine collection, etc.

We’ve even started making music together, just the two of us, a thing we haven’t done before, under the name Obvious Wig. We make noise using fun instruments like a cassette player with speed control, loopers, synths and more. This intense period of being homebound has helped us find new ways to be together, and for that I am appreciative. 

It’s also been good for me to slow down and have time to work on growing my cassette label, This & That Tapes—in fact, I’m dubbing tapes as I write this. I’ve been able to better plan out my releases, including Midnight Service: A Benefit Mixtape For Mütter Museum. We raised more than $1,800 for the museum! Even the label has had to adapt though: we had an album launch a week before lockdown, a premiere set for SXSW, and I couldn’t order blank cassettes for months. I’m learning a lot about digital promotion, though! 

Lastly, it’s given me time to reprioritize my own work. I’m wrapping up writing and recording my debut EP, Pick Up The Phone, a dark synth-pop album about telephones. I’ll be releasing that in December under the name A Good Host. I’m super excited about that.

Well, hang in there. I miss you all. 

Hope to see you soon.

Haegele: This year has been really hard, but you know what? These last four years have been bullshit. I limit my exposure to the news, so I don’t get burned out on bad feeling. I get a lot of pleasure from reading memoirs and essays that were written at different points during the 20th century, especially the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

I think I’m drawn to other people’s stories as a bit of an escape, but by doing that reading, I’m reminded over and over again that the painful things we’re dealing with right now—like this vile culture of racism and hatred of femininity in all forms, the misuse of technology by dangerous people, dishonest and selfish people making decisions that affect us all—none of this is new. We’re running a marathon here, not a sprint, right? So we have to take good care of our minds, bodies and spirits.

That being said, the pandemic sure knocked me for a loop. I cycled through whole lifetimes of emotion during those first days and weeks. Early on, I had a ton of tension and fear, and making music was a great release and expression of those feelings. Joe and I like to make really loud, intense music together using electronic and acoustic instruments and software synthesizers (that’s my thing—I love the Korg Gadget for the Nintendo Switch)—just this terrible, wonderful noise that builds and becomes more musical as we respond to each other. We performed those shows on social media, which helped us nurture a connection to our friends—and the larger idea of “friends,” the feeling of artistic community that means so much to us. In those early days of isolation especially, I was terrified of losing that.

My writing has been there for me too, as it always is. It’s the best method I have for thinking about things, and my favorite way to keep myself company. Without the day-to-day of distractions from the outside world (gotta catch this bus, gotta schedule that appointment, etc.), I had all this precious time and space to write and just live, which was a real gift.

The biggest writing project I worked on was this book with Joe. Out And About started back in February as an idea for a zine—let’s write about how much we love going for walks in the city!—and we planned to finish it in two months or so and launch it with a little party and reading at South Street Art Mart. But then that event, like all others, had to be cancelled, which gave us more time to work on the zine if we wanted. All the time in the world! And as the weeks went by, we realized that going for walks was just about the only thing we could do outside of the house, so it took on a new meaning in our lives.

All these factors allowed us to let the project develop into something fuller, more like a book. I am not glad for the trauma we’ve all been through this year, but for me, it was a blessing to have had the time and, frankly, the need to think about what makes walking around this city, just looking around and taking it all in, so important to me. It was healing to put in those hours walking, talking, writing and making this book.