INTERVIEWS

HOW IS CHRIS WILSON GETTING THROUGH CORONAVIRUS TIMES?

Chris Wilson 2

photo: Irish News

 

Songwriter Chris Wilson lived in Belfast for a few years before returning to Indianapolis where he has released his second EP Downfall. I asked him how he was coping with these strange Coronavirus Times.

 

What were you working on before the lock down?

Prior to the lockdown I was writing and preparing for upcoming Spring shows. Finalizing details for a spring tour from Nashville, Indy and Chicago. 

 

At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

I began seeing dates get canceled early March. At that point it was just a case to case basis and venues/artists were trying to hold on to as many as they could. By mid-March it became apparent that we were going to lose (at least) a month or two of shows. Obviously, now we know this has a much longer impact than originally anticipated.

 

What are the way that this all impacts your life as well as work?

Certainly the loss of shows impacts me financially. It’s also caused most venues to stop booking for the foreseeable future. Luckily for me, writing is also part of my daily routine and income and that is something I am able to keep up. However, licensing in film/tv has been difficult as most production of new projects has put on hold.

 

What ways are you using the down time?

I tend to think artists thrive in strange and unpredictable seasons. We’re hard-wired for times that upend traditional, normal routines. I personally have been writing and recording heavily in this season. There is certainly a lot of anxiety, but learning to channel that into creative output helps me greatly.

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

Folks that are fans of music and the arts can engage with their favorite creators through live-streams and “virtual tip jars”. It’s a perfect time to invest in merchandise or join Patreon partnerships. I also think from a mental health perspective you can check in on those artists and creators and simply ask them how they can best be supported in this time. I personally find that productivity, creation and finding routine helps my overall mood and mental health tremendously.

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

I have a batch of new tunes that I’ve been working to finalize recording and deciding how I want to put them out into the world. I’ve embraced this “digital relationship” time sending files back and forth between other artists. Others have performed, given feedback and helped mix songs ultimately making them better than I am able to do in isolation. I hope this type of collaboration continues well beyond this season of lockdown!

 

What do you think might come out of this time?

I have to remain hopeful during this time and believe some of the greatest art of our time will come from all of this. Artists (especially “local” artists) perform a lot, travel and are constantly having to “hustle”. This season forces us to slow down, focus and invest in writing, making and creating. Just as so many are journaling, musicians are creating time capsules that will help us remember these times and hopefully remind us to stop sometimes, slow down, reflect and pour that into our art.

 

Anything we might listen to in the lockdown?

I’m eagerly anticipating Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new record (3 singles have been released so far). I’ve been going back through Better Oblivion Community Center’s Record as well.


WHAT IS JAN CARSON DOING THROUGH CORONAVIRUS TIMES

ACNI-Jan-Carson-at-Jaipur-640x754

Jan Carson was a student who lived in Derryvolgie Hall where I Chaplained, back in the day. She had some ambition to be a writer. Boy has she fulfilled that ambition, as this biog shows:

Jan Carson is a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has a novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears and short story collection, Children’s Children, (Liberties Press), a micro-fiction collection, Postcard Stories (Emma Press) Postcard Stories 2 is forthcoming in July 2020. Her novel The Fire Starters was published by Doubleday in April 2019 and won the EU Prize for Literature for Ireland in 2019. In 2018 she was the inaugural Translink/Irish Rail Roaming Writer in Residence on the Trains of Ireland.

I asked Jan how she was dealing with Coronavirus Times.

 

What were you working on before the lock down?

I’m always juggling a lot of different projects simultaneously. I was around halfway through writing a Young Adult novel. I was also editing both my second collection of Postcard Stories which is still set to be published by the Emma Press towards the end of July 2020 and my next novel for adults which will be published by Doubleday in April 2021. I was facilitating a series of fantastic community writing workshops for the Irish Writers Centre, working with older ladies in the Falls and Shankill Women’s Centres, running the QFT’s Dementia Friendly Cinema programme and traveling to book festivals around the world to promote the paperback release of The Fire Starters in Mid March.

 

At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

My first international book festival event in Istanbul was cancelled towards the end of February and this began a slew of live events cancelling. In the course of a week I lost almost £10,000 of work. Most writers make virtually nothing from book sales. All our income comes from live events and as the Book Festival season begins late Spring and runs through to mid Autumn this has happened at the absolute worst time of the year for us. I also quickly realised that most of my community arts practice would be either difficult to run because of social distancing or almost impossible. The majority of my work is with older, vulnerable people who struggle to access the complex digital platforms necessary to deliver online classes and workshops.

 

What are the ways that this impacts your life as well as your work?

I’ll be very honest and say I’m quite a solitary person. If I wasn’t so stressed out about issues around income I’d be quite happy to see this as a very long writers’ retreat and get knuckled down into serious book editing and working on the next novel. The loss of income is the main issue for me and also the anxiety which comes from worrying about the older people I love working with in my community projects. I feel desperately distant from them at the minute and am struggling to find ways to support and connect with them. It’s also been really hard to draw strong but generous boundaries. I want to use my writing to help and encourage and be a positive distraction for people at the minute but I’ve been absolutely inundated by organisations, institutions and individuals asking me to create content for zero budget. It’s difficult to say no but with no income coming in, professionally my best use of time is to work on the next book which I might be able to make some money from when this is over. I also don’t want to appear mean-spirited or ungenerous but I do think those who are not from a freelance arts background should be aware of the great service artists are currently offering providing enormous amounts of uplifting, encouraging art for zero income often at the expense of their own personal practice.

 

What ways are you using the down time?

I don’t actually see this as downtime. I have no more free time than I had before and in some ways have less free time. I’m still maintaining my daily professional practice of writing, editing and reading to develop my craft. I’m currently working on some online solutions to keep maintaining my community arts practice. So far this has proven quite frustrating and incredibly time consuming, learning new platforms and finding ways to work around restrictions. On top of this I’ve taken on a role as Writer in Lockdown for Open Books (an organisation which supports isolated individuals through reading groups), and am creating weekly stories and discussion questions for these groups to work their way through online. I’m continuing with my practice of writing a daily Postcard Story to isolated elderly individuals and these are now being illustrated by children. If you want to see their fantastic artwork check out the Instagram page @JansPostcardStories It’s been really heartening to receive their artwork each day. It makes me feel like I am still connected to the outside world. Finally, I’ve continued with my #MyYearWithAgathaC project reading all 66 of Agatha Christie’s crime novels in order to celebrate her 100th anniversary. Prior to the pandemic I was writing short stories based on her work inside each book and hiding them for people to find. I’m now just posting the books to isolated individuals. If you want to read any of the stories you can find them online at my website www.jancarson.co.uk

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

I’m still writing. Writing is both my means of earning a living and my way of processing life. In a very real sense, writing is keeping me sane these days. It just takes a lot longer to accomplish what I used to be able to accomplish much quicker. My focus is shot to pieces at the minute and I can only manage short bursts of creativity before I need to take a quick break.

 

What can we all do to help?

A couple of things. You can buy books, ideally from small independent book stores who are still able to sell online, (please, please support Dave and the team at No Alibis during what must be a really difficult period for him). You can also download books from your library as authors receive a small percentage cut of these royalties. Can I ask that if you can please champion books with recent publication dates? Most authors rely on the round of Book Festivals and live events to promote their books and make sales and obviously these have all gone out the window recently. Also, as mentioned above, I’d just ask people who work in salaried roles for institutions who are protecting their income, to think carefully before asking a freelance artist to do something pro bono at the minute. Artists are generally nice people. They want to help. They will find it very difficult to say no. I’d suggest asking for artists who’d like to volunteer for a project rather than approaching someone directly and if you can offer some money then please do. There is also a way to donate to the hardship fund for NI artists struggling through loss of income through a project called Bread and Butter Fund.

 

What plans have you for when we get out of this?

I’m meant to be in residency in Australia reading at festivals and delivering workshops for the month of August. I’m still cautiously hopeful this might happen. After that I hope to begin delivering my community projects and rounds of reading again as soon as possible.

 

Three books to read whilst you’re in lockdown.

I’m mostly recommending comfort reading for folks at the minute. At times like these you probably want a book you can lose yourself in and escape for a while. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d thoroughly recommend Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. You literally won’t be able to put it down. Can I also give a big shout out to a very recently published novel, Marianne Lee’s beautiful historical fiction account of the Bantry-based female botanist Ellen Hutchins. It’s a gentle, beautifully written, utterly captivating book which kept me rapt all last weekend. Just published last week by Irish independent press, New Island. Finally, a shout out to the humble short story. If you’re finding your concentration is a bit all over the place these days the short story might be the very thing for you. My favourite collection of the last few years is the utterly brilliant The Redemption of Galen Pike by Welsh writer, Carys Davies. Published by Salt, so you’d also be supporting another small indie publisher in buying this. I have a series of great blogs about good lockdown reads over on my website www.jancarson.co.uk if you’d like some more reading tips.


WHAT IS BEKI HEMINGWAY (AND RANDY) DOING THROUGH CORONAVIRUS TIMES

Beki

Beki Hemingway has been in the music industry since she sang back vocals with Larry Norman in her teens. She was in This Train with future Rich Mullins' Ragamuffin Mark Robertson, before marrying guitarist Randy Kerkman and setting out as a solo artist, with Randy riding side saddle on guitar.  

A few years ago Randy and Beki moved to Ireland. They now live in Dundalk. In 2017 they released a beautiful record Whins and Weather.

Beki told me what they are up to in these Coronavirus Times. 

 

What were you working on before the lockdown?

We were booking a lot of tour dates! The winters are usually quiet for us, and this winter in particular because we are still in our first year in a new town. I work from home organizing a lot of activity for spring and summer during winter months, and so I was planning for our UK and US tours this spring and summer. Randy was also attending classes in Dublin and I was volunteering at the An Tain Arts Centre in Dundalk and together, we were beginning work on a new album.  

 

What are the ways that this all impacts your life as well as work?

A lot of what we were doing can continue – songwriting, recording from home, but our tour plans are suddenly up in the air. Like most musicians, we are unable to plan for the future, and our May tour dates have cancelled. Our US tour is in limbo, and we’ve chosen the worst time in the world to crowdfund an album! 

On a more personal note, we’ve only been in Dundalk about a year, and so it takes time to know our neighbors, community, church, etc. There was a sense that we were turning the corner some with our new surroundings, but going back into isolation has felt normal, even comforting, for the first while. I am an extrovert and a very social person by nature and I’ve found it a bit unnerving to find how comfortable I’ve become with isolation. 

 

What ways are you using the downtime?

What down time? I feel busier than ever!

In addition to extra communication regarding bookings that may or may not come through, we’ve had a steep learning curve and a lot of fun doing online concerts -  particularly our “Song of the Night”. (facebook.com/bekihemingwaymusic)

Our new album “Earth and Asphalt” is progressing from our home studio, and musicians from Nashville, Chicago, and Atlanta have participated through file-sharing.  It was fun for me to have Mark Robertson play on a couple tracks. That guys is never NOT on the road!

Randy is finishing up his theology degree through online classes.

We’re also having better talks with people – using technology to check up on parents more often, catch up with friends who live alone, etc. That has been really nice. I find myself praying more, and that’s a good thing.

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

It’s never easy, but there is more of a sense of “just do it” about our place these days. It’s not wartime, but maybe something like that, where you just stop complaining and get on with what has to be done. In our case, it has been songwriting and recording. It doesn’t sound romantic or artistic, but the results have been satisfying. If a song is half-written and we want it finished, we sit down and do it. There is less arguing and more focus. 

 

What can we all do to help? 

There are the things we hear all the time, like wash your hands and supporting local business by buying gift cards now to use later. Those are good. I’ll add a few more though that are big deals to me.

When you see musicians playing stuff you love online, note the online tip jar, and give a little if you can. Leave a nice comment, like their page, and share the feed if you can’t. 

Check in on each other by calling, emailing, and sending photos. Remember especially those who live alone, or are older and not as connected through technology.  

Pray for each other. The best story since the coronavirus crisis hit was on the satire site The Babylon Bee, “God to Ignore Quarantine and Continue Being Everywhere.” He can hug and heal where we can’t. 

 

What plans have you for when we get out of this?

We have plans to tour the US for three months and the UK for a month doing primarily house concerts. People may be sick of their houses, but they will surely be ready to gather by then! And perhaps they’ll be excited to show off all the DIY they have been busy with. ;) 

 

 New record? 

Earth and Asphalt –The title refers to the dichotomy of our lives – working to put down roots in a new place (earth) and spending so much time on the road (asphalt). It comes from a lyric in the song “California” which is really about how with all the digital connection we have, nothing can replace certain tangible experiences - like just being in the room with a friend and not having to say anything, or doing an activity together. This is the thing we’re missing right now, and really longing to get back to.  


Earth and Asphalt is our first crowdfunding effort and we’re using Kickstarter, an “all or nothing” platform. (If our goal is not reached, no funds are disbursed.) 

We have until April 23 to reach our goal and we are at 25%. If you want to help us reach our goal, here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bekihemingway/earth-and-asphalt-help-beki-hemingway-make-a-new-album?ref=card

 

Give us three albums that influenced you that we should all investigate as we wait the Coronavirus to pass?

Hmm. I’m picking older things that are worth revisiting since alone time is good time for reflection.

Jim Croce – I Got A Name 

He’s such a great storyteller. My dad listened to this all the time I was a kid, and it holds a special place in my heart. I love how he can paint a character and you just feel like you saw them at the diner the other day.

The Innocence Mission – self-titled

There is a thing Karen Peris does on some songs here where she sings what she is saying, and the backup vocals are what she’s thinking, or at least that’s how I hear it. I love it. “Wonder of Birds” feels like a good song for the restless right now, and I think it’s great that “You Chase the Light” has a sequel song on the next album. 

Paul Simon – Greatest Hits, Etc. (1977)

I found this recently in a record store and I love it. That’s all. 


WHAT IS RICKY ROSS DOING THROUGH CORONAVIRUS TIMES?

Ricky In Fitz

photo: Bernie Brown at 4 Corners Festival 2018

 

Deacon Blue's new album City Of Love was just out and the band were promoting it all over BBC Radio when Coronavirus struck. The album's beauty and spiritual core is a consoling soundtrack for all our lock down times. Everyone needs all that remains to be a City of Love. There's even a song called In Our Room!

Ricky Ross kindly shared with me how his plans have changed and suggests how everything has changed.

 

What were you working on before the lock down?

We were both very busy promoting our new record. It was very busy with radio and TV going on. The album came out, charted - very high which was a great surprise  - then everything stopped. We were meant to be going on holiday to see my daughter in San Francisco - but again, that all got stopped.

 

At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

We had shows in June and August lined up, but fortunately the main touring isn’t until later this year. However we are still unsure whether that might be affected.

 

What are the way that this all impacts your life as well as work?

It affects everything really. My mother has been in hospital and is very vulnerable - so she needs a lot of support- and we are concerned about how this will all affect her. 

Work wise it doesn’t hugely change what I was planning to do over the next few months. I’m able to carry on with my Country Music show on the radio and am starting a series of five shows for BBC Radio 2 this weekend which broadcast from Glasgow… so all reasonably straight forward. I was also committed to a writing project which is essentially quite singular, so can carry on with all of that despite the lock down.

However, there is a much bigger answer to that question. The very nature of what we are experiencing changes everything. It changes what we thought was desirable and what we deemed as necessary. It changes our expectations of life and the degrees in which we find satisfaction. It’s is in these areas that I am finding this as interesting as I am challenging.

Do we simply return to where we left off? What have we learned? What don’t we need? How much more connected are we than we once realised. Isolation isn’t really an option any more. The world is a small fragile place which needs love and attention…perhaps that’s where our focus should be next?

 

What ways are you using the down time?

I’m reading more. Watching films rather than TV. I’ve been ill for a good part of the time so I’m not sure yet if I’ll get bored as I’m struggling to keep up. I also spend a good part of most days looking after my elderly mother. So down time is limited. But I reflect, pray, think more.

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

That remains to be seen! But I think all periods of life can be creative. Usually the worst thing for me is having weeks of time in which something needs written. It never gets done. So I think I will be creative as there are three strands/projects I will be writing for. Perhaps one might get somewhere!

 

What can we all do to help? 

I’ve volunteered with Scotlands’ Red Cross scheme. I think that’s a good way to start. My family are all trying to look out for vulnerable neighbours and friends.  There are many ways to help I’m sure.

 

What plans have you for when we get out of this? New record?

I hope to get out of this and get together with my band to learn up songs for the tour. Being in one room together will be a joy! Beyond that I can’t think.

 

Give us three albums that influenced you that we should all investigate as we wait the Coronavirus to pass?

I shall refer you to my twitter feed where I post out an album of the day during the crisis. I’m at E as we speak and have just suggested The Electric Soft Parade’s ‘Idiots.’  Start there.

 

Anything else Ricky that you’d like to add.

I don’t think so. There are two ways in which we could all react to this. I think it’s safe to say that, until now, my overall impression is an increased sense of neighbourhood, community and a will to eliminate the negative. Oh there’s an album you might need…..The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive.


WHAT IS BEN GLOVER DOING THROUGH CORONAVIRUS TIMES?

Ben Glover Shelter

Next in my series, asking artists how they are making it through Coronavirus, is Ben Glover. Originally from Glenarm, Ben has relocated to Nashville and writes with some of the world's best songwriters. His side project The Orphan Brigade made my favourite record of 2019, all about the east coast of Antrim!

 

What were you working on before the lock down?

In the weeks leading up to lockdown I had got into a flow of writing and was working on new material with a few different co-writers. The Orphan Brigade was also in the studio for a few days playing on Amy Speace’s new record. But literally, right before lockdown, I was preparing to go on tour with Orphan Brigade over in the Netherlands and back home in Ireland (north and south). We were due to spend two weeks on the road over there but that plan was soon put to rest when the travel restrictions were put in place.

 

How is lock down in Nashville compared to Glenarm?

Currently, here in Nashville, we are in something of a partial lockdown. All essential businesses are closed, as are bars and restaurant (except for carrying out) but in general, the restrictions feel a bit looser than the UK. The restrictions over here are different state by state and I fear Tennessee isn’t being strict enough. Honestly, I wish we had the same rigorous lockdown over here that they do in the UK and Ireland.

As far as artists are concerned, I think it’s equally devastating for us all on both sides of the Atlantic. Touring disappeared overnight and who knows when that aspect of our careers will normalise again. 

 

At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

A couple of weeks before the lockdown was announced Neilson, Josh and I (The Orphan Brigade) started chatting about the possibility that we might have to cancel the tour. We were watching what was happening in Italy and getting concerned it was moving westwards. We would have been in numerous airports and done so much travelling that we were beginning to get concerned that there might be a chance we could get stuck somewhere. We wrestled with what decision to make as we didn’t want to let audiences and promoters down, and, the day after we made our decision to cancel the tour, Trump, put the travel restrictions in place.

 

What are the way that this all impacts your life as well as work?

It impacts my life in the sense that I’m so distanced from my family in Ireland. I was really looking forward to seeing my parents and siblings before and after the tour and spending Easter with them all. Now I’m not sure when I will get back. That’s not a nice reality. Of course on the work front work, I’m unable to tour and had to cancel the dates in Ireland and Holland, so there is the loss of income that goes with that. I’m starting to explore more online concerts and sets - not only to keep in touch with fans but more importantly because everyone needs music, especially at a time like this. So in that regard, it’s impacting me as its forcing me to embrace new ways of connecting with people. 

 

What ways are you using the down time?

Yard work! Aside from that, I’m spending time working on my mindfulness/meditation practice. As well as my music another path I am currently on is a two-year training course to become a Mindfulness Meditation teacher. So I’m working away online on those studies. And we have a new addition to the family in that a bird has set up a nest in the Christmas wreath that I had not got around to take down on my front door. In the last few days, it seems to be laying eggs so I’m now also an intrigued bird nest watcher!

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

That’s a good question because it’s something I’ve been examining over the past week. I’m not feeling drawn to songwriting at the moment. I’ve been wondering why this is and I think it’s got something to do with the sense of being hemmed in and somewhat constrained by all this weirdness and global anxiety. In songwriting, I try to connect to a sense of flow, and it’s hard to tap into that at the moment. That’s ok though and I’m letting myself off the hook! 

Instead of putting my attention on writing, I have started to do The Shelter Sessions, short Facebook live sessions on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 8.30 pm (GMT). So playing a few songs live and connecting with an online audience is now an important creative outlet for me.

I also teach mindfulness meditation and I have a strong sense that that comes from the same creative space that music comes from. Teaching those practices feel deeply creative to me, and also an essential way that I can navigate through my own anxiety and challenges of this time.

 

What can we all do to help? 

Firstly, wash our hands! I do believe strongly that we need to isolate so we must encourage everyone in our circles to do so. Stay present, don’t look too far ahead or try to figure this thing out. So much in this time is our of our control and it will do no good to try to figure out what the future holds. Take it all one day at a time. I’ve been contemplating the idea and trying to embrace that perhaps there can be spaciousness, some sense of freedom in the not knowing. It’s so important too to stay as emotionally healthy as we can at this time. 

 

What plans have you for when we get out of this? New record?

I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure as I don’t know how far ahead I can plan. My good friend Neilson Hubbard is planning on recording a new album in June if all this clears up by then, and he’s asked me to co-produce it. At the moment that’s the only concrete musical plan I have. More than likely though, if normality resumes by the autumn, I’ll be heading back into the studio to start my new solo album then,

 

Give us three albums that influenced you that we should all investigate as we wait the Coronavirus to pass?

I always seem to come back to a few records that always feel like a steady ground for me:

Time Out Of Mind by Bob Dylan,

Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys 

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

 

 


WHAT IS BRIAN HOUSTON DOING DURING CORONAVIRUS?

Me and Houstie

The Coronavirus has hit us all in different ways.

As a music fan I have been wondering and concerned about how it has hit many of my friends in the music industry. So I decided to get in touch and ask. 

My first port of call was Belfast songwriter Brian Houston. Brian has made a living at music for thirty years, gigging here, touring Britain and America. He even spent a year or two living in North Carolina. He has blended and blurred his songwriting with worship music, bringing soul to the former and everyday realism to the latter. 

How is how he is dealing with these strange times?

 

What were you working on before the lock down?

I was completing a singer songwriter album.  I have about 20 to 30 songs I need to choose from. 

 

At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

The weekend everyone started contacting me to say they felt they should cancel the gigs I had booked. 

 

What are the way that this all impacts your life as well as work?  

Well my income stopped immediately and the prospects of releasing new material suddenly seemed redundant as everyone’s attention was on much more important things. 

 

What ways are you using the down time?  

I moved my equipment home from the studio and set it up in a bedroom. Then I started busking on line and asking folks to contribute.  I am also trying to help my wife with her Bristle And Bird Aromatherapy product business. I have also been applying for jobs. 

 

How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?  

Well in some ways this is how I’ve always lived. No idea what’s coming next or how I’ll pay my bills next month. It’s always been a faith journey. So the creativity isn’t really affected too much as there’s always been a certain amount of duress 

 

What can we all do to help?

Watch my busking videos and send money via www.paypal.me/BrianHoustonBelfast 

 

What plans have you for when we get out of this? New record?  

Yeah. Same plan as I had before it. But who knows when that will be. 

 

Give us three albums that influenced you that we should all investigate as we wait the Coronavirus to pass?

 

Bob Dylan - Blood on the tracks 

Brittany Howard - Jaime. 

The White Stripes - The White Stripes