Being In A Band During The COVID-19 Pandemic Catching Up With Portland, Oregon's 'Floater' July 22nd, 2020 • Pandemic Band Interview #30
Metal Pulp And Paper: Hello Robert. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Metal Pulp And Paper. We appreciate it. So, how have you been holding up during this global pandemic and lockdown?
Robert Wynia: It's tricky to put my feelings or thoughts about this into printed words, or even spoken conversation, because they're all over the place. Scattered, a bit frantic, highly charged and emotional, and shifting by the hour. I had a lot of plans that all went in the bin as borders closed, halls closed, bars closed, and global panic set in. Even studio recording sessions evaporated. No more band practice, writing sessions, nothing. Basically, all of us are having to adapt somehow.
MPAP: 2020, the year when almost every concert or music festival has been postponed or canceled until 2021. And 2020 was supposed to be the year of some big reunions. Everyone was excited to see the Rage Against The Machine and the My Chemical Romance tours. So, let’s back up and go over the first five months of 2020, the beginning of a new decade. There was the possibility of World War III happening. There were deadly bushfires in Australia. Then we had the acquittals in the Trump impeachment trials. Prince Harry and Meghan decided to step away from the royal family, and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and his daughter, along with seven others, unfortunately, died in a helicopter crash in California. The deadly worldwide COVID-19 virus. And then, get this, we even had the Pentagon officially releasing UFO videos. So, what did you have planned for the year before all this madness began? Before all the toilet paper hoarding?
Robert: I was really fortunate to have written a book over the preceding months, or years, and to have been working almost totally alone on an instrumental soundtrack. As luck would have it this project Night Walks worked for me to create on my own, and so when the book and soundtrack came out last month it was really just unfortunate that I couldn't follow it up with anything live.
MPAP: This coronavirus has been devastating to everyone around the globe. By mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic had brought the multibillion-dollar concert industry to a screeching halt. Now months later, Sammy Hagar, from The Circle, ex Van Halen, says concerts can’t wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, every band wants their fans to be safe, but when your only source of a major income is concerts, it hurts when you have to postpone or cancel a tour. A vaccine could take 12 to 18 months. Do you think he’s right for saying concerts can’t wait any longer?
Robert: I do not. I can understand the sentiment, and I don’t really blame anyone for thinking or feeling that way, but I have loved ones who are immunocompromised, as well as elderly, and the simple truth is that willfully spreading, or supporting spreading, a deadly virus solely because it feels devastating to stay isolated from each other just isn’t how I feel. I see myself as part of humanity, not a single individual with no connection or responsibility for others. The argument that your freedom is being taken away, or that social distancing comes at too great a personal/financial cost isn’t crazy. I get that. I just don’t feel that way because I feel responsible for the well-being of others, not just my own.
MPAP: The experts warn there will be no moshing or crowd surfing when concerts finally return. (Laughing) Who are these experts, and obviously they have never attended a metal music show, right? They say moshing and crowd surfing are violations of social distancing and must be absolutely prohibited during this pandemic. What are your thoughts? Can you have a metal show with no moshing and crowd surfing?
Robert: Not in my opinion, no. You can’t, 'really' have that experience. I’ve struggled with the requests to do livestream shows, solo shows from my garage, that type of thing. I resist it simply because it feels like a weak, pale substitute for the real thing. I don’t blame or judge anyone for doing those, because oftentimes they make fans happy, they can be a way to get donations, there’s a lot about it that makes sense. But to me rock/punk has always been, at the core, a celebration of being unleashed, uninhibited, even insane. The best shows strike that balance between total chaos and friendly communion. One of my favorite shows I ever played had security politely asking people to stop having intercourse in the crowd! That’s a rock show. But with things being the way they are, everyone is just gonna have to learn to adapt to a new normal.
MPAP: Do you think the fans will even follow those rules?
Robert: Probably not, no. I think some will. If Alcohol is involved, that number will shrink dramatically.
MPAP: With the exception of a megaband like Metallica, or even Iron Maiden, the coronavirus is hitting most musicians pretty hard. What have you or your band been doing to get through this crisis?
Robert: For me the pandemic came hand in hand with some life changing personal issues as well, and it has been a tough year. The toughest of my life, to be honest. So, I try not to let the emotions get the better of me and cloud my thinking about what this all means, what the future looks like, what it says about humanity. I try to keep my focus on writing when I can, doing what I can, and moving forward, not giving in to the entropic urge to just collapse and decay in place.
MPAP: Lzzy Hale, frontwoman for the rock band Halestorm, recently posted on her social media, saying, 'most bands won’t make it out of this.' Do you agree with this? Do you think some bands will go out of business like a lot of restaurants are during this pandemic?
Robert: You’re asking if I think most bands will survive this, and I'd say it would really surprise me to see that happen. At the very least they will be fundamentally changed by it, and if they survive, they won't be the same band anymore. One of the saddest things about this pandemic is that it seems to be taking what was already a problem, namely the gross income inequality across the globe, and making it worse. Jeff Bezos is making more annually now than he was before, while truck drivers, musicians, teachers, bartenders, are facing a crisis unlike anything in our history. Renters are facing homelessness, while the few who can afford to buy investment properties, the wealthiest landlords, are able to swoop in and buy, creating a near future in which being a homeowner is a privilege reserved for only the very wealthiest. The rest of us will be at their mercy, or join the armies of homeless. If you're one of those bands breathing the rarified air of the hugely successful, with enough money streaming in from iTunes, Spotify, etc. you own your home, etc. then I'm sure you'll be fine. Musicians who have made their millions will be fine. They can ride it out and wait. For the rest of us, the vast majority, who pile into vans and rely on merch sales at shows to eat, or to feed our kids, living month to month on our bookings, it is basically the end of an era. Most of the musicians I know are too scared by the fact that they have no other options, since the world is on lockdown, to make a living any other way either. Nearly all of us drive Lyft or bartend or something on the side, which we also can't do anymore. So, continuing to make music, alone, or in front of your webcam, keeps happening simply out of a desperate need to create and a hope for some Paypal virtual tip jar donations. And the unfortunate truth is that those bands that pile into vans and scrape by are the ones pushing the creative boundaries. They're the ones that inspire, break rules, change the game and move the art out of stagnation. I don't mean to sound doom and gloom about this. Art won't die. Artists will always find a way. We will adapt and music will change. But I don't see any real 'going back to the way it was' after this. A whole generation of teens is undergoing the process of being scarred by this pandemic, and from their scar tissue will come the choices, the new art, the new economy, as they, and the rest of us, craft whatever world will come out of this.
MPAP: Other than not being able to play live music and go out on tour, how else has the coronavirus affected you?
Robert: Not being able to do basically anything that I used to do. Even the state parks have closed trailheads, so backcountry hiking is a no go. Beaches closed, surf rental places closed, and on top of it all there’s no way to earn money, so it leaves guys like me pretty well stuck. It is, in every imaginable way, just a massive bummer. My hopes rest on looking forward to this being over.
MPAP: We hope this all ends soon, and we can all get back to a venue and watch some good live music while having an overpriced beer. We hope you stay safe and stay healthy. On behalf of myself, and Metal Pulp And Paper, thank you, Robert, for doing this interview. One last question before we bring this to a close. Are you prepared for the murder hornets that have recently entered the U.S.? Geez, we are only halfway through the year, so far, can only imagine what’s next, right?
Robert: I might be missing a bigger point here, but I’m not sure what good the murder hornets are. Do they help anything? Are there creatures that feed on them, or plants they exclusively pollinate, or are they just basically like humans? Maybe there is some crafty scientific way to get rid of them? I don’t know what’s next, but it’d be really great for it to be something good. In the meantime, write. Write like your life depends on it. Write like it's the only thing keeping your brains inside your head. That's the best advice I've got. That and be kind to each other. These are the times that test us all, and those who get low and cruel and mean can't drag us all down with them.