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.
TC Cole Riot: We had a hard time coming up with a collective answer to how COVID has affected us as artists. One of us is an aspiring writer; the other should be, yet avoids it. As roommates, we have a 21-year age difference, so we experience things a bit differently.
That being said, we do enjoy each other’s company and banter, sooooo we’re simply gonna carry on with what we’d be doing during the lockdown on any given weeknight: listening to music, having a few cocktails and shooting from the hip. Big shout out to Chef Johnny “Nightrain” Schihl for the meal on this fairly debaucherous night.
This is the outcome of our recorded conversation. If you read this, laugh at this, scoff at this or simply get through it, we certainly miss you.
[While listening to Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti]
TC: OK now, what are you drinking, Jeeter?
TJ: Uh, is it Tuesday? Oh no, it’s not Tuesday.
TC: No, it’s Thursday.
TJ: All right, it must be vodka. Vodka and lemonade.
TC: Oh! The Jeeterade.
TJ: Uh huh, the perfect mixer.
TC: OK, I’m gonna go get myself a shot. Jeeter, why don’t you talk about—
TJ: What?! Why I’m still here?!
TC: No, how about the beginning of the pandemic and what you’ve been dealing with.
TJ: OK, so let me think back. Well, you can’t go to work most days because nobody wants you in their house. Also, I was getting my new teeth right about then, and, of course ,the pandemic happened, so I didn’t get them for another six months. Due to the student who was initially in charge of my mouth graduated from dental school. In between that, you and I played a few livestreams and I did a little recording for Jamie Olson from the Midnight Singers. Cute little recording—just for fun one day. Got happily paid with dinner. After that, pretty much waited for the phone to ring and, “What else is on TV?”
TC: Yeah, you were really into that show New Tricks.
TJ: Oh, yeah! British comedy. Well, maybe not supposed to be comedy, but cop shows are fun.
TC: I think during the summertime we did a pretty good job on the audiophile tip, listening to a good amount of music on the back deck.
TJ: Yeah! Every Wednesday we’d fire up the grill and listen to Jesse Dayton’s radio show on the bluetooth speakers. Sometimes it was just us and sometimes Morgan. Bailey (daughter) would come by, too. “Smells good up there! Sounds good, too! What ya’ cookin?” was common with the neighbors.
TC: We shared plates with as many as we could. You feel like talking about your mom in Scotland?
TJ: Yeah, mom passing away. That happened on Memorial Day. It wasn’t the most unexpected thing, but I had been trying to get over there for years and the pandemic didn’t help my case at all. It was a lifelong dream to go back there, especially to see her before she went. [Pause] Well, at least a lot of our friends had babies!
TC: Yep, I still haven’t met my niece, Liv Alexandra Cole. Hopefully, meeting her in July! How do you feel about our Facebook Live shows?
TJ: They were fun at first, but you don’t get feedback in the same way as when you perform in a live room, and you know, that’s part of it for me. I don’t like to think about playing too much or dwell on how perfect it’s supposed to sound. I miss going with the flow.
TC: Yeah, it’s not like we sucked, but the missing ingredient, other than the rest of the Riot, was a visual audience. When people aren’t singing along and dancing, we lose steam very quickly. A good crowd is our adrenaline. People who we love—randomly showing up can make us do jump kicks in the air and it doesn’t really matter how we feel the day after. Fun shows are the best drug, and it’s been almost a year.
TJ: Will it happen again? Hopefully. Hopefully. At least you got your bedroom recording studio.
TC: You know I’ve been trying to record your stubborn ass for three months in there now. It is nice to learn some home recording while I’ve had the time. This is possibly my least favorite Zappa song. New record, please.
[While listening to Johnny Paycheck’s Take This Job And Shove It—a good amount of singalong time]
TJ: Yo know, we’d be a terrible radio show.
TC: Exactly, because you decided to get hammered beforehand!
TJ: Well, I’m sorry for swingin’ a hammer the wrong way before I got home! Why don’t you brag about your stuff now?!
TC: My stuff?!
TJ: You know! The recording you’ve been doing with Yikes and them.
TC: Well, I do feel super proud about the new Grand Mantis album I play guitar on. It is a hip-hop concept record. The only time I was able to go into the recording process was with my best friend, Jarrett, so that was rewarding and a lot of fun.
TJ: [Snore sounds and whispers into recorder] Side project.
TC: You know, I was gonna talk about my family and Morgan, but now can we just put on the Clash?!
[While listening to The Clash’s self-titled debut]
TC: OK, let’s just talk about the civil unrest that we’ve been watching and dealing with. [We took out a large chunk about the Capitol Building idiots because fuck ‘em—they don’t deserve any more press.]
TJ: George Floyd was killed the same day my mother passed away. His murder was totally unnecessary and unrelated to my mom’s. The police system is just as scared as it should be. It’s tiring, looking at this shit anymore. I completely understand why people are infuriated. I’m a legal immigrant with a deceased constable father. Born in what was Rhodesia (now Zambia), raised in Northeast Philadelphia, and it’s an appalling decline to continue looking at this systematic racism since I got here on the Queen Mary.
TC: Whelp, when you put it that way, I’ve got nothing to add but I think we’ve made our point. I mean, when it comes to the police, this recent Chris Rock quote comes to mind, “There are certain jobs where you can’t be half good at it. Like a pilot! No passenger wants a 50/50 shot at flying into a mountain.” I probably quoted that wrong.
TJ: Right. Higher standards.
TC: Well, let’s leave on a light-hearted note here. How about that meal we had earlier courtesy of Johnny Nightrain?
TJ: Yeah, that was something I’ve never had before!
TC: Me, neither. Ganjang gejang. It’s a Korean-style preparation of raw, fermented blue crab. Super different.
TJ: Yeah, you just kinda twist the exoskeleton, and it squeezes out like toothpaste. Doesn’t sound too appealing, but it was really tasty!
TC: Well, cheers to the re-opening up of the world and trying new things as a habit along with it.
TJ: Cheers, buddy.
Cheers to Chris Sikich for taking his time photographing these two numbskulls. You’re a breath of fresh air and a gentleman to boot.
The Isolation Drills series is such a thoughtful idea and a fun way for us to break up the monotony and actually feel like artists again.