Philadelphia Freedom: Barney Cortez

With Isolation Drills, MAGNET has been checking in with Philadelphia-area musicians during the pandemic, while Where We Belong shines a light on our beloved local venues. Now that our city is opening again, MAGNET has launched Philadelphia Freedom to explore what happens next with our music scene, post-quarantine. Photos by Chris Sikich.


What were you working on at Headroom Studios when we did these photos?
We were recording some of the final tracks to what will be my first full-length album.

What project was it for and how/when are you looking to release the music?
It’s tentatively called Snakeskin Blvd. How and when it will be released is still a mystery to me. I usually self-release. I’m not on any label at the moment, so we’ll see if anyone picks it up in the future.

How did your approach to writing and recording change as a result of the pandemic? How did it impact how you worked in the studio?
My writing process is usually done alone, so the pandemic didn’t affect me that much. It actually gave me more time to write than normal. I released an EP earlier in quarantine, and that definitely was different than normal. It seemed like, obviously, new music was on the back burner for most people. You also couldn’t do any shows for promotion. It made it seem very anticlimactic. I think my timing in general was bad as well. The studio was exactly the same except for wearing the masks. I’m isolated a lot, so my life didn’t change all too much to be honest.

How much time do you plan to spend—or have you spent—in the studio working on this?
I spent about a week with Shane Woods at Headroom doing the bulk of the recording and many hours in my studio doing overdubs. Probably spent about two weeks straight working all through the night cutting piano, guitars, vocals, percussion, etc., by myself.

Musically, what are you looking forward to as restrictions are lifting in the city?
It seems there is one correct and obvious answer to this question. I’m looking forward to, yes, you guessed it, live shows. But only about 80 percent. It was nice to not have to haul my gear out of the house for awhile and run around like a madman getting my band prepared for shows. I didn’t do many livestreams. I don’t enjoy them at all, and I don’t like watching them either. Even if it’s my favorite artist. It seems cheap and cold. I understand it was all we had performance-wise, so I’m actually envious of people who could do it. I just decided to wait it out. So at my darkest moments of quarantine, I just told myself that I’m on vacation and that I’m on a writing retreat. It’s nice to see people again, though. I was going a little crazy at points. Human interaction is necessary to happiness.

I’d also like to add that the pandemic has also made me realize how lucky we were before to be able to roll into a city and squash together in a hot room with no fear or qualms at all. Sometimes you need things put in perspective, and life has a way of doing that when you get dealt a bad hand—such as a global influenza.

I can still say with certainty that there’s nothing in this world that competes with being in a dimly lit room filled with humans, plugging in guitars and telling your story in song to a group of strangers who are all in the moment together. Sure as hell beats looking at perfect people in perfect environments on social media while lying in bed with a heavy case of illusionary FOMO.