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?
Alyssa Milman (vocals, guitar): We were finishing up the drum and bass tracks for our first full-length album.
How/when are you looking to release the music?
We’re hoping to release the album in fall of 2022 with some singles leading up to it. Ideally, we’d love to try to do vinyl as part of a physical release, but if that isn’t possible, we’ll still be releasing it digitally with tapes accompanying it.
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?
This was the first time I’ve ever recorded demos with an actual DAW (digital audio workstation) setup. Normally, I just write the songs unplugged on guitar—once in a while I’ll record them on the voice memos app if I’m worried I won’t remember something—and then I just show my bandmates the songs at practice where we start filling them out. Because we couldn’t practice and I had an album’s worth of material to share with my band, with only a small handful of the songs being ones we worked on at practice pre-pandemic, I had to get nice-sounding demos of everything ready to share so we could all start virtually demoing parts out. It really came together when we were all vaccinated and able to start practicing, but doing the virtual demos allowed me the space and time to write my first ever guitar solo and experiment with some ideas I might not have had a chance to do otherwise. It’ll definitely be a part of my process moving forward, but I still prefer bringing my song shells to practice and organically putting songs together as a band.
How much time do you plan to spend—or have you spent—in the studio working on this?
When you were in the studio with us, we were in the middle of day two and had gotten almost every song done on drums and bass. In total, we spent four very long days at the Headroom. We now have all of the drums, bass and rhythm guitar done, as well as lead guitar on one song. I plan to spend several days at our engineer Johanna (Baumann)’s home studio to do vocals, synth and other auxiliary stuff, and then the plan is to come back to the Headroom for a day or two so I can finish up lead guitar parts and any other auxiliary stuff that we can’t do at Johanna’s place.
Anything else you can think of to give MAGNET readers a behind-the-scenes look at your process, offering them a better understanding of what you’re working on?
This is our first time in the studio so I’m only just learning what my process is like. We spent more time than expected on rhythm guitars because I want this album to be a huge wall of sound, so making sure we had enough layers of tone was super important to me. At times, the process was just messing around with a pile of pedals until we got layers of fucked-up tone. It was a lot of fun to experiment in that way! I have a somewhat eclectic songwriting style as well (or so I’ve been told), so making sure each song got the proper treatment while still making sure it was all cohesive was another thing that was high on my priority list when doing rhythm guitar. I’ll kind of be winging it when it comes time to do lead guitars (tonally and part wise), but I’m really looking forward to having the freedom to explore that realm for our stuff as well.
Musically, what are you looking forward to as restrictions are lifted in the city?
We’ve been fortunate enough to play an outdoor show this summer, and I’m so grateful we were able to play some of the songs on this album in front of people. I’m hoping that we can continue to safely play shows and get to experience live music again. There’s something very cathartic about playing live and being at a live show. As much as I absolutely loved being in the studio crafting the structure of this album, it’s hard to beat the rawness of playing live. At least in my experience, it allows me to let go of my perfectionism for 30 minutes, rely on vibe and just enjoy the ride.