What has been the impact of the Covid-19 lock-down on musicians?
Coronavirus has taken away loved ones, jobs, incomes, stretched medical resources, and prevented people seeing people they care about in person.
For other, more fortunate people, the worst impact of coronavirus is merely spending an extended period of time working from home in their spare room, next to a clothes drier and some unfashionable curtains.
Everyone will have a different 2020, despite us all being locked-down.
For musicians, the world has changed significantly.
Gigs are no longer a chance for people to come together as one, to share a communal experience. Gigs are now a breeding ground, and not just an irritating breeding ground for people who like to chatter loudly during quiet passages and hold up their phones directly in the sight-line of people behind them.
Gigs are now a malevolent chance for the virus to spread among new carriers. Gigs are, therefore, not coming back any time soon, it would seem.
So how does a young band, about to launch an exciting, Steve Albini-produced new album, and with a series of festival appearances lined up to promote their new album, deal with the prospect of their lovingly-crafted, painstakingly planned magnum opus being released during a lock-down, unable to get out in front of audiences to show them what they’re all about?
Southend band Asylums are in such position. They have just released a new single this week, released on their own record label, Cool Thing Records, and have a new Steve-Albini-produced album, “Genetic Cabaret” coming out on 17th July, (click this link to pre-order from an independent record shop) so I spoke to lead singer and guitarist Luke Branch to find out – just how does a band cope with a situation like this?
Luke: “It’s a head twister isn’t it?
“I’m just an existentialist and accept what’s happening to me, and try to be pragmatic. We had Glastonbury – which I was really excited about – that was one of the ones that stung a little bit. It’s such a lovely event to be involved in and the last one we played was two years ago. The Leftfield stage, Billy Bragg had booked us – I love him and love the stage – little things like that – a shame not to have that experience but you can’t get too upset – this thing is affecting so many people’s lives in such a fundamental way, I’m just glad my family are okay – it certainly puts things in perspective.“
Q. You have an album and single coming out – how do you get your music out there during lock-down? You need resilience, right?
Luke: “We didn’t consider not doing anything – it’s the new normality – we accept the parameters for success and failure and try and enjoy the journey.
“(Resilience) is what we were always about. The circumstances right now are more extreme than they have ever been in our lifetimes but we always had a pretty idealistic outlook. We wanted to be sustainable and creative and not lose the opportunity to be creative – we put that into all the projects we’re involved in and the bands we work with, we don’t drop any bands, we just try to establish long term working relationships, and (deal with) whatever comes up.
“We have a single out and a video and there are album preorders – so quite a lot of it can still be done – it’s just the festivals really – that’s the only real difference. There is some disruption of press and radio but everyone’s trying their best and I’m happy with that. Whatever we can do we will do – it’s the way it is.
“The tour is temporarily on ice – we do have one left in at the end of October at the Moth Club, and we are keeping discussions open until we see where we are at, as the last thing we want to do is let people down. The live music sector is taking a real beating and it will take a while to get back to normality.
Q. Tell us about the album, and how Steve Albini became involved…
Luke: “In 2018 we’d done five years straight with the band and we needed a break from touring and the turbulence from it all. I asked the guys if we could take six months off and then write a record – put it on the horizon to look forward to.
“Some of the guys changed jobs, me and my wife decided to have a child and we all tried to move our lives forward.
“We got given a grant by the PRS to make an album, so when the grant came in, I’d just received a publishing deal as a songwriter and I used the money to book Steve. Steve Albini is one of our heroes. I never thought in a million years I would get to record with him.
“We put an adventure in the diary – something different that we hadn’t experienced before – and that focused the mind.
“We just enjoyed being creative and being hidden away. When we went out to Chicago it was such a rewarding thing for us. We have been heavily influenced by a lot of the bands that have recorded with him. It’s like going back to being a little kid and hearing Surfer Rosa by the Pixies. Its fascinating to see him work and it focused the mind before we went.
“We wanted to do all the work in rehearsal and then cut it really quickly and try to get the spontaneity onto the record, and work on tape – the discipline of tape.
”Steve is a musician first – it certainly felt like working with a musician – he is so technically proficient.
“After having gone through two album releases and forming the (Cool Thing) record label it felt like the universe was giving us a reward!
“It was a good feeling, man and something I will cherish ‘til the day I die, you know?”
Q. And what about the new single?
Luke: “I really love the song. We have several styles of music that we work with, we have the fast stuff, the crazier stuff, the more anthemic stuff and melancholic stuff. I think this is more anthemic, and ironically it’s called “A Perfect Life in a Perfect World”.
“It came out of a depressive episode I had when the past weighs heavily on your soul.
“We thought it would be good to release it now as the relatability is quite high.”
Q. And what else can you do to get the music out there?
Luke: “I have done a couple of acoustic gigs online – it’s nice to showcase the music in a different way.”
Luke is playing an exclusive gig for the aforementioned independent record shop, South Records at 18.30 on Easter Sunday – click on this link for details – and be sure to follow Asylums for news of similar forthcoming events.