Local musicians open up about struggle to remain creative, focused during pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has provoked an artistic reckoning for many. Here’s how three musicians have coped

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Tobias Rehm

The pandemic has changed live music and how performers pursue their livelihood.

Under normal circumstances, finding the will to be creative can be difficult for artists.

But doing so amid a global health crisis presents an even greater challenge.

When faced with adversity, people often look to music as an escape. For musicians, performing live or producing in the studio has served as a consistent therapeutic release.

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in a new wave of anxiety and doubt for todays musician.

Area musicians Zane Tipton, Jahmal Graves, and Steve Faulkner know all about what it has been like as an artist trying to function throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These three musicians all either performed or recorded new music in the last two years. Each painted a unique picture on how the pandemic warped that which once comforted them.

Some of the cats that I play with, that’s what they do for a living.”

— Steve Faulkner

I would just be in denial to claim that it had no impact on me or my work whatsoever,” Tipton said while recording his sixth studio album. The lack of desire to work and make material pushed further and further until (his album) Hikikomori was released in December 2020, about 10 months away from when I wanted it to have been finished.”

Graves, who has been active in the Arizona music scene for over 30 years, shared a similar sentiment. 

To be creative through all that, it was difficult,” he said.I wasnt creative at all for about the first six months of the pandemic.” 

If not for a close friend and musical partner reaching out in hopes of recording a new record, Graves may have been robbed of his creative ambition to reenter the artistic process after his pandemic-fueled furlough. 

At first, I was not into it,” he said about mentally checking out. Once I started working on (the new album), it made me feel better because I was being creative.

It made me have hope in the sense that even if everything sucks really bad, I still can feel good about doing something.”

For live performers, the coronavirus pandemic produced an uncertain environment for its veteran players. As an example, had an old friend not mistakenly scheduled two shows on the same night, Faulkners group would have been without work.

Some of the cats that I play with, thats what they do for a living,” Faulkner said. The shows we played in Prescott sustained us.” 

The live shows’ protective atmosphere, while essential to ensure safety, was unfamiliar. The synergy between audience and performer is crucial during concerts, even from a distance.

You had to wear masks, there was no dancing, they spread the tables apart, and you had to stay at your table,Faulkner said.

Ultimately, both parties have happily accepted this adjustment. While the mental toll is certainly paid as a cost of the pandemic, an artists pursuit of creativity is not easily broken — especially if buoyed by an audience.

My experience was very different from all the other musicians I know,” Faulkner said.