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: Man, looking back, the pandemic really punched me in the gut.
It reminds me of that scene in Friends, when Ross is trying to get his new couch up the stairs and keeps screaming at Chandler and Rachel to “Pivot! Pivot! Pivaaaatt!” until Chandler almost gets thrown over the railing and the couch gets stuck.
It feels like forever ago now, but, some time after our last show at Milkboy in March with Miss Mojo (couldn’t resist that alliteration), we were supposed to be rehearsing for my single-release show set for May. I was putting the final touches on my Indiegogo campaign to raise the rest of the money to finish my debut album and plotting out the next steps with my producer Robby Webb.
I was also set to take on a few more work gigs and start teaching at two yoga studios closer to my new home (which we moved into the very weekend lockdown began). I was finally starting to feel a little more stable and grounded and was building a lot of momentum toward achieving quite a few major goals.
And then, just like everyone else, I was forced to “pivot” quite drastically. With everything going on around us, it didn’t feel right to ask for money for an album. We were obviously forced to cancel the release show, take a step back from recording, and all of those new gigs I had lined up were put on the back burner as yoga studios and gyms did their best to navigate and figure out their next steps.
I definitely did not take all of this lightly, and motivation became an elusive acquaintance I’d see every so often. I got resourceful and managed to raise enough funds to finish the mixing and mastering of my single, “Hometown,” through selling stickers and my Bandcamp “demo album” I recorded 10 years ago. Without the ability to gather for a rehearsal or put on a live show, however, the prospect of putting together a virtual release show the way I envisioned quickly dwindled. Livestreams and pre-recording sets felt pretty draining at times, and trying to write felt almost impossible. I just couldn’t seem to find the right words or get excited about anything I was playing.
Around the same time, one of the studios I was teaching at closed due to COVID, and I really had to get creative in order to continue working. I took a bit of a step back from the livestreams and trying to produce content or work on the album, focusing on teaching yoga and working on my new pride and joy: the infamous Pandemic Beginner’s Vegetable Garden. I think I sat with the finished single for about six months completely unsure how to proceed.
We started to record Brady Bunch-style music videos in order to create a virtual set for its release, simultaneously recording demos for the album, killing two birds with one stone. That took forever, though, and we got maybe two or three completed before I threw my hands up. We planned to get together to record a set as a band, but after a lot of discussion with my bandmates and Robby, we decided it wasn’t the best idea.
My loss of motivation and expertise in procrastination became a sort of blessing in disguise at that point, because I remembered we never released any footage from our show last year when we opened for Soulive, aside from our cover of “Use Me” when Bill Withers passed. That was a really sad fucking day. Robby and I both agreed that releasing that footage with our pandemic-style music video for “Hometown” would be the perfect release show—what a sign of the times.
We both kind of figured it would be nostalgic, not only for the people who were there, but also for everyone just generally missing live shows. That honestly felt like a ton of weight was lifted off my shoulders. I don’t know if I can fully express how much this pandemic has made me miss performing live, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to do so a few times at outdoor venues recently.
We released the tune on October 9, and it went off—almost—without a hitch. If your 2020 single release isn’t accompanied by frequent internet malfunctions, streaming glitches and an emergency upload of a 60-minute video so that people can enjoy the set without it cutting in and out, did it even happen? Still, it felt amazing to have finally released something, and to have been able to do it during a pandemic. Most of my recordings are 10 years old, so “Hometown” truly feels like the first chapter after a really long preface.
The biggest shift I’ve had to make is just trying to work on the rest of the album safely, and saving the money to do so completely on my own. We were hoping for a 10-song album by sometime next year, but I’ve had to let go of that goal pretty much entirely. I’m just grateful to have gotten the ball rolling, and the next batch of singles will be on the way soon.
That is another thing I find has changed: Attention spans have shortened, and it seems as though singles are the way to go lately. I didn’t really need to ask myself if I wanted to record an album before this all happened—it really just came down to how many songs I’d need to cut from it.
This past year has definitely thrown some curveballs, and it was tough to experience all of this personal shifting while also bearing witness to all of the local, national and global injustices we’ve all experienced this past year. I needed to learn how to get quiet and listen more, while still standing up to injustice. I’ve definitely taken a lot of this time to really go inwards and work on myself. It has been difficult to be out of work and stuck in the house, but I am truly grateful to have been able to slow down, reassess, reimagine, get resourceful and expand my knowledge.
With all of this change came the ability to easily take lessons from virtually anyone I could think of, so I’ve been getting voice lessons (shout out to Chelsea ViaCava and Taylor Kelly!) and learning guitar from some of my favorite guitarists, like Rob Compa of Dopapod (check out his Patreon!) and Melanie Faye.
I’ve been able to develop a deeper understanding of my craft, because I’ve committed to practicing daily for the first time since college. I’ve always been really bad at practicing daily, but I’ve managed to work it into my routine and I’m already feeling so much more confident and proficient.
I’ve always had this sort of blockage with guitar, imagining what it must feel like to be able to improvise and wanting it so badly, but feeling unable to unlock it. Having to take a step back from performing has allowed me to really bond with my instrument and work toward my goal of being able to shred, making the upcoming singles that much better and keeping my chops up for whenever we’re finally able to have shows again. I’ve also been able to work on finishing up some old songs and write some new ones. At this rate, I’ll probably have, like, three full albums by the end of all of this.
While I cannot wait to get back onstage, support our venues, rehearse with my friends, finish my first album and play music for people in real time, a big part of me feels like I needed this shock to the system. Constantly cultivating gratitude and big faith that I am on the right path and everything happens when it is supposed to has helped me navigate all this weirdness. Watching my peers get creative within the music industry has been so inspiring, and it just goes to show that music will always be here for us . Sometimes we just need to adapt.
P.S. If you’d like to check out that single, you can listen to “Hometown” here, or wherever you get your music!