Isolation Drills: Matt Barrick (Muzz, The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Sharon Van Etten, Matt Berninger, Silent Partner Studio)

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.

Barrick: It’s difficult to sum up such a strange year and a half, a stretch of amorphous time that feels both like it lasted forever and flew right by.

I was lucky to have Silent Partner, a recording studio in Germantown that a few friends and I had just finished building. It was a safe space to retreat to and work from, and it felt completely isolated from the outside world—though it was also my way of connecting with friends through the music we were sending back and forth.

I was also lucky to have my family to hunker down with.

When it all started, several projects were just coming to fruition. In the two weeks before lockdown, we had filmed a video for my band Muzz at the American Treasure Tour, a bizarre museum out in Oaks Pa., and I had performed at the Tibet House Concert at Carnegie Hall with Matt Berninger and Phoebe Bridgers.

The Muzz record, which I had been working on for several years with Josh Kaufman and Paul Banks, was finally coming out, as was Matt Berninger’s solo record, which I had played drums on. Needless to say, plans for the year were cancelled.

A Rosali concert on March 13 we had just been practicing for was cancelled. Booker T. Jones, who had produced the Matt Berninger record, never made it to Silent Partner to rehearse for our upcoming shows. And that was just the beginning of pushing things back, eventually to realize that they weren’t going to happen for a long time.

The Muzz record came out last June, and we managed to make a couple more videos, remotely record an EP of cover songs that I pieced together and mixed at Silent Partner. But the highlight was getting together to film a concert (with no audience) in a huge space upstate in Kingston, N.Y. It was difficult to pull off during a pandemic, but so great to be able to play music together with friends.

Another thing I did with lockdown time was a deep dive into East German technology from 50 years ago. The RFZ console at Silent Partner comes from the former GDR. It’s an excellent design and well-built, but very rare—perhaps the only one of it’s kind in the U.S.—and there’s not much information available about it. I spent endless time translating the manual with Google translate, staring at schematics, learning tons and finally getting my hands dirty replacing obsolete connectors, cleaning and fixing any problems.

Remote recording and mixing kept me busy as well. I enjoyed having the freedom to experiment, being able to take as much time as I wanted on each detail, add every percussion instrument I could get my hands on, try new mixing techniques. I eventually did an in-person session, getting tested and wearing masks: Martin Courtney of Real Estate braved a snow storm to come record his upcoming solo record.

A few months after that session, I was vaccinated and did my first unmasked recording session. Since then, it’s been so great to welcome people through our doors.