NYC Musicians On What They Miss Most About Live Shows & How to Stay Creative

Music is part of New York City’s soul—it’s what helps keep it so lively. That unique energy everyone experiences the first time they step foot in New York is a real thing, and the music that’s created here, played here, and fills the air here is part of why that feeling is so electric.

Even though COVID-19 has shut down our venues and is making the life for New York’s struggling artists even more difficult, the robust creative flow hasn’t stopped.

If you thought even for a second something like a global pandemic could really end such a thriving city, then you were never a true New Yorker. Just ask the underground musicians of NYC.

We spoke with local underground punks and rockers about what they miss most about live shows and what they’re doing to stay creative. See what they’re doing to keep New York’s artist spirit alive.

Breanna Barbara:
I miss having spiritual experiences playing with a live band and audience. You know, those precious moments that only exist in a split second that happen because of the exact amount of people, feelings, and sounds in a room? It could be a really great guitar note, someone yelling something weird out in the crowd, or when everyone gets quiet for a good vocal. Those magical moments that only happen at a live show. Miss them. [Right now I’m] planning the release of a LOT of new music and figuring out different ways to contribute to fighting the systemic and racial injustice that is happening in our country right now.

Nikki Sisti (Thick):
I miss the energy! The best part of going to a show was being with humans and existing together with music. You always end up seeing old friends or making new ones and that’s what fueled my creativity. It’s been a lot harder now that everything is on hold. Something that has been helping me stay creative is dedicating a specific time and day of the week to creating. Time is so loose right now that if you don’t hold it down it gets lost. So scheduling a weekly practice and a weekly time to sit in my studio to write has been really helpful. I also remind myself I don’t need to write a banger every time I sit down, it’s the process of writing that matters most.

Russel Hymowitz (Zzzwalk):
I miss replying, “I’m down” to nearly any random gig offer. Playing live, especially locally, meant something to look forward to even if it didn’t turn out so well. I’ve been lucky enough to find ways to keep recording and writing music with my closest friends, until a time comes when we can spill our drinks all over a stage again.

Andrea Scanniello (Dropper):
Ugh! I miss everything, even the tall guys who go out of their way to stand directly in front of my 5’1”-self. As of late, I’ve been giving myself a mental break from forcing myself to be creative. I’m just trying to stay active by roller skating and other physical activities. Also, I’m trying to finish things that I didn’t have time for before, like college!

Tyler Wright (T.V.O.D./Shadow Year):
The thing I miss most about playing and seeing shows is the release of all the bottled up feelings I keep inside during my day to day life. It’s the best therapy out there in my opinion. Giving it everything you have during a set and leaving every ounce of yourself on the stage was so a part of how I dealt with my bullshit.

Now that the shows are gone and I can’t have that release anymore, I’ve been trying to record [and] write more to get my jollies off. I also bought a motorcycle to hopefully busy myself and let off some steam.

Mike Brandon (The Mystery Lights):
If I’m being entirely honest, I really don’t miss live shows at the moment. [Laughs] I’m pretty burnt out on all the incessant touring we did the last few years. Really enjoying the break away from music. I probably won’t want to play again until next year. Might not have a choice anyway! However, I do miss traveling, seeing new places, meeting new people. Also, seeing good friends frequently in different states and countries. The energy of the crowd, the unpredictability—you really get thrown into the present entirely when performing, it’s religious. I really miss that aspect of it. And being able to play music with my best friends of course. Yeah, I do miss some things about it for sure. As far as staying creative, I’ve just been working on new music. Got another LP to do with Wick Records, so slowly putting that together. But I’m doing so at my own leisure [and] not rushing anything at all. Just doing it when I’m inspired to do it.

Nazar Khamis (Gnarcissists/Flasyd):
You never know the fortune of a live show, you might get punched in the face, get drunk, or even get laid. [What I’ve been doing to stay creative is] prank on you.

Jonny Couch:
Like most musical artists, COVID has had quite an effect on me. I had to cancel tour dates, a live set on WFMU radio, and also a live show for Columbia University. I really miss the interaction with the audience the most. I feed off of that energy. I miss that feeling I get when the crowd is singing all of the songs right along with me. This past New Year’s Eve was one of the best shows ever!

I didn’t feel creative at the beginning of lockdown, but I slowly started to get back into writing. I was able to record a brand new single in May down in Atlanta. I have a video for it on the way which is being directed by Bryan Janiczek! Also, I’ve been working with good friend Ben Crum. Ben is down in Memphis, but we’ve been able to send tracks back and forth to each other. We’ve managed to write an album’s worth of tunes together, for a new band that we’re calling Greaser Phase!

Jackie Green (Priestess):
I miss getting up there and playing. I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly why it feels so great to do. I think it’s all about connecting with other people and getting to sing and play from the contents of your heart—it’s so powerful. What I most vividly remember and miss is the adrenaline. Letting feelings of nervousness, of self-doubt, of confidence, of excitement become louder in your head, welling up and having to simultaneously deal with those feelings (overcoming some and harnessing others) while putting on the show you and your bandmates rehearsed for. What I miss the most about going to shows is seeing my friends in their element, feeling the power of their music, and being proud to see them kill it and have a good time. I miss being on the receiving end of the raw emotion. I also miss being blown away by new musicians I haven’t met yet, and the feeling of being attracted to a new friend by way of their music.

At the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, I focused a lot on becoming a better guitarist. I started playing a few years ago when I was already in a routine where I was working full-time. I had kind of just jumped right into songwriting and playing live and never really had (or took) the time to go back to the basics. During quarantine, I made up a “guitar school” that I “went to” every day where I focused on a new guitarist to learn covers from each week (Hendrix, Iommi, etc). I did a bunch of music theory, drills, and had a week where I had friends do guest lessons over Zoom. Now that my band and I can more safely convene, we’re working on recording old songs, new songs, and we did some cover songs too. I’m trying to also chip away at a handful of songs that are still half-baked.

Danny Gomez (Native Sun):
Things aren’t all tangible as people would usually have us believe. Most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space where words have not entered. Uncertainty—the villain of our current times. We’ve closely monitored the news, heard the isolation playlists, and lost any ambition for tomorrow. Contained to this stagnant, indefinite reality having lost hope for the next day’s hysteria and mundaneness. Struggling with these harsh aspects if anything by now has created a sense of unity and understanding for us of the importance of our connection with one another. As civilians inhabiting a place together we must ensure to relentlessly respect each other, which at times we’ve failed to do during this pandemic. Now, our world and way of life have been forever altered; this must be acknowledged, processed, and take action to adapt for a future where this is preventable. I’ve been revisiting this Leonard Cohen quote for comfort these past few days, I hope it can do the same for you:

‘When things get really bad, you just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That’s about all you can do.’

David Johnson (Max Pain & the Groovies)
The thing I miss most about live shows is constantly having something to look forward to. The never-ending cycle of having friends flowing through New York as they come here to play shows and having a reason to get out of the city and go play and see friends in other cities. What we are doing to stay creative is jamming at our space in park slope, screen printing, skateboarding, and living life with a new slower perspective.

Casey Hopkins (The Advertisers):
I miss pretty much everything about it—the good and the bad. To just have had the privilege of playing live music and actively creating in NYC along with so many others in hindsight is mindblowing. I think a lot of people took it for granted, including myself, because it seemed like live music in NYC and America could never be stopped and those experiences would always be available to anyone who wanted to pursue them. The thought that it will likely never be the same experience is a major jolt, not just for us, but anyone who would want to start a band in NYC. So that does put things in perspective—tragically though.

I find myself listening more and trying to learn new things. I really love comedy and video editing, and have always had a latent passion for it. It pretty much is my main creative outlet at this point, until musical inspiration strikes again. So much inspiration came from just the opportunity to play our songs live to a packed room and really get in the face of the crowd and experience their reaction. But without that and those opportunities—oof, it’s brutal but it’s still not even close to the greatest tragedy of this whole mess. The effect this virus will have and has had already on our culture—especially, with music and live entertainment—is by definition, profound.

Emilie Panerio (Plastic Picnic):
What I miss is just the energy exchange. Not so much crowds or the performing, but the energy we exchange during a live show. I think it brings me so much immediate purpose and joy and it feels validating knowing the show is giving the crowd that same joy and/or purpose. And that’s not to say “our shows give people purpose.” [laughs] But as someone who is also a fan and goes to shows and feels that exchange on the other side too, this sense of immense belonging to something bigger than yourself. You’re instantly part of this intimate community all there for that same exchange of emotion. As far as creativity, the band has been writing a lot, but I think I’ve tried to leave space for the creative process to happen on its own and not force anything. With so much happening in the world, I feel so privileged to be an artist, that creativity for my music doesn’t feel like a necessary focus. So I’ve been pushing that creativity towards things more important right now. And I think that involves mostly listening and responding to it creatively and productively.

Nico Espinosa (Deaf Poets):
One thing I miss most about playing live is the road. Touring has not only broadened my approach to music, it has also given me the opportunity to meet and make new friends all around the world. Being a performer has taken me places I never imagined, so I don’t take it for granted. I seized every opportunity to expand my family. Once performing stopped being a reality, I found a new creative outlet and joined the Isolation Wrestling Federation (IWF). The first ‘no contact’ wrestling league on IG. It’s a community of wrestling fans and creatives making wrestling promos to battle each other for ultimate Instagram glory. I love making people laugh so I created a character called Dr. Horrorscope. He’s a spirit guide, reiki master, crystologist, astrologer, and child of the universe. I guide filthy souls to eternal salvation. I get to write jokes, compose music, film and edit my own videos. Things I truly enjoy and I ultimately hope that I can spread some joy and laughter during these crazy times.

Morgan McDaniel (Mirror Queen/Human Man):
What I miss most about live shows is the reciprocation of energy between the noisemakers and the audience. Not many things are better than playing in a packed dirty club to an attentive and engaged crowd. By the similar token, due to the obvious, the European tours booked this year (club shows and a few festivals) was canceled. I miss touring Europe. In the meantime, to keep the sanity in check, Mirror Queen is planning a release for a record we finished in October (delays due to being unable to tour on the record), while writing new material. I have a studio project with a former bandmate which is close to completion and I’m very pleased with how it’s turning out. Then another semi studio oriented band in the works with a good friend from The Nuclears, which will one day be a force to reckon with live. And lastly, I have been recording some remote covers with my other good pal Stephen Voland on drums and a slew of different vocalists which goes under the name Hawkline Monster—and I have been recording and infrequently releasing my own tunes under the oh so clever pseudonym Morgan and the McDaniels.

Raechel Rosen (Mima Good):
I really miss the feeling of contributing to a new space in-person. I loved meeting new people after a set, falling in love with other artists on the bill, and feeling like we were all cultivating energy together. I’ve been just making lots of music, prepping my album release for the fall, all while finishing up another album.

Bobby Lewis (Mustardmind):
I had been steadily working as a sound tech at the Mercury Lounge and the Sultan Room for a while up until this thing hit. Luckily, Ben and Nikki of one of my favorite local groups Bodega tapped me to collaborate with them on their upcoming album as a producer which is insanely lucky [and] cool. I haven’t done studio work for quite some time (apart from Mustardmind stuff) but it’s really cool to be able to work with the same musicians over and over, day in and day out—whereas I could be working with as many as six bands a night as a sound guy. Both have their perks but getting to contribute in a creative capacity has been really rewarding. I hope to keep doing both, as well as continuing to perform when we get the vaccine and go back to our normal lives.