Isolation Drills: Athensville

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area had been staying at home over the past year, learning to adapt to a “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’d been doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Matthew Taglang (vocals): So, for Athensville, as the pandemic seems to be winding down (fingers crossed), it’s now a mix of looking back, taking stock and maybe learning a thing or two. But, even more, excitedly looking forward to the future of what this band can do and become.

We ended 2019 and started off 2020 with a string of exciting events. We had shows at some of our favorite spots like the War3house in Swarthmore and some of our aspirational gigs like the World Café Live. We were also knee deep in the recording of our album Undressing Minds For Show. We had done all of the pre-production work and laid down the bass and percussion in 2019 and were just starting to layer in the guitars when the world went dark.

We played Connie’s Ric Rac in South Philly on March 6, 2020. We were the third band to go on, and for the first time ever, I swapped out the vocal microphone before we took the stage. That was a very strange night. No one knew what was safe to do or to touch—was this going to blow over? Was life going to change for a month or so? Could this be the beginning of a 14-month, planet-altering event that would kill 3.5 million, lead to societal divisions over how to combat the virus, close thousands of businesses and topple a presidency? Nah. But it was reason enough to play a short set, pack up and get the hell out of there. Awkward handshakes or timid fist bumps were our farewells to each other after that gig. “See you guys, um, when I see you!”

Then it was a month of the band taking a backseat for all of us. We are all professionals with jobs who were struggling and racing to adapt; we are all fathers with concerns about our kids and their educations. Like everyone else, we turned inward.

But it wasn’t long before the paralysis of anxiety turned into a renewed interest and creative need to continue this project. Texts and calls became plans, schedules were made, and by the end of April, Dave (Perry) had done most of the layers and layers of guitar work on this album, and our producer Derek (Chafin of BarnSound Studio in Newtown Square) started bringing me in for lead-vocal sessions.

These sessions were a fantastic outlet for me. Logistically, the studio is set up perfectly for a pandemic. I would walk in the door, masked up, head upstairs and throw on the headphones. Derek would appear in my ears with a, “Ready to go?” Yep. “Let’s give it one complete take.” Yep.

I would spend up to three hours on each song. The sessions felt like movie production. In addition to technical instructions, Derek would give me creative guidance to help me get the tone, inflection and phrasing just right. He helped me get to the emotion of each song, helped me truly find my own voice. It was an incredibly satisfying and educational process.

As the pandemic summer dragged on, we agreed that we weren’t going to get together to practice but rather we would bear down on the completion of this album. So, we’d each go in and do our own individual work. Mark (Walsh) and Dave spent a good deal of time, one at a time, in Derek’s control room with pedal boards and various basses and guitars sprawled all over the place, in masks, in the heat of June and July. Same with James (Farrell) but instead of guitars, it was shakers, tambourines and, most likely, really good Scotch.

August and September were fine-tuning months, backing vocals, etc. We also chose a cover to record: “Human Behaviour” by Björk. We’ll be releasing that in a few weeks!

Late fall and winter were grueling but exciting times of mixing, more mixing, then mastering. And we finally released the single “Something Real” on March 5 and the entire album on March 19.

Although the four of us spent a lot of time apart during the quarantine, it’s becoming more and more clear that having this communal project was truly a blessing and that it has brought us closer as a band. If it doesn’t break you, adversity brings you closer.

This album will always remind me that creativity is a salve, a light in darkness, a life raft. It’s called an “album,” and just like a photo album, it captures a period of time. We were lucky to have had such an incredibly historic time to capture. We hope that people connect with it, and it brings some joy. It certainly did for us.