Monday, April 27th, 2020
NZCA LINES – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In
“This is truly a global problem. It’s like sci-fi novels where an alien invasion unites the world against a common enemy.”
Apr 27, 2020
By Mark Redfern
Photography by Alina Rancier
We are checking in with musicians during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to see how they are dealing with everything. What has their home quarantine experience been like so far and how is the crisis impacting both their career and art? Here we check in with Michael Lovett, who releases music as NZCA LINES. The London-based musician is currently quarantined in a city not his own, with a wife he just married.
We’re living in future history right now, unprecedented times that will define our era. At some point we will be living in a forever-changed post-COVID-19 timeline, but right now we’re deep in it. Many have had their livelihood interrupted by the pandemic and included are most musicians, who make a lot of their money by touring and performing, two things they can’t do right now. Most record stores are closed and vinyl factories are shut down, so album sales are depressed too. Our intention with this series is to highlight the challenges musicians are going through right now to hopefully encourage our readers and their fans to rally around and support each musician (financially if you can, but we know it’s tough out there for many people).
We’re all in this together, a whole planet united in this fight, and we hope these interviews will help illustrate that. We put together the same set of questions about the current crisis and emailed them to several musicians and will be posting their responses as they come in.
NZCA LINES recently shared a brand new song, “Pure Luxury,” which was one of our Songs of the Week. Lovett also shared a colorful video for the song that he co-directed with his wife Alina Rancier. The incredibly fun single was inspired by Lovett experiencing a Manhattan heat wave in February and is out now via Memphis Industries.
Lovett had this to say about the song in a press release: “It’s a sadistic joyride set in penthouse suites where the gold trim hides a rotting plywood facade, muscle cars are bought with credit cards and barbed wire fences separate luxury resorts from the slums beyond their walls. The fantasy of attainment in a world that has no future.”
Lovett also had this to say about the video in a press release: “It’s an all singing, all dancing journey into my own personal world of glamour and luxury, held together by cardboard, drenched in blood, and billed to your company’s expense account. We set out to make a gender-reversed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and this is where we ended up.”
Things have been fairly quiet for NZCA LINES since the release of his last album, 2016’s sophomore release, Infinite Summer, also released via Memphis Industries. Over the years Lovett has also performed in Metronomy’s touring band and performed on some of Christine and the Queens’ work. A press release does say that a new NZCA LINES album is in the works.
Read on as Lovett reflects on his COVID-19 experience so far. He has also submitted a photo of himself under quarantine.
Where are you spending the quarantine and who are you spending it with? If you’re spending it with other people, have you found that the quarantine has brought you closer together or caused tension?
I’m spending the quarantine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the U.S. But why, I hear you ask? Well, I was touring the U.S. with Metronomy throughout February, and then I got married in Austin, Texas at the beginning of March. My wife is based in NYC, so we were back there for a few days, preparing to head out to Europe for the start of Metronomy’s tour and everything happened. With our tour cancelled, I decided to stay in the U.S. and see how things developed. Then COVID cases in NYC got really bad, so we decided to temporarily rent an Airbnb somewhere within a day’s drive away. Pittsburgh ended up being our choice. Obviously we were very careful and isolated ourselves here, but we’re fine. It’s the ultimate marriage test, to suddenly be isolated with your partner! Some moments of stress, mainly related to the pandemic, but other than that we’re doing well.
What’s your daily routine been like? Have you spent much time outdoors? And since musicians spend so much time on the road, have you found it hard adjusting to so much time at home?
Honestly, in some ways it’s been a relief to suddenly have all this free time. I’ve been living a very hectic lifestyle since May last year, touring with Metronomy whilst simultaneously finishing my own music. I was due to be touring from March until the end of summer. There’s obviously tremendous downsides, but on the plus it’s been good to catch my breath, and to spend time with my wife. I’ve been running outside regularly, but aside from that staying indoors, receiving groceries by delivery, social distancing. Really, this reminds me of working on my own music last year—just staying inside all the time! Musicians and artists are used to doing this. But creating structure is hard, which I find important for mental health. This week I’ve just started creating a proper schedule everyday, literally timetabling everything from breakfast through until dinner. I’d recommend it.
What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?
In terms of releasing music, I had been planning my recent single, “Pure Luxury,” for some time when COVID-19 hit Europe and the U.S., but after thinking carefully I decided to press ahead with it. It’s a tough decision, because as an artist you spend a huge amount of time and effort making your music, and the idea that it might not get heard properly is worrying. But I’m glad I did, because I think people need new culture to enjoy! Also the song and video are so colorful, I hope people find it a fun distraction from “reality.”
The financial impact, however, has been immense. My main income at the moment has been through touring as a member of Metronomy, and we were due to start our EU tour on March 16th, followed by a full summer of festivals. For a touring band, festivals are where you make the bulk of your income, and it seems increasingly likely that everything will be cancelled. We rescheduled the EU tour for September, but really who knows when concerts will be able to happen. This basically means that my financial model for 2020 is out the window, which is a real shock. But that’s the music industry right now—there’s not much money to made through streaming, or unless you really sell records which is increasingly rare. It put things in perspective, but it’s making me recalibrate.
Do you trust the government and our leaders (such as President Trump) to effectively deal with the pandemic? What most concerns you about the response of elected leaders at home and abroad?
What we’ve seen is a huge lapse of leadership in the U.K. and U.S.—and in Europe to a certain extent. It’s unbelievable really, seeing as everyone had ample time to prepare given the situation in China, but seemingly no one did much about it. In the U.S. in particular it’s really shocking, because you guys don’t have a centralized health system, so the cracks really start to show when there’s a health crisis. What saddens me is that someone like Sanders was advocating for healthcare reform, which seems even more pertinent with something like COVID, yet he’s out the race. I hope Biden can change his approach and integrate some of these policy ideas into his campaign, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for that. Obviously every healthcare system is under huge strain, but at least in places like the U.K. there’s not a fear that you won’t be able to afford treatment. It’s something I took for granted growing up, but it’s such a special and rare thing to have the National Health Service, when seen in a global context. Save the NHS!
What do you think will be the lasting effects on society of all this isolated time at home?
I think it’s pushing us further online and that could be a dangerous thing, especially right now. Human contact and face-to-face conversation are so important for things like, for instance, elections. I wonder how the U.S. presidential elections will progress now? Will people be able to canvass door-to-door? However, what really strikes me is how, in a time of rising populism and nationalism, this is truly a global problem. It’s like sci-fi novels where an alien invasion unites the world against a common enemy. People are still trying to point fingers and turn this towards their advantage, but I wonder if, out the end of it, everyone could be a little more…sympathetic to each other? I can only hope so.
What other steps should record labels, music streaming platforms, and other music industry entities be taking to help struggling musicians through this time?
Organizations like PRS in the U.K. are already offering musicians support through a small grants fund, which is great. The ideal thing of course would be for streaming to offer more revenue for artists! But in lieu of that, I think labels need to be flexible and adaptive to this new reality. You can’t just carry on as normal—this could be as simple as redirecting funds to online promotion for artists releasing new albums. Now will be the test of what happens when you take the communal factor out of music listening—how much is attending a concert, hearing a song at a party responsible for spreading new music? It’s impossible to quantify, but we’re going to be finding out.
What is the best way fans can support you financially right now? Buying vinyl and CDs, downloading and streaming your music, buying merch, supporting your Patreon page or other crowd sourcing platform (if you use one), or some other means? Is there a particularly cool piece of merch you’d like to highlight?
Definitely buying vinyl and CDs, and paying for downloading music is a huge help. Physical copies of my last album Infinite Summer are limited, but you can buy a digital download from my Bandcamp, and also my latest single “Pure Luxury” is available to buy too. Even a notional contribution for downloading the music helps. I will also have some cool merch available very soon, so keep an eye out and buy it when you can!
Which albums, songs, films, TV shows, books, podcasts, live streams, video games, board games, etc, have been helping you get through the quarantine?
I’ve been enjoying listening to podcasts which aren’t related to COVID-19. Radiolab have posted a couple of good re-runs, there’s a nice one about space where they interview Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow who was heavily involved in the Voyager Golden Record. In terms of music, I’ve been looking around at artists doing covers/live sessions and found a guy called Still Woozy, he’s making some cool tracks. I’ve got into following non-musical YouTube channels a bit more, there’s a guy called Max Joseph who made a piece about bookstores and reading. That led me to a blog called Wait But Why that apparently Elon Musk reads. It’s pretty interesting. Movies-wise, my wife is a massive cinephile so there’s always something on. Recently we saw the Chilean film Too Late to Die Young, which I’d recommend. In terms of series, I’ve been watching the second season of Killing Eve and also Sex Education, which is great.
Have you been doing any live-streamed concerts during COVID-19 or do you plan to? A lot of artists have been doing them, do you think it’s a challenge to make them original and interesting?
Yes, I started out doing stripped back performances of songs from my two albums, NZCA/LINES and Infinite Summer, throughout March and April on Instagram Live, and have been adding in covers—figuring out what live-streaming is for me, really! I do think the challenge is bringing something original to it. Personally, without the prospect of playing live in the near future, I’m trying to bring in some kind of production value, so it can introduce people to the world of my music a little more. I’m very keen on aesthetics, and whilst the intimacy of live-streams is quite special, the lo-fi aspect can get a bit limiting.
Has the quarantine been a fertile creative time (are you writing or recording new music, for example) or have you found it hard to focus on creative endeavors?
I entered into this quarantine period with a big to-do list surrounding plans I’d already made for releasing my recent single, “Pure Luxury,” and its accompanying video, which I directed with Alina Rancier. This helped me stay busy, which in turn definitely gave me purpose over the past weeks. Now that both are released, I’m starting to focus on making new music, and making visuals for the next releases I have planned. I’m not going to lie, it’s a little tough to get started sometimes, but creating your own structure is really important. I’m definitely having to radically rethink my plans, as it’s impossible to shoot videos like I was planning to for these new releases, but I’m trying to view these limitations as a creative challenge.
Beyond the obvious items (such as toilet paper), what things have you made sure to get from the grocery store when stocking up? And, also, do you have any toilet paper?
We actually bought a normal amount of toilet paper just before it was the hot new thing to own, so we’re fine. Plus there’s a bunch at this Airbnb we’re staying at—in fact, they even have plastic gloves here! You couldn’t find anything like that in NYC. We went into a grocery store in Pittsburgh when we arrived and they had a massive tub of Purell by the till! For customers! I wanted to be like, “Mate, you know how much you could sell this for in New York?” Also we ordered takeout, and they gave us some free disinfectant and gloves with the order, how cool is that! That’s Pittsburgh for you, I guess. One thing we’re running out of though is booze. We need more wine.