Teaching a class remotely and keeping your own kid somewhat focused on her school work while everyone is anxious, uncertain, depressed, and unmotivated feels like a slow-motion meltdown on some days. That said, I’ve got it pretty good. I have job security. Creatively, I’ve swung back and forth between brief moments of lightning and much longer stretches of hollow, who knows what? In talking with other musicians/artists I’ve observed quite a spectrum of these extremes. I was curious how full-time musicians were rolling with covid-quarantine. So I asked some.
Ben Chasny recently released a new Six Organs of Admittance album called Companion Rises on Drag City Records, and was gearing up for a spring tour of the US. The tour was to be a substantial part of his 2020 income until the cancellation dominoes starting falling in March. Into the “hermit hut” he went.
“I’ve recorded more over the last couple months than I have in a long time. For me it’s a time to finish some projects I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish because of a tour. I’m not saying everything I’ve done is amazing. But I am trying to work every day. Yes, I am stressed about the world but I just can’t afford not to work right now. I have to. So I am. But yeah, I lost a lot of money. So that stress is manifesting into trying to just record and write. I’m working on another Library record for KPM. I did one last year. So I feel pretty lucky to be able to do that.” Ben added, “Financially I’ve been helped a lot by Bandcamp. They are pretty much the only entity that actually cares about musicians these days. They also happen to be where I learn a lot about new music. Man, I can’t say enough good things about them.”
I was impressed with how determined and focused Ben’s adaptation to the lost tour was. I also could relate to Sacramento-based painter/songwriter Christine Shields‘ reflective response:
“For the first month it was very difficult to focus and I hardly painted but did manage to record a song. When I WAS able to focus on the song or anything else. I felt a lot of relief. I put quite a bit of effort into getting my home and food situation together, getting my ducks in a row. Meanwhile the deep dive I was taking was and is very internal, and is only, more lately, starting to bear more fruits in terms of manifesting creative output. I feel like it’s such a deep dive that I don’t even understand the extent of how it will change me, or how this species-wide experience will change us all. I endeavor to stay present and take things as they come and take good care of myself, because a lot of the stuff that comes up is from such a deep dark place that it’s scary. Like those strange creatures that live in the depths of the ocean that we know very little about. So it’s like I have to support myself while I take this journey. I feel like there is a bigger plan, a longer vision that this experience is setting up, and the only way to navigate it is by intuition and being really present. That takes a lot of energy. At this point I feel a transition into making more work, or bringing the work from inside myself into the physical world, but I’m working on feeling balanced and gentle about it so that it happens organically. I feel like one of the things we are learning about as a culture is how the constant pressure to produce, to “work”, is killing us on many levels, and there is a re-assessment of what really needs to come out of us. What is really important? What are we here to do? It’s such a personal question for each of us. As artists, musicians, creative people, we inhabit an interesting place in all this, as we tend to navigate this hazy zone between imagination and commodity.”
Percussionist Sameer Gupta of Brooklyn Raga Massive acknowledges the challenges of his situation, especially with kids at home, but is trying to adapt and keep things moving:
“The pandemic has had its pluses and minuses for me. It’s a lot more work at the house with both kids and my spouse at home and we both have to work around each other’s schedules. I’ve been able to keep a minimal practice schedule, but really my focused hours of creative development have been reduced. But I’ve been cooking a lot more, which helps the creativity of my music. I also have been struggling with trying to find the sustainable model for my music work with the recent cancellations. I’ve started a Patreon page which I am very excited about and I hope people will see the value of supporting artists directly. It’s also been necessary to buy more gear to support the needs for live streaming…and that is something that hits the finances unexpectedly.”
“About two weeks after I returned home from my abbreviated tour (of Europe) with Modern Nature, I started feeling symptoms that corresponded with those of COVID-19. That was nearly two months ago, and I haven’t fully recovered. I am presently taking medication under the advisement of an ear/nose/throat specialist that he prescribed for a sinus inflammation stemming from the coronavirus infection. This has led to a near-complete pause on my creative work. Without the full health of my respiratory system, I feel totally disinclined to work on music, because I think it would be too disappointing to feel like I couldn’t reach for a horn whenever I want. I am waiting until I have made a full recovery to work on music. When the time comes, I have an album of solo music that I’ve been working on for a long time that I hope to wrap up by mid-summer. Having said that, on top of my own health problems, I have been struggling to countenance being creative generally with the encroaching collapse of the United States in the background.”