Coronavirus Is Everywhere — Even In These Musicians' New Songs The quarantine has affected every aspect of the D.C. music scene, down to the new songs musicians are writing from home.
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Coronavirus Is Everywhere — Even In These Musicians' New Songs

Coronavirus Is Everywhere — Even In These Musicians' New Songs

Musician John Nolt and his son Hugo play the ukulele together during quarantine. Courtesy of/John Nolt hide caption

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Courtesy of/John Nolt

The songwriter John Nolt is having a lot of dark thoughts about coronavirus. "We've all got these larger issues weighing on our mind, and those aren't great for creativity," says the singer for the D.C.-based pop-punk band Ménage À Garage.

But Nolt is not a morose guy by nature. To overcome the grim thoughts and fill his newfound extra time, he wrote what he calls "an infuriatingly catchy little tune" called "Stay The F*** Home." The lyrics include a thank you to essential workers ("If you're keepin' the tomatoes growin' / If you're keepin' the trucks a'rollin' ... ) alongside an appeal for others to stay indoors ("Everybody else / Stay the f*** home").

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His bandmates recorded their parts separately and recruited more than 50 friends to sing the titular line for a feel-good music video. They released it at the end of March. "I wanted to communicate the message of solidarity with everybody," Nolt says of the final product.

Stay-at-home orders have plunged musicians into economic crisis, with music venues closed for the foreseeable future and merchandise sales gone kaput. But for many songwriters, coronavirus has also been a source of inspiration. A few more examples:

  • Northern Virginia-based singer-songwriter Jillian Matundan recently composed a song called "Quarantine Lullaby" — "Saying hello through glass / is all we're allowed. / Faces on a screen / Is our new normal now." Listen here.
  • Malik Stewart, a D.C. musician who goes by Malik DOPE drummer, released an earworm called "The Quarantine Song" — "You can catch me inside / I ain't going outside. / Quarantine, watchu mean? I keep my body clean."Listen here.
  • Kobbie, a singer from Springfield, Va., wrote a single called "All Blessings" while quarantined at home — "Let the ease fill you mind, no stressin' / There's no fee for the ride and no exit."  Listen here.
  • D.C. musician Miles Tone's song "We Have It" is made up entirely of President Donald Trump's statements about the pandemic — "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. / Stock market starting to look very good to me." Listen here.

Tone says writing helped him excise some of his anger toward the administration. "It all made about as much sense as Dylan lyrics — the non-sequiturs and strange phrases," he says. "And the President often has a strong cadence when he talks, so a lot of the statements have a natural rhythm."

A screenshot from a recent episode of "The Justin and Lauren Show" filmed from the musical couple's Arlington apartment. Courtesy of/Justin Trawick hide caption

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Courtesy of/Justin Trawick

The songwriting process has been more difficult for musicians who rely heavily on collaboration. Louisa Hall of the duo Griefcat says she and her bandmate Annie Nardolilli have been trying to write songs together through a combination of video calls, voice memos and texts.

"It's still fun and satisfying, but we miss being able to harmonize and create together in real time," she says.

Griefcat planned to drop their debut album on April 10. They rescheduled or shelved many of their plans after the pandemic hit: Their planned first single happened to be about vaccines and diseases. Hall says another new songs, "Marseille," has acquired surprising new relevance in this current reality where toilet paper is a luxury (the song is about bidets).

Other musicians have struggled with finding a quiet place to record. Laura Schwartz, a.k.a. Bellwether Bayou, has been recording in the hallway outside her apartment "in an attempt to not drive my wife too insane."

In Arlington, Justin Trawick has been recording a musical variety show with his girlfriend Lauren LeMunyan in their 750-square-foot apartment.

A screenshot from Oh He Dead's recent Beatles-themed Jammy Jamz session on Facebook Live. Courtesy of/Oh He Dead hide caption

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Courtesy of/Oh He Dead

"The walls are thin, so everybody in the building knows what we're doing," says Trawick, who fronts the Americana band Justin Trawick and the Common Good. His next-door neighbor had to politely request that he stop rehearsing in the middle of the day so she could get her work done before their nighttime livestreamed performances.

Singer CJ Johnson and guitarist Andy Vallenti of the D.C. band Oh He Dead have decided to lean into the at-home aspect of recording. Two nights a week they livestream performances while wearing matching onesie pajamas — they call them "jammie jamz."

"We've got a public that's very stressed out right now and everybody's on edge. And so it's really important for us to continue to just play our music," Vallenti told WAMU on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.

Recording solo or in small groups isn't as enticing for the D.C. region's many go-go musicians. Jeff Warren, a drummer for Still Familiar, says his group's nine members are spread out across just as many households. Go-go is already more about audience engagement and live performance than it is about recording neatly packaged studio albums.

"Go-go is not digital music," Warren says. "We feed off the crowd, and the crowd feed off of us. To be in the house every day ... it's definitely a different feeling."

Instead of recording new music, Still Familiar has sought out different ways to stay connected to their fans. They released a video of their last live performance ("Quarantine Crank") and a new song by lead talker Steve Roy on Facebook (he harmonizes with himself).

They also asked fans to send video of themselves singing along their cover of the Anita Baker song "Angel," for use in a new music video.

"If we could quarantine together, we'd be making music all day long," Warren says. "But it's best to stay in the house, follow the rules. Sometimes, when there's something you can't control, you just gotta wait and see what happens."

Finally, the city's punk fans might be disappointed to know that Ian MacKaye of the legendary punk band Fugazi has not be working on new music himself during the shutdown. Instead, he's been focused on keeping his music label running and handling the postponed release of his new bank Coriky's forthcoming album.

"i know that there are a lot of local musicians working away on writing and doing livestream concerts," MacKaye wrote in an email, "but i'm afraid i'm not one of them as of yet!"

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