How the Pandemic Helped Me Appreciate Playing In a Band
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
by Erik Piccoli
While the opportunities to play music live vanished and my band suffered, without the pandemic I wouldn’t have realized how much the band means to me.
On March 7, I played my first and only public gig in 2020. My band was one of four groups chosen to play at the KLSU fundraiser kickoff event. We were particularly excited to play at this event due to the large amount of people who wouldn’t have come to events where we performed.
We intended to use this exposure to expand our listener base in anticipation of the release of our single.
The turnout was better than we expected. Around a hundred people turned out to listen under the azure sky. Our music was met with applause and our social media followers increased tenfold.
After we played, I asked my guitarist Luke LeBlanc, who is brutally honest about our work, how he thought it went. “That was our best performance yet,” he said. “We need to do this again as soon as possible.”
After the KLSU fundraiser, we began contacting several venues and other musicians who we met at the event in order to keep the momentum going. Furthermore, we started looking around for local recording studios that would record our single. None of us anticipated that on March 22 a stay-at-home order would be put in place for a virus which initially seemed remote. In a matter of weeks all our plans and progress vaporized.
Initially, I took time to focus on practicing my basic rudiments and technique, elements which I ignored during group sessions since they were tedious and boring. This quickly became repetitious, so instead I decided to play while listening to a recording of a song.
At first this seemed like the best option considering the circumstances, but as time passed this routine made me feel empty and alone. The sound of a full band playing in my ears while I practiced by myself felt eerily unnatural. LeBlanc said that the lockdown and lack of practice were “discouraging.”
“It had a big impact on my mental health actually,” he said.
During the pandemic, we quickly noticed that our traditional way of writing music wasn’t feasible. Previously, we shared riffs, beats or entire songs at practice with every member giving feedback or building on the idea. This was no longer feasible, so instead we began recording our individual parts with the voice-memo-application.
“I’ll have bedroom demos where I’ll record the piano or the vocals or something and then I’ll send it to everybody, and they’ll send it back with their parts over it,” pianist and vocalist for the band "Karma and the Killjoys," Rain Scott-Catoire said, highlighting how this process became common amongst musicians.
“That was definitely harder,” she said.
In addition, no longer did we have the opportunity to record our single in a studio. Instead, we opted for the next best option, home recording.
Ever since the band was created, we had a band fund which allowed us to purchase equipment in times of need. Now, more than ever, was this money necessary. With a handful of microphones, cables, and an interface, we recorded our first single and published it making it clear to our fans that we were still active. While the audio wasn’t as crisp and polished as we hoped, the song was praised by our fans who demanded more.
As weeks turned to months, music, which I had always believed was my passion, became boring.
I would sit and stare at my guitar and drums knowing that this amount of time to practice, experiment and record would likely never occur again. Still, I had no will to play. It was as if the creative juices had drained from my body.
I wondered if I actually enjoyed playing music. Do I play for the social aspect? Am I still in a band because of an obligation to my friends or is it because of passion?
All these questions hit harder after our drummer unexpectedly quit in July. I received the information over text late at night. Due to the stay-at-home regulations, I didn’t have the chance to meet with him and attempt to persuade him into staying.
Ultimately, I chose to stay. The previous couple years of relentless practicing and song writing with intermittent gigs left me with no time to think about my relationship with music. The continuous regimen I practiced turned my passion into an obligation without me knowing it. I slowly realized that I wasn’t losing interest in music, rather I only needed a break.
With restrictions gradually loosening, we began practicing again, albeit in unorthodox areas. The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center parking lot and backyards became our new practice spaces in order to comply with COVID regulations. We quickly adapted to the echo produced by the sound ricocheting off the buildings and the unpredictable weather. Packing up gear became a well-choreographed dance usually cued by a drop of rain bouncing off my snare.
On January 26, 2021 we were invited to play at a Student Government campaign event for the It’s Time ticket. The show occurred on March 19. LeBlanc said this was “the best news I’d received in a while.” We would finally be playing at an open gig for the first time in exactly a year and 12 days. Our anticipation was palpable.
Scott-Catoire says how, with the gradual return of gigging opportunities, the pandemic to an extent was a blessing in disguise. Without the extra time to focus on practicing “we might have rushed into something we weren’t ready for,” she said.
“We actually are really forced to sit with the music and really prepare.”
Remarkably, my band only needed four short practices to prepare for our performance. On March 19, I quickly remembered how tense my back got when loading my drums, but it was worth it. We set up near the LSU Union where a crowd of around 30 fans were huddled. It felt euphoric to finally perform again.