By Erin Christie
“I feel like having a project to work on during the pandemic saved my life, or at least kept me from becoming truly dead inside,”
said Allston musician Brendan Wright, who publishes content under the name Tiberius.
Before turning toward creating, though, he and many musicians sat, twiddling their thumbs as COVID-19 pulled their livelihood from underneath them; packing up tour busses and studio spaces to shelter-in-place meant settling into isolation, both from their loved ones and from their artistry. With the industry then facing an unsteady future (in addition to a drop in audio streaming and album sales as the pandemic hit), the spring saw a rise in release postponements as big-name artists such as Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys weighed the commercial risks at hand. As a result, the collective musical landscape was faced with a difficult question: to create or not create?
Despite the odds, smaller musicians, outside of huge labels and without big stakes, have been creating at a rate like never before, as proof of their ability to adapt, and, for some, as a method of retaining normalcy. For Wright, working on his upcoming LP, Lull, was what kept him going as the days began to blend together: “When the overwhelming sense of existential dread began to kick in, I would listen to the drafts of [those] tracks as reminders that I had some sort of purpose in my life,” he said. “I couldn’t let myself slip away without having [them] completed.” While he typically works alone, Wright also enlisted the help of some friends, who contributed to Lull remotely. “Even though we’re not in the same room, I can’t help but smirk a bit, listening back to what they recorded,” he laughed.
Like Wright, many musicians have been collaborating using online methods since the pandemic's start, which has allowed content creation to flourish. For multi-membered bands such as Chicago psychedelic rock group Post Animal, remote collaboration was necessary, as their typical process of fleshing out ideas, together, was an impossibility. Though adapting to this mode of production was initially complicated, they felt motivated nonetheless, resulting in their new three-song EP, Worried About You. The release, riddled with existential dread, saw each of the five members recording independently, with mixing done later by bassist Dalton Allison.
“It definitely takes some extra concentration, locking up with everyone when all you have is an MP3 to vibe with,” guitarist Javi Reyes explained. “But once you put the work in and get it right, it’s very satisfying to know we can still do it under limiting circumstances. [It] feels like we’re cheating when it turns out real well.” One of the EP’s tracks, “Caving In,” hones in on feeling “like everything is falling apart, but still trying to do everything in your power to fix it,” he continued, which speaks on the mindset of much of the industry right now.
In addition to making way for new production methods, the pandemic has also pushed artists toward sonic experimentation, namely because their material won’t be heard live for the foreseeable future. Seattle garage rock band Naked Giants, for example, has shifted gears in the last few months, moving from their typically high-energy affiliations to experimenting with “mellow" sounds that “translate well to recordings and videos,” as explained by vocalist and bassist Gianni Aiello. “These days, we’re writing with the knowledge that we won’t be playing live for quite a while,” he continued. They’ve also taken up livestreaming recently, as has become customary, to test out their new material and share songs from their August release, The Shadow.
Most notably, alongside encouraging artists to adopt new methods of writing, producing, and sharing content, the pandemic has also inspired some budding musicians to write for the very first time, which was the case for a Boston University student who creates under the moniker Thetamancer. “March was actually the first time I really cracked down on making music,” he explained. “I had so much time on my hands and couldn’t go outside, so I started getting really productive with recording.”
In recent months, he has released a handful of tracks at a steady rate, many of which he drops online during what he calls “Theta Thursday.” Since branching out, he’s also taken advantage of online collaboration, having been able to work with LA-based musician Slater. “I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to collaborate with one of my favorite artists if it wasn’t for lockdown,” he continued.
With even first-time musicians, the pandemic has become an ideal scenario for encouraging content creation. Though the future of the industry remains uncertain, it definitely isn’t as quiet as it was a couple of months ago, a sign of the resilience of musicianship even in the toughest circumstances.
Learn more about the artists included in this feature by clicking the links below.