Correction: Jason Bertone's name was spelled incorrectly in the Sept. 19 print version of this story.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to try things we never had the time to do previously, and for the members of alternative band Banshee Tree, that meant recording a debut full-length album.
We spoke with drummer Michelle Pietrafitta and double bass player Jason Bertone about being artists in a time of rapid change for the music industry, and why they chose this period of uncertainty to create a record.
What have the last six months been like?
Pietrafitta: It’s been a learning process for us. We had a whole summer of tours booked, and at first we were hoping to hold on to them, but realized everything would have to go.
We ended up going into the studio after someone reached out and asked if we wanted to do something during that time, and we’ll release that whole album in the winter. We’ve done a few livestreams, and now we’re getting into the socially distanced live shows. We’ve also each been working really hard on our instruments.
Bertone: We took the time and waited to see what the procedures were and what would be effective. We want to perform, but we also love and respect our fans and everyone who comes to shows, so we wouldn’t want to put them in harm’s way.
How did that downtime during the stay-at-home order help you as artists?
Bertone: By the time we had gone to do the album, I felt very connected to my instrument. I felt very centered going in, in a way that maybe I wouldn’t have been if we had been on the road for two months. I felt like a recording artist this time.
Pietrafitta: I 100% agree. We were really just such a live band playing so many shows that we didn’t feel like we had the time to stop and record something, so that, coupled with how we had so much time to practice on our own instruments I think really helped our creativity.
When did you return to performing in-person shows?
Pietrafitta: Jason and I have the same birthday, and Andy Thorn has been hosting these tiny deck concerts, and he invited us to do it, and there were some people who hung out in the yard, in addition to the livestream on our birthday on June 6.
What was that like?
Bertone: I was overjoyed. It felt really, really great because we got to see a couple faces we hadn’t seen in months, and just to play before an audience. We’ve all been full-time professional musicians for a long time, and we would perform and go on month-long tours, perform five or six times a week regularly, and I don’t want to say I took it for granted, but all these emotions came rushing back, and it was really beautiful and wonderful.
Pietrafitta: They seemed so happy to see live music – everyone is starving for it – so there’s this camaraderie and real appreciation for it whenever we can come together.
Have you played Wyoming recently?
Pietrafitta: This will be our first one since quarantine. We used to go to Wyoming once a month; Wyoming is like a local gig for us because we have so many friends in Laramie and we played in Centennial a lot, so we love it up there and have been so supported by the southern Wyoming community. We’re so excited you’re getting a venue in The Lincoln, and it really is an honor, we feel very respected, that we were chosen in this first group of acts to come in and perform at this venue.
How is the vibe different at socially distanced shows?
Pietrafitta: There is some sort of feeling of normalcy while everyone is distanced and it’s not a sweaty dance party like it usually is. People are so appreciative of being able to come together in such a way, and the vibe definitely reflects that.
Bertone: We are the sort of band that when we play, people push toward the stage. Now we get people dancing in their bubble instead of in a big blob in front of us. If there is a will, there’s a way.
Pietrafitta: It turns out that people can still rock out when they have six feet around them! The energy still feels really visceral and strong.
How was recording during a pandemic?
Pietrafitta: We had to do masks. This is the first album we ever made as a group – we had done a recording before, but we didn’t know what we were doing and just got one song that we kind of liked out of it, so this was very much intentional and planned. A guy who loves our music came out and funded it for us. He saw that live music was about to die, so he wanted to do this. We went into it really focused and planned, and we wanted it to sound really great.
What have you learned as an artist during this pandemic?
Bertone: Sometimes I thought maybe I did music for myself and it was a personal thing, and I think in the absence of it, I’m reminded how much of a community it is. When this is over, I hope that’s something I carry with me.