Musicians in the wake of COVID

 Three artists from different walks of life speak on the the effects of COVID

William Cote-Monroe treads carefully around his studio apartment filled with amplifiers and music gear. His multi-holding guitar stand shares a space with his refrigerator in the kitchen. Where you would normally find the television, you see a home studio where he spends his free time recording and practicing music. His KRK speakers stand in place of house plants. 

This is the after-effect of COVID’s wake that Cote-Monroe and so many other musicians are left in. The pandemic left many stranded without a job, livelihood, passion, and in extreme cases, a place to call home.   

When Montreal went into lock down in March 2020, starting on March 20, 2020 to be exact, Cote-Monroe was in Ontario playing as a guitar player for a group called Chinsee and the Eclipse. They had just played in London, Ontario the night before and their Toronto gig was then cancelled with their Montreal show following suit. To add the cherry on top, schools were also cancelled for two weeks.   

 “I had a feeling that it was gonna be much longer than two weeks. It just didn’t seem feasible. The two weeks was probably just to comfort us,” said Cote-Monroe. 

Faced with having quite a bit of work suddenly disappear as an artist, and the severe reduction of income, and loss of momentum that came with it, Cote-Monroe had to shift certain priorities in his life. “All these festival gigs that I was going to have during the summer which were supposed to launch my career just dried up,” he said.

Cote-Monroe plays very few shows, and the majority of them happen to be solo shows, which entail just a guitar and vocals. That’s easy. However, playing with others now chalks up to more of a task as vaccine passport limitations fell into place.  

“You have to acquire your QR code to play and it became quite frustrating to play with other people because others didn’t have their QR codes and neither did members of the audience,” Cote-Monroe said.

These audience members then get kicked out and if there were three to four bands playing at the event they all end up going home with nothing.

“It’s more worth it to bring your friends over to watch you jam,” he said.       

Cote-Monroe hopes to add a full-time drummer and bassist into his ensemble, as well as get a driving license and a van for the band in order to be on the road every other week around Quebec and Ontario. The struggle will soon reveal itself as Cote-Monroe will have to start on a clean slate when it comes to networking with other artists and finding new jobs to help him sustain his goals as a full-time musician. 

Fortunately, the pandemic led to him centralizing himself and his creative outlook. He picked up drawing for his album artwork. “I’m not some trained sketcher and I’m just drawing art that I vibe with,” Cote-Monroe said. He is currently also learning the ropes in mixing and mastering so that he can ideally release a song per week because he can write like that now. “I’m just trying to bring it back to that level of which I can release music that I like and people care about.”  

What affects artists, naturally stems from what affects venues. There has been a collective called Growve MTL which organises music shows in the form of live sessions at several locations but mainly on the Saint Laurent and Saint Denis streets, including Turbo Haüs and Blue Dog. The event’s cofounder is none other than Shayne Assouline, a jazz studies student at Concordia, alongside professional beatmaker Shem G and Marcus Dillon, a silvertongue lyricist. According to Dillon, a member of the Dust Gang community, they are both members of a band named The Many which congregated in 2018 at a pub called Urban Science, which offers jam sessions under their “Le Cypher” event. Growve MTL’s main act is The Many, who are linked with the Dust Gang community. 

Dust Gang’s goal with Growve MTL is to have musicians who are at ease with their musical skills come together, so that they always contribute something new each time. Even if they play the same song at many events, they make each show fresh in this way. For example, because of their diverse influences and past experiences, a new musician with a violin will perform differently than the other stringed musician, like a bassist. They are set to return to the local scene on March 2 according to Assouline.      

Joseph Mascis (J) is the frontrunner of the Americana suburban alternative rock band known as Dinosaur Junior. As a band, they have been active since the late ‘80s, spanning almost four decades. Before COVID, the band only stopped playing live shows once in the 90s due to conflict between members. However, the pandemic has put a new stress on the group, causing them to stop twice in total. 

“People always come up to me and say ‘COVID must’ve been great for you,’” Mascis said. “Um, well actually no, I haven’t liked it at all, I mean.” 

Emmett Jefferson Murphy, Dinosaur Jr. drummer, stated at one point that he didn’t even have a family to go back home to. He would be holed up in the house alone with nobody to converse and interact with during COVID. “It’s not easy, far from it in fact,” said Mascis.

Mascis’ famous wall of Marshall 4×12 amps crowded his living room, while the Jazzmaster and Telecaster lay pell-mell over the couch. His living space was in disarray and one can tell he is not used to it. “It was horrible, I mean, I just haven’t been home that much ever since I was a kid or something, it’s just not how I usually live my life, I’m always going places and touring, so it was tough.” 

Cote-Monroe says that “everything is temporary,” and maybe it is, as Assouline and Mascis share his sentiment on the whole COVID ordeal. As the artists wait to go back out on tour again to exercise their passion, they’ll have to overcome the main COVID hurdle just like they hurdle over the smorgasbord of equipment in their houses.  


Graphic by James Fay

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