The cancellations of events and shutdowns of bars and restaurants due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic have affected everybody — and that includes local musicians who have seen their regular gigs canceled and, in some cases, their lifelines profoundly compromised.
As a result, we are checking in with one musician a week to see how they’re doing, what they’re listening to and if they are up to creating new music while they quarantine with the rest of the world.
This week, Danniel Knight, front man for local rock act Sunniva, checked in. Among the things he discusses here are the many artists who inspire him during these unknown times, how his own songwriting process is constantly evolving and, of course, the one song he would recommend everyone listen to as they wait to see what happens next. To learn more about his band — and to see the videos he’s been posting while working through song ideas — visit www.facebook.com/Sunnivamusic or help support their records at sunnivamusic.bandcamp.com/.
1. What have you been listening to while self-quarantining and what about it makes you want to listen to it these days?
Knight: I have a friend from South America that turned me on to some new music recently. This Brazilian guitarist and composer Yamandu Costa — he is absolutely amazing. I was astounded that as a guitarist, I had never listened to him.
Also, this band called los Bitchos have been played a lot recently. They have such a warm sound that makes you feel good and want to dance. “Pet Sounds” by The Beach Boys is another one. With more space and stillness in my life, I really can absorb and appreciate the complexities of Brian Wilson’s compositions and the beauty and richness of the album.
Then there’s Motown. I always listen to Motown because it makes me feel good and moves me on a deep level. Finally, Shintaro Sakamoto, a Japanese musician and composer. His music is new to me but feels right at home. The music is very groovy and easy to listen to, and it puts me in a peaceful mood.
Overall, these choices reflect my desire to find warmth amongst these uncertain times. All of this music has the ability to transport me to places or times that I’ve not been or memories that bring me joy.
2. Have you come across any live-streams/Internet-based performances over the last few weeks that have stuck out as a result of COVID cancellations?
Knight: I can’t lie here. I wish [I’d] been part of viewing more live stream concerts but I’ve been staying busy with music and work, as my job is considered essential. The one performance that I did catch was my friend Katie Powderly on an FNP live stream. The energy of the performance matched the mood that I was feeling at the time. The weight that comes with the reality of our current situation took awhile to land upon my shoulders and I remember watching that and feeling things settle in as a new reality for the time being as a musician, and also as a human in these times. That being said, it was a great performance.
3. Are you using this time to write new material for Sunniva? If so, how’s that process going?
Knight: Yes! It’s going great. I’m very excited about the new material. We are planning on hitting the studio very soon, possibly in the next month or two depending on what we can do.
Coming up with new ideas comes very easy to me, but putting those ideas together and finishing songs has been a muscle that has needed some working on. This new forced isolation is allowing me the time to piece these many fragments and ideas I have together and I can’t wait to finish more songs. On another hand, the severity of our situation and the loneliness that may come along with social distancing will have influence on all artists, and the many different ways people respond to this shared phenomena will be very intriguing. I imagine a lot of great art will be born during these times.
4. What’s the most positive takeaway you’ve been able to experience from all the self-quarantining and the music industry being on pause for the time being?
Knight: My answer for this question also ties into the previous question about how this has affected the writing process. First off, anything involving “the music industry” stresses me out and is out of my control. I prefer being an artist and a musician and not having to deal with any business aspect, so right off the bat, I feel more in a world and environment that is very conducive to being more prolific creatively.
Also, the uncertainty of everything has myself and other artists more eager to put out whatever they have. I recently made a Soundcloud page to post voice memos from my phone of impromptu jams we’ve had. Low quality, all improvised, missed notes,’wrong notes,’ but it is fun and the recordings are us expressing ourselves at the deepest level and I want it to be heard. Personally, I feel things that I am unable to express in words or any other form outside of my creativity in music and it comes to me from a place deep within me and far outside of me, so I feel it’s worth sharing with whoever may want to listen.
This ties into the last question about songwriting because no longer do I feel like I might ruin a song idea, and therefore not finish it. Now I just feel like it’s important to get it out and hope it can positively impact somebody else. That, at the end of the day, is what I hope me making music can do.
5. If there’s one song that you think could help everybody get through these uncertain times, what would it be and why?
Knight: Ah, just one?! I consulted my Spotify liked songs and hit shuffle. One of the songs, “Futurism” by Deerhunter, starts with:
‘Your cage is what you make it
If you decorate it
It goes back faster
Goes quick, laughter
Permeates the carnage
Laying out in sunlight
At daybreak, oh
That is pretty relevant to making it through this quarantined time and our lives in general. There were also songs like ‘All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison, who I love, but probably too obvious for my taste in this instance.
I decided to choose a song without words. ‘Vital Transformation’ by Mahavishnu Orchestra. This is at the least an opportunity for us to make vital transformations of ourselves and after that, vital transformations of our society as a whole. With the title of the song in mind, the music energized and excited the idea and possibility of transforming ourselves and our lives into something else. As tragic as this pandemic is and as much sorrow as it has brought people, it does present a unique opportunity to slow things down and make changes personally, and from there, it will reverberate outward to the rest of the world.
BONUS QUESTION: What artists, local or not, do you think have done a great job staying engaged musically online and what about what they’re doing sets them apart?
Knight: I mainly see what my local musician friends are doing and so many of them are staying active. Litz, The Dirty Middle, Katie Powderly, Natalie Brooke, Brady O’Conor, Ryan Buell — really, so many more, and I feel bad for not listing more, but it’s basically every musician friend of mine I’ve seen streaming stuff.
In Baltimore, I have friends who are involved in a Twitch channel called quaran.tv where it’s 24 hour streaming entertainment from friends, music and anything else. All of these people have transitioned into doing live streams and it’s pretty awesome I can’t choose just one — it seems like most bands and musicians are jumping on this opportunity to play to people at home.