The Pandemic Interview
Alex Mainy Main of the Facebook music blog Reservoir Droogs has recently been in conversation with several independent artists to discuss the impact the fallout of of the current COVID 19 situation on them. Louder Than War felt these were so good they deserved a wider audience.
On a daily basis we are seeing politicians, the media, TV talking heads, and self proclaimed experts on YouTube telling us what we should and shouldn’t do, what we should think, and what the future holds for us all.
Occasionally we get to see the real people who are being impacted with all the current changes, but all too rarely.
For instance I know what Live Nation and other entertainment industry leaders think about the current situation, and likewise I’m well aware of what they think the future holds.
However I thought that it could be interesting to bypass those who deal with profit margins that small countries are run on and go to the coal face to speak to independent artists who have a finger on the pulse of the grassroots music scene.
Apart from sharing a certain level of patronage those participating in this interview have all released new original material in the midst of this storm too.
Reservoir Droogs: Hello everyone. Strange days at the moment. A bit personal, but how are you dealing with the lockdown?
Carol: I’m up and down, as we all are. I have decided to be kind to myself and am enjoying inordinate amounts of good food. I think the hardest thing to deal with is not knowing when life will return to normal, or ‘the new normal’, whatever the hell that means (and therefore, overthinking the impossibility of a return to something that no longer exists). Etc.
Rob: Lockdown isnt so bad. I spend 70% of my time at home anyway, and since last May both Suze and I have had a shit load of mad problems thrown at us. Cultimating in the death of both my parents last December. So those 7 months dealing with care homes, council officials, in and out of hospitals, social workers etc..while also writing and recording the first furs album has left us thinking that the lockdown dosent seem that much of a challenge really. Different experiences, different perspectives.
Johny: Oddly enough I am really enjoying it. I know a lot of people are finding It tough and struggling but I am on the whole quite a solitary person so social isolation is not a problem and apart from having next to no income I am enjoying this time very much.
Duncan: I’m feeling frustrated that all the tours and festivals we had lined up to promote the new album have collapsed. On the other hand, there is so much to do in getting an album out I’m not sure I would have coped if we’d been on the road.
At first, being confined to home, there was a feeling that the pressure had been lifted. There was nothing to do but take it easy. Then boredom set in and I thought “I can’t just watch Netflix all day”, so I got off my arse and started writing and doing video blogs.
Now, I can’t wait to get back to freedom and doing what we did before. Goodness knows when that will be though.
Reservoir Droogs: How is the artistic process coming along for you? Are you creating?
Duncan: Right now my life comprises of queuing at the post office to get people their CDs and LPs, emailing blogs, magazines and radio stations and getting things like videos and press releases together. I have been writing and creating though and will do again once I have informed the whole world that they should play/review/listen/buy the album.
Johny: Yes, I constantly write songs anyway. There are always three or four part finished songs rattling around in my head so as far as creation there is not that much difference to normal.
Carol: Things are starting to click back into place for me creatively. I wrote A Song For You about a month ago, and released it quickly. There have been bits and bobs emerging since then.
Rob: I guess that I’m constantly creating, Songs, ideas, tunes are always in my head, I’m always looking for the next hit. If not that then making board games, drawing..ect..but I’m missing the band loads, the camaraderie, hanging out together, not just the playing and arranging the songs but the whole thing. That helps create.
Reservoir Droogs: You’ve released material in the midst of this pandemic. How has it impacted on the promotion?
Johny: Well the recent release for The Kopek Millionaires “Love And Loud Guitars” came out and I have had to rely on Facebook and mailing list promotion (still not got my head around Instagram and twitter). I will be releasing a video for Punk Girl From Another World soon. Promotional gigs just couldn’t happen.
In fairness we don’t gig all that often mostly because I don’t get around to booking them (I love writing, recording and producing but the admin side and gig booking I hate) Also there are work, financial and other band commitments get in the way with the other members of the band.
I was planning to put on a release party in Manchester for the album and also thinking of doing a live gig in Rockers (The coolest shop in Manchester). But that all had to go by the by. This might yet still happen after lockdown. Never say never.
My solo stuff is not really impacted as with the solo stuff there is no band, it’s just me so there were never going to be any gigs to promote it. Again it’s all Facebook and mailing list promotion, the odd Youtube video. I am currently working on a solo EP and there is a planned free release of a cover version in the next week or so. All solo stuff has either been free or limited edition so prolonged and sustained promotion is not vital. It’s definitely harder with an ongoing band orientated project.
Carol: I decided to release A Song For you and not push it too much. It felt a bit crude to be too businesslike about it. Sometimes the message and the art just needs to be out there, swimming on its own, without consideration for its position in the grander scheme of a career or artistic trajectory. Saying that, I’ve postponed the official release of my new album Savage Purge, in the hope of getting a little more interest from different parties. I want this album to reach more people than my previous album, so it now feels worth spending the time on letting people know it exists.
Rob: Most of our promo is on FB anyway. So that’s not impacted on, but the other thing is sending out the vinyl too. We are left wondering if any of the magazines or radio stations will receive it, or if there’s any one there to receive it. Without any kind of press company behind us, that shit is difficult.
Duncan: As said. Live shows are out. Emails are in.
The Return to Live Music
Reservoir Droogs: With performing live being such a key element of forwarding your career what are your thoughts about how that is going to be reintroduced, and have you thought about alternatives if social distancing becomes the norm?
Carol: I reckon live music will very much return to grassroots. Unconventional venues and small audiences. Some of the most rewarding gigs I’ve played have been to 20 people in someone’s kitchen. It’s going to be a very long time until 60,000 rub shoulders with one another in an arena, so it could be a very exciting time for us smaller acts.
Rob: Christ knows how the gig thing is going to work. Whatever is decided then that’s what you work with. We are not into any of the on line live things though. It’s just dead really, no atmosphere, every one and their dog doing online sets or accoustic things..Nah not for us. I just find it really boring. We are a live band and whatever comes our aim is to be on a stage to play to an audience.
Duncan: I think people will go to gigs again. I certainly hope so. I don’t see it happening quickly though. Maybe next year when hopefully there is a feeling of security that it can be treated better than it can be now.
Johny: Now this is a really tough question. I can’t see how live music can exist in a socially distanced manner. Promoters would just not be able to afford to put bands on. Fees for bands would drop or just not get paid as a result, or ticket sales would become prohibitively high (they already are depending on what type of music you watch live). This is genuinely worrying for musicians and fans alike. Open air gigs possibly offer a solution but hell, we live in the UK. If social distancing is practically policed then it will impact on the general atmosphere of the show and the atmosphere is vital to the live experience. I can’t think of a way to run a successful gig until the pandemic is over and a vaccine in place.
Reservoir Droogs: On a daily basis we are seeing artists streaming sets online. Unfortunately the quality of the recordings can of course be quite hit or miss depending on the tech being used. Do you think that the current uptick on streaming will drive tech improvements?
Johny: Sadly being a cynical old fart I think tech improvements will only come if there is a clear profit to be made by the developers, but if the pandemic is prolonged due to too early relaxation of restrictions, performers may have to invest in better tech to put their work across. My personal reasons for not live streaming is that I don’t have the tech to put out content I would be happy with. Also it is important to understand the limitations of the tech you are using to get the best results.
Duncan: It’s got to. Some people are good enough to play an acoustic guitar into an iPhone and be entertaining. It’s not a long term option for most though. There’s been some entertaining “band all together on split screen” videos. It’s not like being at a gig though is it?
Carol: I bloody well hope so! I consider myself to be relatively technically minded. I can record and edit music, videos and use Photoshop to decent amateur levels & have spent hours and hours trying to get my DAW to stream through Facebook, with no joy. It’s becoming a bit of a saga now. FREE HODGE MUSIC FOR LIFE TO ANYONE WHO CAN HELP. The struggle is very First World and very real.
Reservoir Droogs: One possible positive that I’ve noticed is that with music fans having spare time on their hands there has been a great deal of people using social media to share recommendations. Favourite album lists to Spotify playlists as examples.
Who would you recommend that those reading should check out?
Rob: My personal recommendations would be check out everything by Robert Pollard, the greatest songwriter ever. 120 albums, 5000 songs…other than that its most things 70’s Reggae..Max Romeo, Dr Alimantado, Tapper Zuki ect..Fantastic grooves & songs just such purity in the music, no bullshit.
Carol: I love that people are listening to more music. My relatively recent favourites have been Calva Louise, Amyl and The Sniffers, Stephen Kerrison, Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds, and Haest
Duncan: Some of the favourite bands I’ve heard lately have included:
Nada Surf: Never Not together
Potty Mouth: SNAFU
Starcrawler: Devour You
There’s a lot of good guitar music coming out of the US at the mo!
Johny: Wow – There is so much excellent music out there it’s hard. There are overlooked classics like The Hollywood Brats, Royal Court Of China and The Exploding Hearts worth digging up and checking out. Currently music that gets me excited is Amanda Palmer, The Unthanks, Cigarettes After Sex. I loved The Biters but sadly they split up before hitting their potential. There is just so much wonderful music out there old and new.
Reservoir Droogs: And to draw this to a close is there anything that you would care to say to those reading?
Carol: This is the bit where I’d usually say “buy my music” but I kind of can’t be bothered. I’m really lucky to have been asked to play some online gigs that have directly helped people in need. In particular, We Shall Overcome and Punk For The Homeless are two brilliant grassroots organisations. It’s really rewarding to play a gig, raise a bit of money, then see that money bringing real assistance to those who need it, all in a very short space of time. No nonsense, grassroots action is where it’s at.
Duncan: I’d just like to say that, in these dangerous times, if you must kiss a stranger: don’t use tongues!
Johny: My inspirational quote, guideline for life has from my teens been “Be Your Own Hero. ”
Also learn to appreciate the little things. Never undervalue or take for granted loved ones (god, that is all too serious)
Never trust a Tory.
Rob: Clap the NHS, look after each other, fuck the Tories. And please give to cat Rescues & Animal shelters.
All the bands interviewed have new album albums out. Support independent artists and head over to buy yourself a copy.
Duncan Reid and the Big Heads website
Carol Hodge website
The Kopek Millionaires website
Interview conducted by Alex Main of Reservoir Droogs Facebook blog – Follow him here. Thanks to Mainy for letting us share the piece.