Isolation Drills: Nick Millevoi (Desertion Trio, Grassy Sound)

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.

Millevoi: In my pre-pandemic musical lifestyle, I was spending a lot of time traveling. It’s something I love to do, whether that means being on tour or driving to other cities along the East Coast to play one-off shows. But all that time adds up and I had never really considered it before, mostly because it happened so gradually.

Last March, I found myself adjusting to a much slower pace of life than I was used to—there were times I didn’t drive for a couple of weeks at a time!—and in that newly found space, I just keep working on new material as my brain insists on staying busy. 

In the early pandemic days, I used my time to dive into a few learning projects, transcribing solos I’d never spent the time to learn, going through some music books I’ve always been meaning to check out, things like that. And, like just about everyone else, I spent a lot more time recording at my house, from demos of new material I was writing to some remote collaborations with friends.

I’d just come out of a fruitful period of recording and had releases lined up for my project of Philadelphia-themed compositions, Streets Of Philadelphia, as well as a new record by my band Desertion Trio and a new project called Grassy Sound, which have release dates through the end of 2021. With all these plans laid out, I knew that anything that I would work on wouldn’t see the light of day for quite some time, so I could have a little fun with my time and stretch out

This left me able to write music with no constraints. It’s an idea that I’ve been interested in for a few years, and my Streets Of Philadelphia project is proof of that. That project started as 25 compositions that were written for any instrument to play, just to explore what kind of music my brain would go to if it weren’t limited by instrumentation or aesthetics. First released as a book in late-2019, 10 of the songs are on my recently released record of the same name and three more will be released this spring on the new Desertion Trio record, Numbers Maker

But I’ve always found myself writing in a project-based way, and while I’d once again found myself composing with no constraints, things were different this time. I’ve been writing new, un-performed music since March, and I’ve been able to see new ideas emerge. The ideas and aesthetics of this new music are all over the map.

I can see stuff accumulating at this point, and there are different piles of papers that will decide what happens with each composition: This song goes with that project, this song with another and so on. While I’m organizing my new jams into some sort of categorization, those piles of paper have become a reminder that this is music that is meant to be played, and mostly with other people.

I’ve decided I needed to slow myself down since all this new music is starting to make me wonder just how long it will take to perform and record all of it. By the time it’s possible to really dig into this music with other musicians, will I even have the time/energy/resources?

I’ve just finished reading Maria Konnikova’s great book The Biggest Bluff, in which she learns to play poker—starting by not even knowing how many cards are in a deck and becoming a professional player with hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings over the course of the book. I’ve used that as inspiration to start new learning projects of my own, namely learning how to play lap steel. Of course, that’s only opened up more ideas for new music!

So, I continue practicing and continue writing and exploring all these new ideas. As the music piles up, I’m left wondering when I’ll be able to perform it all.