Local songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist John Dailey has been making music and playing shows for more than 20 years. 

The 35-year-old has been in a number of bands, released a slew of albums, and produced projects for other acts. He’s currently in at least five bands, including We Leave at Midnight, a shapeshifting affair that skews toward the psychedelic side of pop and the artsy side of indie rock. 

He’s also the de facto center of the Wolf Gala Collective, a group of creatives that have teamed up to work collaboratively on projects in film, art, and music.

Dailey’s band Aunt Baby, a Wolf Gala project formed in 2018, recently recorded and released a single in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The group of five musicians were in three different cities, each working in their homes to record their parts.

Working from his home studio, Dailey crafted and sang the somber, harmony-laced, and piano-driven pop song “Tear it Apart” between April 1 and April 21, when it was released via Facebook and on the Aunt Baby Bandcamp page

Dailey, who described himself as “relentless,” “obsessive,” and even “neurotic” in his drive to make music, puts a workaday frame on the act of creating during the coronavirus shutdown.

“I don’t think I really decided to record during the pandemic, it was more like ‘How do we keep recording?’” he said. 

The remote recording project, Dailey said, was challenging because it didn’t offer the sense of togetherness that a typical studio session engenders. He said that, despite the distance, recording in this manner provided at least some sense of connection, as well as flexibility of schedule, since each player did his recording on his own time.

Raul Alvarez, a San Antonio musician who now lives with his wife in Providence, Rhode Island, played lead guitar on the song. It was his first experience with remote recording. 

Alvarez said recording music on his iPhone was a far cry from Dailey’s “sophisticated home setup that we have used for years,” which is why he “opted to record the song in one go.” Alvarez recorded his part first from a demo Dailey sent him.

The best part of the process was hearing “the song evolve as [Dailey] sent me the mixes as he and the others went along.”

Boerne-born and Austin-based musician and sound engineer Adam Mason played bass on “Tear it Apart.” In his work as a sound engineer, Mason said that he’s frequently worked on recordings remotely, but the experience with Aunt Baby marked the first time he had done it as a player.

Mason enjoyed working in isolation with just the nebulous beginnings of a song to guide him, because he “felt free to just jump in and write a part that I liked, no bouncing ideas back and forth or asking for a specific vision” as might be involved in a typical, in-person session.

“I think it’s cool for people to write parts in somewhat of a vacuum and see what comes out of it,” he said.

Like Alvarez, Mason said he was thrilled to hear the end result of the song, after having nothing to do with it upon sending his part back to Dailey.

“It was a fun reveal,” he said.

For Mason, the worst part of recording this way is that it takes something away from a fundamental pleasure inherent in making music with others. “So much of the joy of being a musician is sharing musical moments with your fellow players,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mason feels as though he got something meaningful from the endeavor.

“I personally need the creative outlet to stay even remotely happy, and getting to share it with musicians I love and respect, even when we can’t physically be together, is extremely heartening,” he said, noting that he hopes the song “brings some light into a listener’s day.”

Alvarez said he feels “privileged just to be able to play music in the first place” and “share beauty with the world” during a difficult time. 

Jackson Floyd played pedal steel on the recording and Justin Davenport played keyboards. Both were in San Antonio.

Dailey and his Wolf Gala collective have several new film and music releases close to completion, including a new We Leave at Midnight album, the release date of which hasn’t been set, and more new material from Aunt Baby.

For Dailey, creating art and music is a cosmic itch scratched, an obsession indulged. But, also, maybe more.

“This whole [pandemic] has stopped everyone in their tracks,” Dailey said, “so naturally any music or art that we’re ingesting at this moment in history is filtered through this lens.” 

James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.