Feature

How’s everyone doing out there? Aug. 4 edition

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay.

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?

Michael Wrycraft – Album designer, emcee, and host of Radio Wrycraft, Live from Hugh’s Room Live, and From Cover to Cover

“My building is highly protective and keeping us cripply types safe,” said Michael, who lost his legs to complications from diabetes around two and a half years ago and now lives in an assisted living facility.

People walk around cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and the personal support workers who help him are wearing masks and gloves and sometimes gowns, he said.

“I mask up when I travel through people or [to] the store, where I also rubber glove up. But as for lifestyle, I’ve been kinda self-isolating for 30 years! … Remember for years I have ruled the world from my ‘puter. sending out album designs from my wheelchair.”

In fact, Michael feels like he’s hit his stride this past year, he said.  He put on 79 live, multi-artist concerts before the pandemic hit and forced the cancelation of his 80th, a Bruce Cockburn tribute – and he produces three online radio shows. So really, his life hasn’t changed that much.

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Despite the fact that musicians are making next to no money during the pandemic, Michael said he’s still getting a decent amount of album design work – less than before, but enough to keep going.

“Of course, my social life is fucked the same way yours and everyone’s is, I think,” he said.

“I have the coolest apartment in a ‘cripple building,’” he added.  But they have guest restrictions to keep people safe: essential visitors only, and everyone is screened at the front door.

“But I am out every single day, reading in the lush beautiful park kitty corner to my building about 90 seconds away,” he said.

“There are some musicians and bands creating safe spaces outside in that same lush park and playing a lot of New Orleans-style horn funk every weekend three minutes from my front door, and I am getting my entire fix for live music from this. It’s so good it fills me up pretty quickly!”

Michael’s apartment also has a huge balcony with its doors held open with a bungie cord all through the summer, so Michael is able to get lots of fresh air and appropriately-distanced neighbourhood interaction.

The only thing missing for him right now is “good kisses and amazing hugs,” he said.

“I guess becoming a small person adjusted my thinking on everything and has given me a far more of a Zen attitude towards everything,” he said, “and [I know] that all that has been taken from me has been taken from everyone, so I’m kinda cool. I do very much miss curating and presenting my shows at Hugh’s Room.  That’s like ripping heroin away from me. It was such a way to spread great music to many ears live, while giving musicians a nice pay cheque for a wee bit of work. And I miss the magic that was creating on the stage, behind the stage, and in the audience.”

 

Nicolas Boulerice – Co-founder of Le Vent du Nord

“At the start, it was really stressful,” Nicolas said in French in a conversation over messenger, “as it was for everyone, I imagine.  We’re used to dealing with uncertainty and precarious working conditions, but this situation was particularly worrisome.”

Le Compagnie du Nord – the management and production company that Nicolas operates with his wife, Genevieve Nadeau, and his bandmates, Simon Beaudry, Olivier Demers and Rejean Brunet – cancelled 250 concerts around the world when the pandemic hit. That was a huge hit to their bottom line.

Le Vent du Nord was supposed to tour France, Germany and the US this year – building on a spectacular start to 2020, which included playing Carnegie Hall with their supergroup, SOLO (a partnership with De Temps Antan).

But the pause has forced Nicolas and his bandmates to focus on researching and writing new material.

“In 2022, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of Le Vent du Nord,” he said, “so it was a good opportunity to get down to business.  There’s always a way to find a silver lining.”

In fact, it’s not just the members of Le Vent du Nord collectively who have benefited from the extra time to create.  Nicolas himself finished writing a book of poetry that will come out next year.

He also wrote some material for another solo album and some songs using lyrics written by his father for yet another album – both in the relatively distant future.

Over the next three weeks, he’ll be recording another album still with his friend, Frédéric Samson.

Simon Beaudry, meanwhile, is finishing off an album of folk songs with a classical pianist, and Olivier Demers has just finished an album of guitar compositions.

Those two albums, along with Nicolas’ album with Frédéric Samson, should be out in the fall.

Meanwhile, the band has done a few online shows, Nicolas said, but they haven’t been a priority.

They also recorded several songs for Place des Arts in Montreal, and they’re about to release a concert recorded in a forest that people will be able to purchase.

“We find it sad that this trend of giving away one’s art online corresponds to a period of time in which artists can no longer earn a living from their work,” he said.

“Consequently, we think people should pay a reasonable amount for this kind of concert.”

 

Sina Bathaie – composer and santur player

“I’m always trying to be positive about things that happen,” Sina said.  “I’m using this time to work on a lot of old projects that I had.  You always need some time to focus.”

For him, that means working on a couple of songs that he started at the Banff Centre and performed live once at Adelaide Hall, but that he’d never had a chance to arrange for recording.

He’s also working on developing his skills at fusing his music with electronic dance music (EDM), something he’s been experimenting with for 18 months now.  He’s already released a couple of tracks that have gone in that direction, and now he’s planning a full album of EDM Persian world fusion.

He’ll be releasing a single this month.

Oh, and he’s started playing a Persian instrument called the kamacheh again.  He used to play it, but he broke the skin and set it aside for a long time.  He’s used the great pandemic pause to fix it and start furiously relearning it.

“Once you know one instrument, playing other instruments is just a matter of mastering the techniques to play,” he said, adding that he’s been transferring songs he plays on santur over to the kamacheh.

Sina still has a day job, so he’s been less financially stressed by the pandemic than other artists.

He did lose some concerts but a couple of festivals he’d been booked to play hired him to play virtually instead.

Mostly, he said, he’s just been enjoying the time to make music and develop better lifestyle habits, such as practicing yoga and meditation and eating healthy.

He is worried about his father, who travelled home to Iran for a visit before the pandemic started and is now stuck over there, he said, but his dad has been staying at home away from the virus, so he isn’t too stressed.

“Life is very challenging, and I believe that you should always look at the positive things you can do in every situation,” Sina said.

“That’s actually what I’m doing with this whole pandemic.  Obviously, it’s not a good situation in general, but there are ways that you can make it work for you.”

“I also want things to go back to normal.”

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