Ashley McBryde, Lennon Stella & Others Navigate Industry Amidst COVID-19

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Ashley McBryde fully expected her sophomore album to be postponed. She “figured there’d be a call made to change the release date without anybody asking me,” the country rocker tells American Songwriter. Her concerns permeate an industry with an uncertain future, particularly for indie record stores and musicians like McBryde who depend on record sales and, more importantly, performing live shows.

“It’s really hard to make music in the money business. A business type person might have to make that call, and just not ask me. With everybody locked in their homes, you can’t do these shows to promote the record,” she continues expressing deep worries.

McBryde’s Never Will, released April 3 on Warner Music Nashville, moved north of 13,000 units (sales plus streaming), according to this week’s Hits Daily Double scoreboard (dated April 10).

“I’m glad they kept [the release date] the same. My thought is, ‘No. 1, we’re locked in our homes, and I’m listening to a lot of music, and No. 2, what if somebody’s been locked in their home for 14 days, and you’ve watched all of Netflix, you’ve walked around your block six-feet away from any human being, and you need something fresh,” she offers. “What if keeping the date the same helps somebody? That’s the whole point in making music. I’m very sad we can’t be doing shows, but I’m all for quarantining and doing whatever we need to do to stop the spread of this damn virus.”

“Money will run out, because we don’t make money if we’re not playing shows actively. What worries me more is a town full of creatives, whose hands are tied and we can’t create. We can write via FaceTime, but we’re not able to interact with our fans or other writers in the way we’d like to.”

“Nashville” star Lennon Stella expresses similar anxieties as she readies her debut full-length, Three. Two. One., set to drop April 24 on Columbia Records. “It’s definitely a very weird time to be, well, a human ─ but to also be releasing music. This album has been such a long time coming, and it’s weird to be throwing it into the world,” she says.

Since “Nashville”s mid-2018 bow, Stella has been full-steam ahead dropping single after single ─ from “Polaroid” (with Jonas Blue and Liam Payne) to an EP called Love, me to debut album lead-off “Kissing Other People.” Each piece has been building to this moment, an unprecedented time that sees her shifting her promotional rollout.

“In a lot of ways, I’ve settled with the thought that it’s a really needed thing right now. Everyone is searching for and clinging to connection. Music is so relevant and is going to help everyone through this. Obviously, the rollout is going to be totally different than what we had planned. I’m going to be releasing an album and then sitting in my bed alone. There’s no performing this live and meeting everyone. I also think there’s never been a time that people were more in need of music that’ll move them and keep them inspired.”

Country breakout Ingrid Andress released her debut album, Lady Like, at the tail end of March, and she was among first waves of artists affected. Opening for Dan + Shay, she was able to perform three shows before the tour was postponed for later this year. “I’m glad I got those three shows to get a little taste of what is up next for me. It’s a good time to really be creative and not just in a stereotypical way,” she says. “It’s a good time to do things and explore things that you say you’re going to do but never have the time to do. Whether that’s trying another instrument or writing a weird song you would never have written before. I’m trying to use it to expand my creativity, even though it’s hard to do when we’re all in this weird headspace. I’m hoping people find new and creative ways to express themselves.”

Pop star Rebecca Black, of “Friday” viral fame, rides the hype from two new singles, “Self Sabotage” and “Closer,” but she’s far less concerned about planning next career steps than she is about the health implications. “Right now, I’m more concerned about the health aspect of everything and the health of not only the whole world, but the health of my own audience ─ before I even think about how I’m going to let this affect my career.”

“I’m very lucky. I’m home with family right now as this is all happening. I’ve taken the time to do a lot of stuff on my socials. I can still connect with them and hopefully still give them something. For me, it’s a really important part of my stability, mentally, to be able to talk to them and create things,” she says. “Once the time is right, and hopefully things start to get back to normal, then those conversations can happen. I’m taking the time to write and do what I can for my audience.”

“Everybody is, of course, wondering what this’ll do to the industry and trying to think forward in a few months time and a few years time,” Black adds. “Everybody’s trying to plan for when theaters and venues open up again. I really just don’t think any of us can. It’s so new.”

McBryde agrees, but she warns to expect our entire way of life to be drastically different. “I think everything is going to be changed by this,” she says.

“I’m a hugger, so when people try to shake my hand, I hug them. Now, we don’t even do that. We don’t fist bump. We don’t do elbows. Now, we just do feet, which is so weird. That’s actually something my lead guitar player and I do onstage because we can’t high five as we’re both playing guitars. I think we’ll all be keeping a distance for a really long time. How it changes us as an industry is going to be decided by how it changes us as human beings. The next time you’re allowed to be in an arena full of 25,000 people, you’re going to get the heebie-jeebies. It’s going to take a long time to recover, and if we don’t, I don’t know what we’ll use these arenas for.”

Another country upstart, Jameson Rodgers expects to release his debut album this summer or fall, and despite sharing a love of live performance, he is less affected by the current quarantine. “I’m so blessed that I’ve written songs for other people [songs for Chris Lane, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, and more], so I’m not solely dependent on touring money. But I know so many of my touring friends do depend on that. I’ve been taking care of my band because it’s their only job,” he says. “I don’t know if venues will have to be at smaller capacities or what [after this]. Hopefully, when we do get to play shows again, people will want to still come out. That’s the scary part, too. People are losing jobs and having to survive. That might be the last thing they want to do… spend their money on a concert.”

Six months ago, pop outfit Fitz & the Tantrums issued their fourth studio set, All the Feels, a profound dissection of mental health, depression, gun control, and other anxieties. The six-piece met a very different experience, seeing the direct impact on their most recent tour. “Due to the uncertainty and circumstances outside of our control as a result of COVID-19, it’s with a heavy heart that we will be postponing our shows,” they revealed on Instagram.

In discussions with friends and fellow band members, singer-songwriter Noelle Scaggs finds this time to be of great “self-reflecting,” she stresses, more than anything else. “People are forced to be by themselves or remain with their families and deal with each other and things that are easy to run away from. It really is about growth right now and finding your true self and not being afraid to show what that is. Or dealing with yourself.”

While similar worries addle her mind, Scaggs, who suffers with bipolar disorder, mania, and anxiety, makes sure to keep herself present and mentally centered. “I’ve been trying not to get so wrapped up in what could happen or what I think will. I’m trying to get through life today and make sure I’m keeping my mental health in a good place and connecting with friends when I can and being creative. The worst thing you can possibly do is worry about what’s going to happen next month. It’s a day-by-day strategy that’s happening right now. It’s important to be present and focus on that. You’ll drive yourself insane with worry.”

“I hope that whatever bad comes out of this, people start to look at life in a more precious sense and find balance and worth in their careers,” she continues. “Hopefully, people don’t go back to their regular routine of self-detachment and not having any real understanding of who they are. I hope this opens a wider narrative of empathy. People respond to crises very differently, and we’re really seeing that.”

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