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.
Black: In February, we got home from a long European tour, and my wife and I finally decided to rent a house.
We’d been living in Airbnbs and our camper van for a long time. It never made much sense to settle down since we’d been touring for the last six or seven years straight. I play in the band Good Old War and as a sideman for Joshua Radin. I’m also a solo artist. Sometimes I play with bands as a guest, and all of these acts are hard touring. Needless to say.I’d gotten used to a certain lifestyle.
Lucky for me, my wife Annie loves to tour as well and works as tour manager and/or merch manager for all of the acts I work with. We’ve been able to see the world together. We really couldn’t believe our luck. Not only were we living the exact lifestyle we’d dreamed of, but we were able to do it together. It turned out that our decision to settle down and have a nice place to unwind between tours was the best choice we’d ever made.
Almost the day after we moved in, we got the lockdown order, and that was it for the road. For a while, there we were still getting tour offers and planning tours for after this short detour. As everyone knows, it was not to be.
Eventually, the entire industry gave up on the idea of live shows. I still practiced every day and even did some livestreams. It felt a little weird to me, but I’ve learned I need to go with the flow as I’m part of an ever-evolving industry. The thing I was missing most was that feeling of being in a traveling camp that has its own little culture.
The relationships we build on the road are one of a kind. The closeness you can feel with your band and crew are like nothing else. You know you’re part of something that will never happen again. You’re responsible for the good time of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people every night. It’s a really special thing to be a part of, and I never once stopped appreciating that.
While we settled in at home, I began transforming our second floor into a fully functioning recording studio. I’m a bit of a guitar collector, and I have been fortunate enough to work with Taylor Guitars and Fender over the years. Just taking all of my guitars out and seeing them at once transformed the space immediately. I dove right into making some home recordings.
I was invited on a podcast called Volcano Vinyl. They have artists come on and listen to an album of their choosing to talk about it. I chose Pink Floyd’s album Animals. I decided to cover the entire first side of the album to coincide with the release of the podcast. Over the top? Yeah, that’s me.
Soon after, my friend and Good Old War bandmate Keith Goodwin released stems for a song he made. I got right to work on a remix. He then invited me to work on a song for Taylor Guitars. I was finding myself busy again!
When the owner of Philadelphia Rock Gyms, where my wife works and where we both climb, approached me to make the music for a film he was working on, I dove in deep. I wrote and recorded endlessly. It was bliss. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to continually find new projects to immerse myself in.
All the while, the dream of touring has never left my mind. All I want is to be in front of a crowd again. I want to see people’s smiling faces. I want to hug my friends and family. I want to travel. I am one of the lucky ones who can create income and new music while I’m stuck at home. It isn’t lost on me how many musicians must be struggling mightily right now.
I began releasing songs from my new album, Black Ryno, a collaboration with my friend Ryan Zimmaro. Ryno, as many call him, is a magical talent. His musical skill is so special that all I had to do was record him playing to click tracks off the top of his head for an hour. I was able to write an entire album over it.
After the first two songs came out, George Floyd was killed. I decided to put my release on hold. It just seemed so insignificant compared to what was happening. After a few months, I asked my friends and supporters if they’d like me to begin releasing music again. I got an overwhelmingly positive response. Black Ryno is out now and is quite possibly the best work I’ve ever done. I’m incredibly proud of every moment on it.
Life is different in pretty much every way, but I’ve found that many of my relationships are closer than ever in some wonderful ways. I teach online lessons to people all over the world. I collaborate virtually with musicians of all kinds. With a livestreamed concert, we can reach more people than ever potentially. Do we have to be more creative? Sure. Has that ever stopped artists before? Absolutely not. We just have to adjust to the new venue.
Hopefully I’ll be seeing the sea of smiling faces again soon, but in the meantime, it’s time to create!