The cancellations of events and shut-downs 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, we caught up with Kenny Tompkins, the mastermind behind Mr. Husband, to ask him what he’s been listening to while self-quarantining, how important he thinks it is for artists to use this time to help give back (if they’re able to, of course), and why a Hank Williams song is the perfect tune for these times. Mr. Husband’s new album, “Songs Of Friendship, Songs Of Wonderment,” is due out on Monday. You can learn more about the band at www.facebook.com/misterhusband or mrhusband.bandcamp.com, and don’t forget to check out their video for “Really … Hoping” on YouTube.
1. What have you been listening to while self-quarantining and what about it makes you want to listen to it these days?
Tompkins: It depends on which mood I am in.
For staying optimistic or fantasizing about better times the quick playlist is:
Twain — ‘Dear Mexico’
Video Age — ‘I Was Wrong’
Shankar JaiKashan — ‘Bombay Talkie’
Thompson Twins — ‘Hold Me Now’
Nick Drake — ‘One Of These Things First’
For reeling in awe of the potential horror, the quick playlist is:
The Caretaker — ‘Everywhere at the End of Time (Part 1, Track 1)’
Infinity Frequencies — ‘Computer Death” (or any track but “Group Meditation,’ especially)
Mayhem — ‘Chainsaw Gutf‘
Death Grips — ‘You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But What He Really Loves You For Is Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’
Yearner — ‘WinterNight’
Gavin Bryars — ‘The Sinking of The Titanic’
William Basinski — ‘The Disintegration Loops’
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?
Tompkins: I tuned into my good buddy, Gilbert Lee, who lives out in Frostburg. He totally got it done. I also made a point to watch Kevin Krauter, who is an upcoming artist I love and who canceled a big tour this spring. My wife and I tuned into to Myq Kaplan for some comedy. I am scheming my own plans to do some live things in the coming weeks and I am nervous as it feels totally different than a live performance in person. Big props to everyone who just dives in and does well with it.
3. Are you using this time to write new material for Mr. Husband? If so, how’s that process going?
Tompkins: To be honest, there is never a time I am not writing and recording so nothing has changed really. I might actually be getting less done at the moment due to time-sucks like disinfecting groceries, but no complaints. I do have a sense that I want to make things that are more universal at the moment since everyone is in this together. I am not sure a conscious thought like that helps you make good art, though. We shall see.
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?
Tompkins: Definitely my appreciation for everything has skyrocketed. I feel totally in awe of the good things in life and how easily they were floating into my life with no friction a few weeks ago. Food, drink, evenings with friends, a set on stage at Nola, band practice and beers with the guys. They all seem so precious now. I feel a profound sense of appreciation for all of the peaceful easy years I’ve lived prior to this. It would be hard to pinpoint one thing.
5. If there’s one song that you think could help everybody get through these uncertain times, what would it be and why?
Tompkins: ”I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” by Hank Williams is a good one to remember right now. As more and more joy is stolen from us through the fear of death by COVID-19 or related chaos, it is important to remember that death is inevitable and that every single day we are alive, we live in defiance of that possibility. Every time you ever felt happy, it was also possible that you might die the next second, so make it a point to be joyful right now. It is essential. Same as it ever was.
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?
Tompkins: Jim Shorts. He is so consistent in his quality of songwriting it is just crazy. He put out a collection of previously released rock songs re-recorded as acoustic songs two weeks ago and donated all the profits. I hope more artists take note of that and use their power to raise funds for other people in need if their own needs are already met. Love and respect to everyone in the Frederick and Frostburg music families. I feel close to you and root for you even if I don’t know you that well. Sincerely.