Isolation Drills: Ash Kernen (Lovecartel)

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.

“The chapter may be ending, but not the book … Read on.”

Kernen: Seems this trite little saying is often repeated in my head these days. It’s a reminder that although the immediacy of the moment may sometimes make little sense, when you pull back on the lens, the universe is actually bringing into focus something much more meaningful. This, in a nutshell, has been COVID for me. The proverbial silver lining. 

I know for most creatives, this pandemic has been near tragic, and I certainly empathize with their pain. When you take a class of social creatures like us and completely implode our lifeblood and sense of community, it will invariably have destructive effect. But as it turns out, COVID was the slowdown I didn’t know I desperately needed.

Prior to the pandemic, I spent the vast majority of my time fixated on music. Certainly, as a music attorney and a bandleader, an appreciable level of dedication is expected, if not required. But what I failed to realize was the utter imbalance in my life. Fueled by my innate, almost-insatiable tendency to “maximize” everything I do, I found myself constantly racing from one music event or obligation to the next, all in hopes of either garnering goodwill or spurring on so-called “opportunities.”

At the same time, 15 years in and caught between the wants-and-needs of adult life, I was desperately hanging on to what felt like the last gasps of my own musical career. Throw in a number of other commitments, the least of which is being father to the world’s most energetic two-year old, and one can understand how—put bluntly—I was fucking exhausted and didn’t even know it.

As COVID barreled down and the industry shuttered, the isolation forced me to see and feel things in a different light. With nowhere to be, almost overnight, I realized how much of my life I inadvertently designed to make myself feel productive, rather than be productive. This realization was revelatory for me and it helped me to let go of the unrealistic expectations I put on myself, and instead, I started focusing on what was truly meaningful.

Save for the very real health and financial concerns we all have right now, on balance, I feel calmer than I have in years. Being able to be around my wife and son more, particularly without the thought that I might be “missing out,” has been wonderful. Starting my days out, I haven’t had to choose between getting out the door and meditation/self-care. Generally, it’s just been a more placid existence. But perhaps most pointedly, my relationship to music has been recast from one of being (unknowingly) fixated on vanity and false metrics, back to one of based on curiosity and affection.

Though I miss my bandmates, the time apart has allowed me to sink deep into my own production and songwriting. I’ve taken advantage of the solitude to write and demo out a new album of progressive, electro-infused songs that really pushes the bounds of the alt/indie rock sound we’re known for. I trust someday in the near future, collectively, we’ll be able to bring those records to life, but in the meantime, my attention has turned to a new-found passion. 

In a serendipitous twist of fate, I recently “fell into” co-managing an incredible up-and-coming Philly artist named XIXIX (“Six Six”; legally, a gent by the name of Will Brown). As someone who spent much of my musical life concerned with my own success, I never appreciated how fulfilling it could be to invest myself in someone else’s success.

But it is, indeed, a great feeling and the project is fire. I’m grateful that Will believes in me and the rest of team at SPLYT+LYFTED enough to help guide him through the process; a process in which I know I will discover a small piece of myself along the way.

In short, despite all of the havoc this pandemic has wreaked, there have been positives to come out of it. I trust that we will soon enough be on other side of this, and while that will be a great thing for all of us, invariably, those old ways will be tested again. It’s my hope to keep this newfound inner-balance intact so that when life does return to “normal,” my “normal” will be anything but what it used to be. For what it’s worth, I hope you find your silver lining in this whole thing, too.

Just keep reminding yourself “Chapter. Book. Read on.”