This edition of Turn Me On, Dead Man focuses on social distancing, our new reality in this era of COVID-19. All of the tracks in this podcast were released from mid-March through early April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the tracks address the isolation that has come about because of the stay-at-home orders issued by the government. The artists are from a variety of countries but most are under some sort of lockdown and facing a prolonged period of limited social engagement. Some of the artists are donating the proceeds from the sale of their music to charity. Some of the artists are using this time to explore their creativity, producing extended improvisational works. Given how quickly the COVID-19 has spread throughout the world, it’s impressive how much creative work is out there already. I asked the artists where they were and what sorts of restrictions had been placed on them.
00:00 TMODM – Intro
00:47 The Marshmen (fuguers cove) – Isolation
04:32 Dry Spells – Sunbeam
06:52 TMODM – Helping Others
07:45 Gods & Punks – Transparent Chains (Acoustic)
12:00 Wooden Corpses – A Journey’s End
16:34 TMODM – Isolation
17:07 The Janitors – Isolation
23:39 Sendelica – Shared Isolation
30:45 Kanoi – A Very Unusual Ghost (Mood #2)
39:43 TMODM – Marking the Days
40:19 Merlin Ball – Virus
43:44 Ray Kosmische – Spreads Virus, Stretches Health Services & Causes Many Deaths & Losses To Commerce On This Island (LP)
The Marshmen (fuguers cove) – Isolation [from fuguers cove PERFORMS The Marshmen’s “Capitalism is a Virus”, released April 1, 2020]
fuguers cove, prolific and always interesting, is the work of Justin Bendell. For this release he created a fictional band, the Marshmen.
TMODM: How and why did you come up with the Marshmen alter ego?
Justin: The Marshmen is one of my many musical alter egos, one that tugged at me more deeply than the others in part because I like the story behind the (fictional) band members, all of whom come from Horicon, Wisconsin, a tiny town next to a very large marsh.
I wanted to capture the sounds of men who were raised on American rock ‘n roll radio but who were ideologically shaped by the USSR and socialist / communist politics. Essentially communist John Cougar Mellencamp but with more psychedelia / garage.
I grew up in the midwest and went to college in Wisconsin, but no longer live there so I have a certain longing for the place, which is vicariously reflected in how The Marshmen long for a past (communist Russia, for example), a longing that may or may not reflect how the past really was.
The song “Isolation” is a mash-up of a few ideas — COVID 19 and social distancing, of course, but also reddit / 4 chan / 8 chan culture and the slippery slopes of armchair politicizing. Also, the song ends with a nod to the power of reading/thinking /studying big ideas (i.e. praxis) as maybe a smart move to make before taking action or taking to the internet to spew opinions recklessly and without intellectual support.
TMODM: I was curious to get your reaction to this article that appeared in The Conversation recently: What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures. What sort of structural change (if any) do you think COVID-19 will bring about?
Justin: I think the world after Coronavirus is the same chessboard as before Coronavirus, but with even higher stakes. The same powers will jockey to manipulate the situation to serve their own ends. The authoritarians (whom I oppose) will stir up fear and dependency and play the patriarch role, but will undersell the importance of centralized support despite its obvious importance to keeping working class people afloat. The democratic left will seek to use the solidarity “we’re in this together” spirit & the blatant classism built into the Pandemic response (who gets labelled essential workers & who gets to stay home?) as rallying cries that will push for more human-centric policies. Meanwhile, centrists will look on as other folks decide the fate of the world, and, when it’s time to make a choice, point to wherever the middle happens to be on whatever spectrum is placed before them. Our political chasm was wide before COVID 19, and I expect the political chasm to widen. But I also see an opportunity that this real-life existential threat (unlike anything contemporary Americans have experienced) could inspire positive and progressive social change. As for the four possible futures articulated in Yi Xin’s article in The Conversation, I am a social anarchist, when it comes down to it, so I’d love to see a decentralized and democratic Mutual Aid approach going forward. A state socialist response would be an acceptable alternative, as this approach would emphasize the needs of working people and the marginalized groups. Given who currently has power and given that we haven’t figured out how to effectively challenge the easy seduction of “fake news” or the cold war strawman arguments against socialism, I fear that economic woes will open the door for barbarism to rue the day as political “leaders” stoke fears of centralization (despite using centralization to bail out big businesses) and employ divide & conquer rhetorical strategies amongst the working class to undermine class solidarity, all the while maintaining a chokehold on power as we enter a new political dark age.
TMODM: What are your music influences?
Justin: Complicated question! I’ll keep it simple. I cut my teeth on punk & metal, then moved to indie rock, esp. lo-fi, then jazz & dub reggae, then more punk and metal. Bands that speak to me when I make music: Guided by Voices, Pavement, Sleater-Kinney, Darkthrone, King Tubby, Slayer, Calexico, Sonic Youth, Ty Segall.
Dry Spells – Sunbeam [from Quarantine Dreams, released March 17, 2020]
Dry Spells is the work of Stuart McLamb.
TMODM: Are you in Los Angeles? What sort of restrictions have been placed on you?
Stuart: I moved back to NC march 2nd and then all this sort of hit. complicated some work/living situations for me and i’m currently with my parents (which has been nice actually) to ride it out for a bit. I have been social distancing especially since my parents are at higher risk so i’ve basically just been here for the past month. working on a ton of music. i have another album coming out in a few weeks that i worked on with my friend Al Riggs. wrote and recorded the whole thing in like 3 weeks.
TMODM: I had been thinking about putting “Quarantine Dream” on the playlist? Was that song written in response to the stay-at-home order resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Stuart: as for quarantine dream the title came to me right when the news hit that we should all be staying home and avoiding social situations etc. i wrote and recorded that song around march 8th? after i wrote it i realized it fit in with the dry spells project and i put the album out a few days later. tweaked the mixes a bit but left it pretty raw. most of those songs were written in LA and i always felt sort of guilty for being inside while the sun was out and the weather was beautiful so the themes were about being in houses and rooms. sort of subconsiously writing about that. but it ended up making a lot of sense with our current situation.
Gods & Punks – Transparent Chains (acoustic) [from Different Dimensions (The Quarantine Sessions) – EP, released April 9, 2020]
Gods & Punks are from Rio De Janeiro, and they released the largely acoustic Different Dimension on April 9th. They’re donating 100 percent of the earnings from this album to the #JuntosVenceremos project, who help those in extreme poverty, a segment of society that is particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wooden Corpses – A Journey’s End [from Die Tomorrow, released April 1, 2020]
The French Lebanese label Etang Brulant asked artists to contribute to a compilation to raise money for Secours Populaire Français, a French charity dedicated to fighting poverty and discrimination. Etang Brulant had so many contributions that they released two compilations: Live Today and Die Tomorrow. “A Journey’s End” by Wooden Corpses is the opening track on Die Tomorrow.
The Janitors – Isolation [released March 27, 2020]
The Janitors are from Stockholm, Sweden. In late March they released a cover version of the Joy Division song “Isolation”. I corresponded with Henric Herlenius.
TMODM: What sort of restrictions have been placed on you? I’m assuming you’re in Sweden.
Henric: The lead up to the cover was the fact that we were suppose to travel to the north of Sweden to record our new album but with corona it got cancelled.
TMODM: What led you to record Isolation?
Henric: Saddened by this and the state of the world I thought about what song best could describe the state of things and returned to joy division. Sweden is is not in a total lockdown (yet) due to a social awareness rooted in our strong confidence in authorities and government. We trust that everyone will do their best to prevent a spread.
TMODM: Did you try to keep your distance from each other when recording it?
Henric: So just me me and Jonas went down to our own studio and recorded the thing in one night. Both were feeling fine so no real distancing was in effect. We are gonna try and release a song every second week as long as we are in good health. Next one is due on Tuesday.
Sendelica – Shared Isolation [from The Isolated Psychedelicists – ‘Sounds From the Isolation Zone Vol.1’, released April 1, 2020]
Kanoi – A Very Unusual Ghost (Mood #2) [from Moods: XXXXX Days In Isolation, released March 18, 2020]
Kanoi, another one-person enterprise, is the work of Benjamin Kantschieder. Located in Vienna, he is producing a one-take improvised work each day of the lockdown and rolling them out on the ever-growing album Moods: XXXXX Days In Isolation.
TMODM: First, are you in Austria?
Benjamin: Yes, I’m based in Austria – Vienna to be exact!
TMODM: What sort of restrictions have been placed on you?
Benjamin: The government here has requested that we limit our social contacts and wear masks when shopping for groceries or using public transport. I found some more detailed information here: https://at.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/covid-19-information/
Also some areas of Austria (Tyrol for example, the place where most of the initial infections spread from) are under total quarantine which means that no one can leave or enter said areas! The right wing/conservartive part of the government was also toying with the idea of using an app to screen and monitor citizens and their social contacts but this is off the table for now after a bit of public outrage.
TMODM: what are you trying to express through Moods: XXXXX Days In Isolation?
Benjamin: I started with this not to express something specific. I work at a bookstore and when the virus started to spread here in Austria all the stores except for grocery stores had to close down so right now I’m not allowed to return to work and I just wanted to use that newfound freedom to create something positive.
It may sound weird but all those restrictions don’t bother me all that much and I’m also feeling kinda positive about it as I’ve always been a bit of an introvert and don’t mind having very limited social interactions for some time plus I’ve worked 5 days a week mostly from 9:00 to 19:00 for the last 10 years so it feels like a bit of a breather I can use to flex my creative muscles a bit more if you know what I mean? So I started this project to see if I could really create something new every day and to also keep a kind of musical diary about this strange time we are living in right now and it’s been really fun and fulfilling for me!
Merlin Ball – Virus [from Virus, released March 31, 2020]
TMODM: Are you in Vancouver?
Merlin: yes, I am in Vancouver BC Canada.
TMODM: What sort of restrictions have been placed on you?
Merlin: Lockdown here is commercially strict but personally not so much. Anything with public gathering is completely locked down, but if you want to go outside to the local park or go shopping, that’s fine. People are taking it upon themselves to maintain social distancing and in my observation are being very diligent.
TMODM: What are you trying to express through Virus?
Merlin: I’m still working on what it’s all about. The roiling emotions when things started to lock down sparked the idea—concerns with availability of supplies, the loss of work, being able to pay the rent, etc. As that calmed down a bit and we all entered the “new normal”, it became more about what the possible long-term effects of this pandemic will be on our collective attitudes, concerns, ambitions etc. Human cultures tends to get a bit complacent, and in doing so, seem hell-bent on creating their own problems … until something like a pandemic comes around. I wonder if folk around the world are taking a moment to reflect on, well, everything. That could be a good thing (?) in spite of what is making us do so. Musically, I intentionally created a very limited “palette” in terms of instrumentation so I would not be tempted by the bazillion plug-ins, simulated amps, synths, etc etc etc. The constant drone is a kind of virus leitmotif, ever-present under all the songs and lyrical musings.
Ray Kosmische – Spreads Virus, Stretches Health Services & Causes Many Deaths & Losses To Commerce On This Island (LP) [released March 29, 2020]
TMODM: Are you in Manchester?
Ray: Yes, I live in Manchester.
TMODM: What sort of restrictions have been placed on you?
Ray: A lockdown that started on the evening of the 23rd of March. Which means only leaving the house to go to work, for one session of daily exercise or to shop for food. The problem is that some people are still ignoring this, for example; last weekend it was sunny and lots of people were gathering in the parks etc. There is also the problem of having an inadequate Prime Minister who has acted way too late to contain the virus and the result is he and a lot of people are now hospitalised with coronavirus.
TMODM: Your title pretty much lays it all out. What sort of structural changes (if any) do you think will come about because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ray: The latest is that the daily exercise allowance could be stopped. Maybe more heavy restrictions by the police regarding movement. In the long term it’s good how this pandemic has awoken people to how important the care services are, and how badly paid and under appreciated NHS staff, care workers, and even bin collectors are.