Isolation Drills: Chelsea Mitchell (Dirty Dollhouse)

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.

Mitchell: We had just released our Queen Coyote EP before COVID struck—and when I say “just released,” I mean March 6, 2020. I remember my aunt saying she wasn’t coming to the show that night at Johnny Brenda’s because she was concerned about catching the virus. She was one of a handful of people I knew who really considered COVID an actual domestic threat. She was a week ahead of the rest of us.

Mere days after Johnny Brenda’s, the grocery stores near me were emptied and counties were on lockdown. By the end of March, all of the shows we had lined up to promote Queen Coyote were canceled. I still have boxes of merch sitting in my apartment that I can barely look at. I haven’t seen my drummer in more than a year. My grandmother died of COVID last April.

I don’t know about other artistic folks, but when something this traumatizing happens, I don’t lean into creativity. I can’t untangle my thoughts when life is completely unstable and I’m cut off from my friends and family. Some people likened COVID to the plague and predicted a renaissance to follow: “Imagine what art will come from all this time at home! The albums that will be written!”

That’s not how any of this works for me. Honestly, it felt like the musical part of my brain more or less shut off while survival instincts and anxiety kicked into high gear.

Since live performance was no longer an option and I wasn’t feeling musically inspired, I threw all of my extra energy into taking over Newtown Book & Record Exchange. It’s my town’s vinyl hub and it has been such a godsend as far as keeping me sane and connected to the music world.

Buying a small business in 2020—even one you’ve worked at for more than 15 years—was mild lunacy. I can admit that. But it also made so much sense! This shop is full of comfort and familiarity and escapism. It’s what we all needed.

Last year is surreal to think about now, like it happened to someone else. I imagine I’m not alone in that feeling. A lot of people have told me that our release show was the last live event they went to before the world shut down.

To those people I say: I’m sorry Brad’s pedal board malfunctioned at the end of our cover of “Telephone Line” by ELO. I’m sorry there weren’t more/any costume changes. I’m sorry that the venue was too small for a T-shirt cannon. You deserve better than that.

Dirty Dollhouse misses and loves you, and we can’t wait to see you again real soon.