I think it’s safe to say, “Holy shit!” In the two weeks since the last of these columns, our lives have changed beyond recognition, perhaps for the foreseeable future. Things that we took for granted, like going to the store, now take careful planning. Going to a concert, bar, or club is cancelled, for very real reasons. People are getting sick, people are dying. For Christ’s sake, stay in your homes. Wash your hands. Clean everything. Stay away from other people. Let’s try to make this thing go away as quickly as possible. Don’t be one of those idiots on the beach.
Obviously, businesses are suffering. This is not as important as people’s physical wellbeing but it’s also linked. People lose jobs, then health insurance becomes an issue. If you have the infected walking around untested because they’re concerned about the cost of a visit to a medical facility, that affects everyone. So while it’s easy to say that the state of the nation’s economy isn’t important when we’re talking about people’s lives, the shitty healthcare situation in the United States means that the two things are intrinsically linked.
Which brings us neatly to the musical community. It all happened so fast — SXSW was cancelled, then Coachella. Arena and stadium tours, then theaters. Bars and small clubs that held less than 100 thought they would be able to go ahead with gigs but that was swiftly nipped in the bud.
Almost overnight, the ability to make money was taken away from many musicians. We already know that the digital revolution pretty much took away a musician’s ability to make money from recorded music. Touring/gigging became the main source of income, whether we’re talking about the giants of the game or small bar players. Without that making money becomes incredibly difficult.
To their immense credit, people have been getting creative with live streamed concerts, limited release songs, etc. But it’s a battle and it’s going to be a long and arduous one. The smaller the band/artist, the harder it will be to attract people to the music without the ability to perform live. For a case study, let’s look at L.A.-based groove metal band Darwen’s Theory.
First of all, that band name is weirdly appropriate in these times. But it’s not a misspelling — they’re named after late drummer Darwen Rankl, not Charles Darwin. Still, that wordplay proved irresistible.
“Darwen’s Theory has been around in one form or another since 1999,” says guitarist John Shaw. “The core group of guys (myself, JJ Paterak, guitars, and Tyler Rollins, bass) are still around and we formed up in 2007 after Darwen and myself built a home practice space at his house. Darwen passed away in 2011.”
The band has worked their asses off, playing out with the likes of As Blood Runs Black, Fear Factory, Crowbar, and Battlecross. In 2015, their then-drummer relocated to Las Vegas, which triggered a three year hiatus.
“In 2018, I decided to get the guys back together again and to approach it differently this time,” Shaw says. “It was meant to simply be a way for me to play music, feel better, and make new friends. Shortly after this decision, we managed to find our current drummer, Corey Howell, through a friend-of-a-friend. About a year ago now, in 2019, our current vocalist Wry contacted us on Facebook and we had him do an informal audition from his phone over one of our tracks. But Wry was our missing piece.”
With a solid lineup in place, the band released a single called “Manic,” and in August pulled 100 people in to their first gig in four years at Petie’s Place in Reseda for the Metal Assault Mixtape Vol 1 release party.
“Following that, we were extended an invitation to play with Dragonforce, and opened up for them, Starkill, and Dance With the Dead on October 12 at the Ventura Theater,” Shaw says. “We had a couple of one-off gigs at Characters in Pomona and the Viper Room in Hollywood, but the next milestone we hit was when we were shortlisted to be part of the Wacken Metal Battle, which is a world-wide competition for unsigned metal bands to compete to go on to play the world finals at Wacken Open Air in Germany this summer. This festival usually packs around a 75k crowd.”
So they competed in the first round of that Metal Battle on February 22 of this year, and won. The final was scheduled for March 21, but obviously that didn’t happen. Damn, with 120 days remaining, we don’t know if Wacken is happening.
“With how fluid this whole pandemic situation has gotten, it’s been tough to be able to plan and project what my band’s next moves are gonna be,” Shaw says. “The Wacken Open Air festival usually occurs on the last weekend of July/first weekend of August. So we’re still planning on all of those Metal Battles going in our favor, but now we’re also switching gears and doing our best to observe the stay-at-home order and are currently figuring out how best to use online and remote collaboration tools geared towards musicians to be able to continue to produce art and music.”
This is where the “getting creative” stuff comes in.
“We’re currently looking at solutions like ZOOM, and NINJAM for remote, real-time and latency-free musician jamming, as well as using our own private Facebook group for consolidating links and info, and our band’s Dropbox for holding our files so everyone can access the ideas we record easily,” Shaw says. “We’re not a band that makes money; we’re definitely in it for the art and for the passion of playing live; but it’s been a bummer not being able to keep up momentum in light of the pandemic situation and keep our fans and friends hyped to continue to support us through our journey of Metal Battles and onto Wacken in the summer.”
That’s the key, do what you can. Try to be creative. Keep safe, and keep your fans and followers safe. And be ready to go when this thing is over.