Christmas time has arrived, along with a pandemic spike that has sent shockwaves into holiday planning. Many people given to coronavirus caution are turning online to shop for gifts, causing a surge of shipping delays.
Local musicians, however, have been as busy as Santa’s elves, writing and recording new material in their home studios and, in one case, in his backyard.
Their new releases are available online, setting up an ideal gift-giving scenario for last-minute shoppers who can give plentifully without leaving home, and the only delays in getting gifts to their destinations would result from wobbly Wi-Fi connections.
Garrett T. Capps had been on a roll before the pandemic and hasn’t let isolation stop him. Since April he’s released three new efforts – a two-song single and two EPs – one of the latter written entirely during the shutdown.
“I’ve been going on songwriting binges all year. I’ve had nothing else to do,” he said.
Jerry David DeCicca recorded a five-song quarantine concert in his Bulverde backyard, with only the Katydids as his audience, and in October released a new album that resonates with themes of recognition and reckoning appropriate to the pandemic.
San Antonio duo Dreambored also released a pre-pandemic album that deals with the loss of close loved ones and with realizing the value of love.
Kathryn Legendre, a San Antonio native weathering the COVID-19 storm in her Austin home, has released two new pandemic-appropriate singles that are finding popularity on Spotify.
Aunt Baby, featured previously in the San Antonio Report, has stayed busy in the studio and released a three-song EP and a single in April, followed by a single in May. Von Economo, the music project of a local visual artist, brought a project to fruition just as the pandemic descended.
All recordings are available for streaming on Spotify and other web music services but are also available for purchase on Bandcamp. Artists set their prices but the popular music website has a pay-what-you-wish option, as well as a timely “Send as Gift” feature.
Garrett T. Capps
The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin had been scheduled to begin March 13, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for Texas.
San Antonio musician Garrett T. Capps started 2020 riding a growing wave of popularity and gearing up for his SXSW gig, but would see the cancellation of the festival as only the first in a string of live performances lost to the coronavirus pandemic. In all, Capps would lose three tours and more than 30 gigs, including shows in California, Montana, and a festival in Sweden that also was to feature singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams.
Suddenly finding himself with time on his hands, Capps turned to songwriting. “A lot of [the new songs] are completely pandemic inspired, thematically,” he said, and some show the frustration he and other musicians are feeling during what he calls “COVID times.”
The pandemic-inspired songs are collected on Nobody’s Gonna Help U, a five-song EP that begins with the song “Borrowed Time” and its now near-universal lyrics:
I’ve been tryin’ to live in the moment
Before that moment’s gone
But there’s something about the way time’s flowin’
That makes me wanna move on
Capps recorded the entire album remotely by laying down drum tracks, sending them out to guest musicians, then mixing the separate tracks together.
The rollocking rock ‘n’ roll record Talkin’ Bout Luv was his first pandemic project, with Capps recording all instruments except for bass guitar, which is handled by three guest musicians.
Of the songs, Capps announces, “I worked very hard to create them during these COVID times,” in a brief intro to the six-song EP.
Capps’ April two-song release, En Los Shadows de San Antone, was intended to set up a planned European tour. Country music is only growing in popularity in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium, Capps said, and the recordings lend conjunto flavor to bring some of his hometown along with him.
Of releasing multiple records in different musical genres, Capps said it’s “not really a sound career move.“
“I’m feeling pretty lost in my career, “ he said of being set adrift by the pandemic, “but I’ve written a lot of songs that I’m happy with.”
Jerry David DeCicca
A note on Jerry David DeCicca’s Bandcamp page announcing the May release of the JDD & the Katydids backyard mini-album, the musician writes, “This is a 21 minute solo acoustic backyard performance performed to no one & recorded in the high heat of last summer at dusk.”
The five songs of the recording are strung together as a single track to capture the feel of a live performance, DeCicca said, an all-too-rare event during the pandemic. As if to emphasize the lack of audience contact available while people maintain isolation, the sound of plentiful Katydids features prominently in the background.
DeCicca then released The Unlikely Optimist and His Domestic Adventures in October. While the record was made before the onset of the pandemic, its themes match what many people have been experiencing over the past nine months.
For example, the song “13 Steps” catalogs exactly how many steps there are in an often-trod staircase to the basement, a mundane domestic factoid that might have drawn little notice without so many hours spent at home.
One critic pointed out to the Ohio-born DeCicca that there are no basements in Texas, which the songwriter said evinces his metaphorical approach. “That’s no different than when a songwriter, whether it’s John Fogerty or Ann Peebles, is talking about ‘the rain,’” he said. He responded to his critic with a question. “I knew there was no basements in Texas, but, you know, are you sure it was the basement?”
Among the 10 tracks are songs that reflect on the “Quiet Life” DeCicca has enjoyed with his life and musical partner Eve Searls, who also plays keyboards and sings on his records, since moving to Bulverde. “I love my backyard,” he says, speaking of finding it much easier to adjust to the pandemic having moved past his wilder years into his mid-40s.
“If we were going to have to deal with something of this level of catastrophe, and in my lifetime, it couldn’t have happened at a better time,” he said wryly. “I don’t know if 300,000 people dying is worth me having an internal reset. But I feel like I’ve learned things about myself during this time that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”
The opening song, “I See Horizons,” repeats the title line over and over as a tense, unresolved melody canters beneath the words.
“It’s almost a thesis statement for the rest of the record, where you can see what’s in front of you but you just can’t quite reach it,” DeCicca said.
Although the song titles of her May 2020 release, “One Long Sad Song” and “Waiting in Line,” seem pandemic-related, Kathryn Legendre said they were written and recorded just before fears of coronavirus shut everything down.
“I had every intention of saving them for a full-length record,” Legendre said. But with everyone stuck home looking for ways to pass the time, she thought, “Why not release these?”
The release was fortunate, she said, because they have been her best-performing songs on the streaming service Spotify. But, she said, “numbers are one thing, but it just seems like it had a really great reach, despite not being able to perform [live],” which is normally the best means of promotion for new material.
“They’re two songs I’m really proud of, so I’m really glad that they’ve been received well,” she said.
Legendre said she feels the “old school country vibe” attracts listeners, as well as the ability of songs to connect people to their emotions.
“I can think about so many different situations in life where I’ve heard a song – a lot of times it’s been a sad one – but they took the words out of my mouth, like that’s exactly how I feel,” she said.
Like Capps, Legendre had major shows including a U.K. concert upended by the pandemic and said she feels “robbed.” But in the meantime she has focused on songwriting, with one new lyric focusing on the political divide that has riven much of 2020, as well as her first “genuine honky-tonk cheatin’ song,” she said, assuring that it’s not autobiographical and that her marriage has thrived during the pandemic.
Dreambored lyricist and songwriter Angela Walley experienced the death of her father in 2018. She turned her loss into meditative songs that sometimes belie their tragic origin with lighthearted melodies and pulsing beats.
During an interview with the San Antonio Report just prior to the release of the full-length album Loved Ones, which came out the same October day as DeCicca’s newest album, Walley reflected on the meaning of the record as a whole.
“This album is a reflection of the whole grieving process, from learning that you’re going to lose someone to actually losing them, to having this huge void in your life, and then to actually coming around and feeling resolved about it and finding hope and love again,” she said.
Walley said that she and her musical partner, husband Mark Walley, had originally aimed for a May release date but discovered how unrealistic the timeline was, considering the complexity of the recording process. Rather than write new pandemic-focused songs, the couple worked diligently on Loved Ones and now plan to focus on music videos for the songs, using their considerable skills as videographers.
Beyond the full-length record available on Bandcamp, Dreambored offers videos of several songs recorded for a pandemic-isolation home party on their website.
In a May San Antonio Report story, musician John Dailey of Aunt Baby said it was hardly a decision to keep recording during the pandemic, merely a result of his obsessive need to make music.
The three-song EP Studio-E was released April 4, followed by the single “Tear It Apart” on April 21. The single “Knock Me Out,” released May 22, sounds like an all-night honky-tonk party, with a crowd of harmonic voices gathered around a boogie-woogie piano.
However, the song was likely made using the five-member band’s new method of remote recording, joining musicians from around the country who use technology to adapt and connect, as it did with “Tear It Apart.”
Visual artist Michele Monseau adopted music as a form of expression in 2018 and worked diligently on a full-length album only to see its release interrupted by the pandemic.
Her Bandcamp page offers a limited edition USB version of the album Von Economo disguised as a cassette that was released on March 16, the day the City of San Antonio declared a public health emergency due to the novel coronavirus. A concurrent post on her Facebook page read, “Please support our poets and musicians, they bring us solace in the darkest of times.”
The 12-song album was recorded with San Antonio stalwart Joe Reyes of Buttercup, Demitasse, and Wolverton, and eventually released on Bandcamp on June 20. The first song, titled “I, Organism,” begins with the lyric “what if we were wrong about everything?” which, though written before the pandemic, seems to sum up the various social and political frustrations expressed on her social media in the coming months.
One practical frustration expressed is the difficulty of reaching an audience during such socially distanced times. A follow-up Facebook post dated Nov. 25 reads, “Honestly, 2020 has made it incredibly hard to release a debut album. … Please consider purchasing music from your favorite artists this year if you can. Musicians are hurting. Support local artists and soak up the power of MUSIC!”
One day, these musicians attest, San Antonians will be able to return to something like normal gatherings in recording studios, music clubs, and concert halls, but until then music fans, and musicians, must make do with what’s available.