Isolation Drills: DECOUPLR

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.

Adam Laub (electronics): When the pandemic first broke out, we were just starting to work on our first record as DECOUPLR. We had met the year before over the summer and started to work on the first couple of songs that would become DECOUPLR. The pandemic drove everyone inside shortly after.

Personally, I find a lot of creative energy in being bottled up in a dark room with a lot of time and a computer, but the start of the pandemic was so anxiety-inducing and terrifying that neither of us found much creative energy initially. As we settled in and realized that we were in this for the long haul, we set to work on continuing to create the rest of our new record, Digital Bonfire.

I think closing us off from outside input and forcing every communication into the digital really informed the overall sound of the project that ended up coming out of it. The lyrics took on new meaning, and some of the beats I was working on that felt too dark or depressing or just sat around for years found some new life.

I have also been able to spend a time working on noise and ambient music. I think the harsh and uncertain nature of noise and ambient music has helped me to deal with my feelings surrounding the pandemic and the greater state of humanity. I have run a 24-hour noise-and-ambient-music livestream performance for the last seven years as the project Tidal Archive. Instead of hosting an unsafe performance in an enclosed space for 24 hours, this year we dug up all of the old footage we had from previous years’ performances and posted it online. It’s not the same as gathering a whole bunch of creative experimental musicians in a room and going crazy for a day, but it is much safer.

This situation has been hard on everyone, and as we hit a year of the pandemic affecting our lives, I just have to reflect on how thankful I am to have stayed relatively safe and healthy compared to so many others and have had the ability to work on music freely at home. I run a recording studio in Germantown, Sleepless Sound Studio, and I have missed a lot of the interaction with musicians that comes out of just running recording sessions every week. 

Since the pandemic, we have not been able to hold sessions at the studio, so I am really looking forward to being able to work with musicians in the same room again. I know that the Philadelphia music scene has lost so much, from performers to venues to studios to bands, and I look forward to the day where we finally feel that we have sprung back from this.

Bailey Walker (vocals): It’s hard to believe that a year ago, life changed so drastically, seemingly overnight. At the time, I was working in the community as a job coach and felt like things were finally starting to click. Of course, direct-support professionals were the first to be cut from the workforce because we worked with individuals with disabilities, many of whom were immunocompromised and working essential jobs as grocery store clerks, or held positions at highly populated places like schools, gyms or in office buildings downtown, etc. 

In all of the chaos, it was hard, at first, to think about making art. Venues closed, shows were cancelled, and writing songs felt like something I’d rather put off. I kind of threw in the towel because of the circumstances and focused mainly on getting involved in mutual-aid projects that were popping up around the city. 

As music tends to do, it began to creep back into my daily routine. I tried to practice my guitar an hour a day, picked up playing the mandolin, and began delving into music production with all my new-found downtime. Naturally, I began to write songs as a way to comprehend and release some of the shared uncertainty 2020 brought. I am not typically one to enjoy so much time inside, I tend to want to explore and wander around the city. Making music quickly became an option to explore because of how expansive it can be as a craft. Whether it’s songwriting, making sound samples or just plucking the strings of an instrument, it offers a place for your creativity to run, and I think that’s when I began sprinting.

With DECOUPLR, we put our heads together to bring two different approaches to a sonic middle place. Adam is a computer whiz and seemed to be able to craft things that supported melody ideas I would bring him, and because there was so much to process and talk about, songwriting became a pretty natural option for the two of us.

Prior to COVID we had been working on a few things together and initially thought that the content was a little too heavy, I had been sitting with “Cold Sweat” hesitantly for months. After a while, it was clear that everyone was feeling it, and if we could deliver something for listeners that was relatable, we should go for it. 

Once the album was finished, we sent it over to our friends at SUPERVOIDtv for a listen, and when they offered to shoot a music video, we immediately masked up and got to work. This year has been tough for so many people, but finding ways to collaborate and share the art-making process with friends near and far has been a rare positive.