Time for the next edition of Metal Anarchy’s “Music In The Age Of COVID-19” series, the feature where I discuss the ongoing pandemic with various musicians. This time I have an interview with Austin Taft.
METAL ANARCHY: How have you been holding up during the coronavirus pandemic?
TAFT: Thank you for asking, and thanks for your time! All things considered, I have been well. The pandemic has probably served as more of a personal blocker for me than a creative blocker. I haven’t been to a live music performance, a movie theatre, an antique shop or a restaurant in a solid year, so it’s a bummer to have these things I enjoy on the other side of this metaphorical wall. But I have a home studio where new music is written and the studio albums are recorded, so the creativity and output remains as it always has been. There hasn’t really been any interruption in that regard.
METAL ANARCHY: Have you been using your downtime to work on new music?
TAFT: Since the pandemic started, I have been able to complete the tracking, mixing and mastering for the new album, titled “Skeletons”, and it feels great to have that in the can. I really went to town with the layering and production on this one, and it was a ton of work but it’s a very satisfying end result. At least to my ears! I’ve been describing the sound of the new release as “Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn’t”. If I’ve done by job, it should prove to be an intense, challenging, unique and unpredictable listen. A half-sung, half-screamed, reasonably bitter, musically expansive pile of sonic vomit (if that’s descriptive enough). If the studio albums were collaborative effort, it would have been more difficult to complete this project in the past year, but I have been handling all of the songwriting and performing all instruments for the studio recordings since the beginning, so despite the pandemic, the completion of the new album was business as usual.
Also since the pandemic started, I delivered the final master of an album I produced for a rapper out of Tucson, which should be dropping later this year. I knocked out some music for a video game and have been working on drum tracks for a friend’s album on which I’m essentially serving as a session drummer. I listen to most all genres of music and likewise enjoy taking on new and interesting projects which might require any number of sonic approaches, and it has been nice to keep that up
METAL ANARCHY: What was the last show you played or attended before the shutdown?
TAFT: 2020 is the first year I did not perform live in over a decade. The last live performance was a special headlining solo acoustic show in late 2019 at a venue called Spicoli’s Reverb in Waterloo, Iowa, which has since shut down, at least for the moment. I live in Colorado now but used to live in Iowa, and I’ve played over 50 shows on that same Spicoli’s stage. I knew I was going to be in town seeing family and friends, so fortunately we were able to schedule this gig for the same period of time and I’m glad we were able to make that work. It sounds like if they are able to reopen the venue down the road, it will be at a new location, so I’m grateful to have been able to put a period on that history with an intimate, stripped-down retrospective of the catalog. It was a 2-hour performance that covered a nice combination of fan favorites and deep cuts from all of the albums so far.
It’s funny. The pandemic wasn’t a thing when I was on that stage playing those songs, but sometimes you just get the feeling that “This could be it. This could be the last time.” And I had that feeling. And it turns out that it was, indeed, my last time on that stage. I will always be thankful to the Spicoli’s staff for the support that was shown for my music, and I hope we will be able to realign after these unusual times have passed to turn the amps up and rock out once again.
METAL ANARCHY: Are you planning to play any livestream concerts during this time?
TAFT: Not livestreaming, but I’m working on something similar for the YouTube channel, which will allow the music to be seen and heard through a more experimental and spontaneous lens. Expect more information coming very, very soon to www.austintaft.com.
METAL ANARCHY: Do you think the live entertainment industry will ever recover?
TAFT: I do. I think the jury is still out for whether the past year will result in any significant changes to the formulas, but I’m an optimist regarding the live entertainment industry as a totality. I actually think live entertainment, and live music by association, might be better positioned to stick it out in the long run over movie theatres and the like, as much as I enjoy those too. At a proper live performance when all are truly present, there is a communion which occurs between the audience and the performers. It’s reactive. Immediate. Never again to be duplicated in the same way. You can try to film it on your cell phone, but in doing so, you may not be truly present, and the playback cannot be the same experience, if we’re being truthful about it. When the stars align, a live music performance can be transcendent. I don’t think livestreaming concerts is an approach devoid of value, but I don’t think as many lives will be changed through watching a livestream versus actually being there. It’s hard to find a substitute for “I was THERE.”
METAL ANARCHY: Lastly, is there anything fans can do to help your band or others that may be struggling during this time?
TAFT: Totally. I would say that if you like a band and you can afford it, buy their stuff! Buy the CD. Buy the vinyl. Buy the t-shirt. When you listen to your band’s favorite song on Spotify, the band is getting paid around $0.003 for your play, give or take. When you buy the physical product (or digital download, if you prefer), the band is making 8, 10,12, 15 dollars on the spot! Those sales really make a difference for the wallet, and they are an excellent morale booster for the artist.
If money is tight, just being vocal about your support is a huge deal. Play the music on your streaming service of choice and help get those stats up! You can sign up for their mailing lists, follow your favorite artists on social media and interact with their posts or send them messages directly showing your enthusiasm. Fan mail has gone digital, and creating quality music takes a lot of work. If an artist created some music which really made your day, passing that message along will probably make the artist’s day too!
And on that note, if you happen to be in the market for a unique and unpredictable slab of Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn’t, please check out my new album, “Skeletons”, on your service of choice. Bandcamp is always solid, and it’s also available through Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Pandora, Amazon and many more. Cheers!