Musicians have copped a spanking from the Covid-19 pandemic. A year long walloping without receiving support from the Government like other industries *cough* Sport *cough*. While most artists strived to manifest a positive spirit in the early months of the pandemic, watching their world and passion crumbling around them has starved the optimism of Australian artists. I caught up with Ciarann, frontman of Melbourne band Bakers Eddy in April and then in December, ten months after the virus entered Australia, I spoke to Bobby Oblak, bass guitarist of COPIA (and too many other bands to list).
To put it lightly, timing wasn’t ideal for Bakers Eddy when the ‘rona hopped on a flight to Australia. The four-piece had just released their single ’T-shirt’ and were getting consistent airtime on Triple J when the first lockdown was announced at the end of March. Despite not having the chance to physically tour the track, Bakers Eddy were one of – if not the most creative band in Australia when it came to sharing content during isolation. Early adopters of live-streaming shows, they made their online gig debut as part of the first edition of Isol-Aid, the online music festival supporting Australian musicians during the Covid-19 pandemic. So on Sunday the 22nd of March, I plonked myself down in front of my laptop with one of the twelve bottles of wine I ordered a few days earlier, and watched Bakers Eddy perform from their own home along with the likes of TOWNS, Julia Jacklin and Moaning Lisa.
Two weeks later, I called Ciarann to talk to him about his adaption to virtual performances. “It’s different in every way man, there’s nobody there to vibe off, we’ve only really got ourselves. Luckily we know each other way too well so we’re able to create our own vibe and mess around. But obviously we’d much rather be playing in front of that many people but physically.” I was already a fan of Bakers Eddy but they enticed me with the energy of their online shows and their innovative attitude. They were a complete stand-out from the other 75 bands that played Isol-Aid that weekend. They decked out their apartment with banners and balloons and to top off the house party vibes, Ciarann leapt around the room in a pair of huge Corey Worthington sunnies. I wasn’t surprised to hear that other punters were impressed as well, “The reactions been super positive in that way. Especially after Isol-Aid we had a bunch of people message us saying you know ‘We haven’t had the opportunity to catch you live but after seeing you online we’re really keen to jump into the next show’. So I think it’s definitely having a good effect that way. I think we had 400 people watching us at Isol-Aid so hopefully that many people fill up a room when everyone’s out and about again.”
Ciarann managed to muster a positive out of the situation again in April when they did a live-stream for Soniq Sounds. “It’s been challenging but it’s been pretty fun actually, because it gives us our own space to create a vibe. The last session, it was just me and Jamie but we had a sound effect of an audience clapping, which was pretty fun. It was a gimmick to start with but with that gap in between songs is deadly, it’s just so quiet when you’re used to something going on there but having a bit of noise made us feel way more comfortable…obviously it’s no substitute for playing live but it’s pretty fun.”
Even though gigs have started back up, the pandemic has lingered in Australia for far longer than expected, leaving musicians completely rattled. In December, I chatted with Bobby Oblack of COPIA to unpack the intensity of the current situation for independent musicians. “Oh man, it’s been unbelievable… genuinely. I mean I like to run my life in the sense that I’ll have like a one year goal and then a five year goal. And I can hit that one year goal and say, ‘Okay, where am I at?’… In terms of this year, just the simple fact that I can’t even jump on a plane and go to Europe or America to play a show, that’s thrown the ball out heaps.”
Artists including DMA’S, REMI and even Lady Gaga delayed the release of new albums in 2020 because promoting new materiel was near impossible. “When you release a song,” Bobby explained, “you also release your tour dates at the same time. Well we found that to be quite a decent practise, because while you’ve got someone’s attention with a new song, you can also show them, ‘Hey, we’ve got a new album coming or we’ve got new tour dates.’” And obviously the pandemic has been a huge financial burden on independent musicians, but the inability to perform has also been mentally exhausting to the point where Bobby felt a complete lack of purpose. “I’ve been writing through the pandemic, but there’s almost nothing to do with it. So I’m basically investing all my time into something that potentially doesn’t have so much of a return.”
With no end in sight to the global catastrophe we’re experiencing, musicians like Bobby are urging the public to keep listening, and by that I mean, listening to music on whatever platform you fancy. If you still have a CD or record player, buying physical copies is even better. Buy tickets to any gig you have even the slightest interest in and make sure to actively seek new music and share it with your friends when you find an artist you rate. If you’d like to donate money to support Aussie artists, Support Act are an organisation offering relief to artists who would appreciate every cent you can spare. You can donate at https://supportact.org.au/donate-now/