In the time of social distancing and a statewide “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandate until April 13, what is there to do? The title of a classic instrumental album by Frank Zappa comes to mind: “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar.”
Many Michigan musicians — not just those limited to six strings — are doing just that. Facebook groups are cropping up across social media featuring artists sharing their collective experience of frenzied songwriting and solo jamming now that there’s effectively not much else to do.
Facebook group “Party Like it’s COVID-1999” regularly features people livestreaming themselves sharing their music, while “Quarantine Comp Album!” unites a coalition of musicians attempting to put together a compilation inspired by the effects of the coronavirus. The increased access to cheap microphones and digital recording equipment has made quarantine a readymade environment for bedroom-produced music.
John Warmb, multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter behind Lansing folk punk band Rent Strike, is taking the time to produce demos for his upcoming projects, should the world ever get back into order.
“I am working on some demos for a new record. I am fortunate that it’s very topical still. I feel like if I was writing a different record, it might have been hard to sing with any conviction in the face of this global crisis,” Warmb said. He uses Logic Pro recording software, a simple direct input interface and a Sterling ST-59 microphone to record his guitar and his voice.
The lyrics for Warmb’s latest project are a science fiction concept album about the “downfall and alienation of capitalism.”
“The virus is in a lot of ways incidental to the incredible shortcomings and letdowns that capitalism has wrought on the Earth,” Warmb said. “Coronavirus is so much more than just a virus, it’s shining a light on all of these gaping flaws and irresponsibility of the social systems we live in.”
Warmb’s group Rent Strike, which at one point was split between Lansing and Pittsburgh, made a name for itself with long, DIY tours across the United States. Many folk songs are inspired by the very idea of traveling, or great journeys — Rent Strike’s album “IX” draws heavy inspiration for “The Lord of the Rings.” With that source removed, inspiration must be found elsewhere.
“We’re going to have to adapt. Live music requires so much planning ahead; the nature of a viral outbreak is a measure of unpredictability,” Warmb said. “It’s hard for musicians, I had to cancel my May tour. And now I’m wondering, ‘Do I even start booking for August?’ It’s so uncertain. Everyone in the music industry is in the same boat.”
In the face of no tours; no live gigs, Warmb helps organize an ongoing livestream concert series, “Coping With Dystopia.” The initial concert, which featured Warmb and several other artists from across the U.S., aired on multiple social media platforms last week, and the next one is scheduled for this Friday. The idea is picking up steam, as “Coping With Dystopia’s” Facebook page has already grown to an audience of 3,000 likes. Warmb hopes it can become biweekly.
“We have a really great crew of people, but we’re all just figuring this out as we go along. We are trying to parlay this livestreams into something sustainable. Artists are hurting right now,” Warmb said.
Coping With Dystopia
Friday, March 27, 6 p.m. to midnight
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