How’s everyone doing out there? July 13 edition
The summer is a time when artists, fans and industry people would normally be gathering at summer festivals and catching up after months of not seeing each other. That’s just one part of the summer festival experience we’re missing out on this year, but we’ve decided to do something about it here at Roots Music Canada. We’ve started calling up friends and colleagues in the music business to see how the last few months of have gone for them. We’re featuring clusters of their responses in these columns. So without further ado, here is this week’s edition of How’s Everyone Doing Out There?
Ansley Simpson – award-winning singer-songwriter
“I don’t remember much of the first two or three months,” Ansley said of adjusting to pandemic life. “I feel like I sort of woke up mid-May.”
Like a lot of people, Ansley lives with anxiety, and anything that actually justifies anxiety – like, you know, the threat of for real catching a potentially deadly virus if you leave the house – makes it stronger, she said.
So for the first little while, she just hunkered down as shows got cancelled and a planned album release got postponed (In fact, tickets for her album launch were supposed to go on sale the day the pandemic was declared).
Ansley shares custody of her nine-year-old daughter so she has spent every other week with her, home-schooling her in an organic way and paying careful attention to her emotional needs. They’ve made sourdough bread and little movies involving putting faces on fruit. Ansley has taught her video editing and showed her how to use a synthesizer.
“We didn’t do very much math,” she said laughing.
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Her daughter, she added, considers herself fortunate that she actually had two different houses to visit during lockdown, and got a regular change of scenery where most kids didn’t.
Ansley has done one Zoom concert since the start of the pandemic, but she found it hard to do, being all alone without another grown-up around to help with the technical part. She also found it weird playing to zero audience feedback.
“It kind of felt a bit like you were falling forward into nothing,” she said of finishing a song and hearing no reaction at all.
Overall, she said, the creative side of life during COVID has been a challenge. She wasn’t creative at all initially and didn’t play any instruments. What’s more, losing all her income drained her of creative energy.
But the brain fog is starting to lift a little bit now, she said, but she’s still not in a place of being able to write lyrics. She’s been drawn to creating ambient music with simple song-structures that focus on tones.
She’s been working on an EP with her sister, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and is just starting to score a documentary.
She’s also been working on her record label, Gizhiiwe, which she created to help release music that doesn’t conform to a settler music industry model — one that often focuses, for example, on touring the countries of colonizers in Europe rather than touring Indigenous communities at home.
The pandemic has removed rules in the music industry about what will work and what will fail, Ansley said, and that creates a new space to do things in a different way.
Russ Kelley – singer-songwriter and former music section head at the Canada Council for the Arts
“I’m doing good,” Russ told me via Facebook messenger. “Although, since I’m over 70, I have been very cautious about going out to stores etc. Fortunately, my partner and I have found an org/app that will deliver groceries, so that is much less of a burden on her and I.”
Plus, Russ and his partner live in an amazing, 100-plus-year-old apartment building in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood that has rooftop vegetable gardens, he said. They have two plots where he grows snow peas, tomatoes, swiss chard and herbs.
“All these things make a strange and sinister time quite a bit better,” he said.
Prior to COVID-19, Russ divided his time between playing gigs and serving as a jury member for granting agencies. But since COVID, he’s only been on one jury, and obviously the shows have dried up.
“These days I spend much of my time trying to write songs, hoping to maybe put out one more collection of songs when this virus runs its course,” he said.
And while he still has an easy time coming up with interesting melodies and song structures, he, like Ansley, has been struggling with lyrics.
“It may be in response to the isolation and low-level fear, but it occupies a lot of my time currently,” he said. “I’m pushing myself to write a song about the pandemic.”
The rest of Russ’ time is spent with his partner, who is working from home, and staying in touch with his son and daughter and friends.
“I do feel very, very fortunate that I can keep relatively safe and secure,” he said.
Frank Hoorn – Booking agent, Near North Music
“What is life like as [an] agent?” said Frank. “Reality is that the downstream effects of the Covid-19 interruption [vary] for everyone – agents, production teams, artists.”
Agents are impacted financially like everyone else, he said, and organizations such as Napama and Capacoa have been facilitating a lot of discussion groups and workshops attempting to answer the big “now what?” question.
“Some agents are devastated but others that have resources to fall back on or little or no overhead expenses – are less pressured,” Frank said.
“Looking ahead, the pandemic opens up as much as it closes. This is a time for looking afresh at possibilities and changing work habits. That in my mind is really exciting.”
Frank’s business is taking advantage of the CERB to help make ends meet, and he has just transferred approximately 60 per cent of his grant funding, which normally goes to attending conferences, to special fall projects for Kobo Town, Pharis and Jason Romero and Heartship.
On the whole, he considers himself very fortunate.
“The outfall of the COVID-19 pandemic is very devastating to many people across our society’s population, especially the working poor and homeless, and we need to be there for everyone, without going all out fighting for our own turf,” he said. “But I can’t help but see it all in the bigger picture. We are a very prosperous country, as [are] Europe and the USA etc. And we have not experienced devastating wars on our soils. The somewhat reasonable expectation is that, within a year or so, this will be ‘history’ and we can now build on coming back with a positive attitude and new ideas.”
“In the meantime, we need to be here for each other the best we can,” he continued. “This is also the way my conversations are with presenters and festivals It’s all about our relationships and understanding the loads that each of us carry. Venues are suffering even as they try to reopen with limited numbers of patrons and as they try to include musicians. When the attitude is that we understand each other’s needs rather than individual entitlement there are ways of going forward.”