There’s no shortage of innovation among musicians worldwide, but this group of musicians in D.C. continue to exhibit strength, creativity and talent throughout increasingly turbulent times.
Be Steadwell Embraces Joy
Queer pop artist Be Steadwell suddenly found herself staring down the reality of almost a full year of cancellations due to the pandemic – a threat to her passion and her livelihood. Despite hardships, the D.C. musician proved resilient.
“Initially, it was terrifying. And it still is. It’s forced me to build a structure that is less precarious financially, and a big thing that’s helped is Patreon,” Steadwell explains. “It’s a gesture of support. Folks can sign up starting at $2 a month. It really adds up when it’s a lot of people, and it also allows you to not have to ask every six months for help with a new project. Most of my new videos and new songs I’m working on get posted there.”
Patreon allows people to support creators of all kinds, including musicians like Steadwell, to be able to curate art that audiences crave while being paid for through its unique, multi-tiered subscription model.
“Another big part of my work right now is virtual shows,” she says. “They can be fun, and a little weird. Even though I’m in my living room in comfort of my home, I still get nervous. You still have to put together a set. It’s frustrating for me because if you’re getting paid for these virtual shows at all, you’re getting paid an eighth of what a live show would ordinarily pay.”
Despite these new challenges, Steadwell maintains her mission of making sure that stories of love, happiness and queerness are centered in her art and that her audiences feel seen and heard through her music. That includes her most recent album, “Succulent,” released in April.
“I stand strongly in the fact that Black queer people and marginalized people need love songs and joy. Though I do have explicitly political songs, sometimes I’m really adamant about singing the love song instead of singing the song about, you know, Black freedom and whatnot, because I have the choice and I should have the privilege to sing about any kind of Black shit I want.”
Steadwell has experienced growth and change as an artist and as an individual, too, enjoying her time alone at home and exploring other ways to share her talents with the world.
“A big thing that I learned about myself is that I like to write fiction. It’s freeing. It can be anything you want, with just your imagination and your laptop or a pen,” she says.
Conor & The Wild Hunt Perfect Their Sound
New processes and projects were born out of new life in the pandemic for Conor Brendan, who plays guitar, piano and banjo, and lends lead vocals to the folk and acoustic pop band Conor & The Wild Hunt. Brendan and his bandmates Chris Elvidge (drums, harmonies) and Lena Traynham (guitar, bass and vocals), have turned the time and energy they usually put into touring into recording. In his dad’s home studio, Brendan has recorded an impressive near 27 new and unreleased songs.
“Chancey June, Jay Keating and I have begun pre-production on a series of short films set to songs and tied together by a ghost narrative,” Brendan says of other projects he’s hard at work on with other fellow creatives. “Jay is a board member at Songwriters Association of Washington and has provided us funding and insight from his experience in the film industry. Chancey is a brilliant cinematographer with a poetic eye and is sure to bring poignant life to the story on screen.”
Along with Elvidge and Traynham, Brendan also just released a new version of their song “You’re Not Alone,” a song Brendan wrote about an experience traveling the States and living out of his car.
“The song’s story is born from busking in the streets of Philly and feeling invisible, and a simultaneous sense of wonder and loneliness in the Colorado mountains. It’s also a good example of a practice of mine, to dive into an emotion and find salvation and a sense of joy and peace in its release.”
While also exploring new recordings, reworks and songs for short films, Brendan says the trio is taking the time to perfect their individual skills in ways they may simply not have had the time for in their pre-pandemic life.
“We always do, but in these quarantimes, there’s more time than ever to practice,” he says. “I’ve been working on expanding my mix range and belting. I’ve also been spending a lot more time with banjo, mandolin and bass in the process of recording. Lena has been working persistently on vocal technique and finding new tones. Chris is always working on mesmerizing rhythm and stick patterns, such as odd ways to displace beats inside a time signature.”
With so many positive changes and additions to their catalogue, it’s no surprise that Brendan says he’s stoked to put everything out into the world for Conor & The Wild Hunt fans to have and enjoy.
“And when it’s safe to perform in venues again, we’ll be ecstatic to get back into the flow with audiences and fellow artists,” he continues. “In the meantime, if you follow us on Spotify, Instagram and Facebook, you’ll be the first to see and hear new content we’re beginning to release with more regularity. And in this day and age, Spotify and social media followers are the most important kind of support.”
Molly Joyce Portrays the Personal
Inspiration for music can come from anything, anyone and anywhere. For composer, performer and Halcyon Arts Lab fellow, her work centers around disability – specifically, her own.
“I have an impaired left hand from a car accident about 20 years ago. It really took about 20 years to identify as disabled and embrace it within my personal life and of course, artistically, to view it as a creative source. I do this through exploring the process of acquiring a disability, asking what happens when certain physical sensation and movement leaves your body, collaborations with other disabled artists and scholars, and doing research around that.”
Joyce’s explorations of disability have taken her to many academic settings, composing for other artists or commissioned works, including as part of the Halcyon Arts Lab. Originally from Pittsburgh but a frequent traveler through the nature of her work, Molly landed in D.C. to work with Halcyon in September.
“Halcyon seemed very unique to me in that it fosters art and social impact. There are so many artists working in that realm. But sometimes residences are a little more broad, and I was really interested to learn among collegial artists working with more personal issues. We’re always interrogating our personal experiences. I’ve been really fortunate.”
Joyce originally began her work pre-Covid as part of Halcyon’s By The People Festival. Though such festivals will no longer meet in person, Joyce has found ways to share initial iterations of her project, such as a preliminary presentation at the Americans for the Arts Conference. She hopes to continue this project through some demonstrative videos and audiovisual content that allows participants to interact with her work, too.
“I interviewed disabled participants in D.C. and worldwide on what access to care and control means to them. It was all conceived, and most of the interviews were done, before Covid hit. It’s even more relevant, or for me at least just more interesting, to think about now.”
Though she’s composed works for many artists and institutions, including an EP that featured violinists performing her work, Joyce also released her first full-length album this year. June’s “Breaking and Entering” saw Joyce putting together what she calls a fuller album.
“[The album] was written in around eight countries, over 12 different residencies,” Joyce says. “I don’t think that changes the sound too much, but I do think traveling allowed me to capture that intimate and self-recorded quality. I wasn’t super analytical with it, like I normally am with my compositions. I wanted to let something come out that was totally natural, fueled by my disability and disability studies.”
Though it’s times like these we need music in a bigger way, especially thought-provoking, socially impactful music like Joyce’s, it’s still a difficult time as an artist to put your life and work out into the world. But Joyce keeps her introspective processes true here, and looks to the near permanent nature of music.
“I feel like there’s never the right time. Sometimes I come upon albums written even 20 years ago, and realize it’s not all about that one release. It’s important to get it out in general, and to have people be able to discover it,” she concludes.
For more on Joyce’s work and her new album, visit www.mollyjoyce.com. Follow her on Instagram @molly.joyce and Twitter @molly_joyce. For more information on Halcyon Arts Lab, visit www.halcyonhouse.org.
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