Isolation Drills: Christopher Malinowski (The Collingwood)

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.

Malinowski: The Collingwood last performed in March 2020, right before the pandemic became a real nuisance. After that, we didn’t rehearse or gather at all. We still haven’t. The bulk of the band, including myself, wanted to follow the rules. Frankly, the time apart seemed like a nice retreat. I create best in relaxed isolation, distanced from the opinion of others.

To boot, not having to drive to cold, dark bars at 11 at night to begin our set was also a bit of a relief. Dinner, wine and films in front of a fire at home with my wife Chrissy and our dog Dobby is just as satisfying to me as a live performance. However, the dynamics are quite different, and the proverbial itch to perform always exists.

At first, I really enjoyed the alone time and quietude. The situation gave me time to re-learn meditation, read, study the tarot, spend time with my wife and dog and, finally, to listen to a gnawing existential longing in my gut, which would eventually come to positive fruition with the creation of the Collingwood’s “Confetti” single and music video.

I’m a professional guitar instructor by trade, so my physical lessons converted to virtual lessons, which opened up a whole new, attractive universe for me and for my students. My routine changed. I had no cause to leave the house, only to do my morning run or to grocery shop. After my run, I’d make food and begin my online teaching day.

I collapsed my teaching schedule so that I could finish by five or six each day, which was wonderful. At the close of my work day, I’d retire to an outdoor fire with an acoustic guitar and wine. We have a glorious treed yard, and our twilights are brilliant in Fair Hill, Md. This is aesthetically and spiritually pleasing to the heart, soothing even.

Because the Collingwood is an original band, when I strum at my fire, I normally play covers by Donovan, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Afghan Whigs, Terry Reid and even some vintage Kiss. I keep it light and fun and perform for the foliage. Every once in a while, I toy with an original idea, which I know will end up on our new album, You Lust Or You Rust, but I let it come organically. At the close of summer, my routine was wearing thin, and a listlessness set in.

One sunny September afternoon, I was out by the fire, guitar in tow. The air was heavy, and I couldn’t find desire. I should explain this as: There was nothing in my life I desired, and I lacked the desire to locate this elusive desiring. I was sad and flat. I missed our friends. We just lost my mother-in-law, Denise, and we were coming up on the one-year anniversary of the passing of our dog Leo. I had a series of “what now?” emotional crises.

For a few days, I’d been picking the notes of a C Major 7th/9th chord in boredom. The chord reflected my psyche. I kind of hated it, but I began to hum a melody line over top of the notes. I crafted some quick lyrics, which became a colorful plea to the gods, goddesses and elements of nature to enlighten me and to care for me, my wife and the universe as a whole.

When I came up with the line “I want to explode my love on this world/Live it wet and make it personal,” I knew I had a legitimate song, mantra and chorus, driven by a minor-key chord progression that I began to love. I, once again, had a beat in my blood. I decided that, because of COVID fears, I’d record this track alone with my friend Rich Degnars, percussionist and owner of DaSa Studios in Delaware.

To boot, I wanted a quiet track to place on the new album by the Collingwood, which is predominately a hard-rock band. I knew a female vocal would add to the eerie strength of the song, which I named “Confetti.” I have a 16-year-old guitar student named Jules Corridori. She has a stellar voice and can sing like no one I’ve ever heard. I’m not exaggerating. She’s taken lessons from me since she was around 12, and I always told her that I’d love to showcase her voice on one of our recordings. This seemed like an opportune time. I contacted her mother, Laura, a friend of mine, and we set it up.

Jules had never been recorded professionally. I asked her to harmonize on one of the verses of “Confetti.” I thought she’d lay down a simple line harmonizing in thirds. Instead, she came up with a myriad of harmonies that I didn’t quite understand. In fact, they contained an intelligence beyond my original idea and lent the song a supernatural feel. While mixing, we isolated one of her harmonies and opened the song with it.

I’m a filmmaker, so I’m constantly visualizing my songs as moving pictures. I hadn’t directed a video by the Collingwood since our “White Deer” video in 2014. I needed to express visually, now that my audio side was satisfied. I called on cinematographer Ian Mosley-Duffy of Philadelphia and editor Colby Bartine of Brooklyn to aid me in making a “Confetti” video. Both of them worked on my 2013 feature film Yes, Your Tide Is Cold And Dark, Sir. My wife and a bevy of my artistic friends were willing to act in the piece, and I knew to place Jules front and center. She has a commanding presence and, in retrospect, seems to narrate, in a foretelling (and somewhat foreboding) sense, the ambiguous dialectics of the video’s universe.

My wife introduced me to some stone ruins in the Fair Hill trail system, so I worked with the Fair Hill park staff to make shooting there a reality. In addition, a Newark, Del., estate owned by my friends Barbara and Ziggy was utilized for filming, along with an artist’s home in Hockessin, our home and our backyard, mere feet from where I sat in despair writing “Confetti” a few months prior. The imagery of the video reflects my interest in the occult and sympathetic magic in general, with a nod to nature and chance.

“Confetti” is a perfect audio-visual manifestation/celebration of a complicated, hopeless emotional state. She is the newborn daughter of my pandemic experience, and I’m proud of her.

The Collingwood is Chris Malinowski (guitar, vocals), James Pennington (guitar), James Boruch (drums) and Greg Lundmark (bass). You Lust Or You Rust is slated to be released in fall 2021, along with a second video for the song “Jouissance,” also featuring Jules Corridori.