We checked in with Jen Razavi (The Bombpops) and Brian Pretus (PEARS) on how they spent 2020, what they learned, and their thoughts and hopes for what 2021 will hold, as part of our New Year’s Evolutions Series!
Jen Razavi – The Bombpops
When COVID hit, Jen Razavi from the Bombpops went acoustic, taught her young dog new tricks, and took her considerable marketing talents to the coolest water company in the world, Liquid Death.
I spent all of 2020 playing acoustic. In the past, I mostly played and wrote on electric guitars. I also started playing with a capo, which I had never done before. It was really cool to explore other voicings for The Bombpops songs with a capo on acoustic, especially the songs off of Death in Venice Beach. I actually think I played guitar more consistently last year than I ever had in the 23 years I’ve been playing guitar. I picked up my acoustic guitar almost every day.
I was hired on full time with the most fun water company in the history of the world, Liquid Death. I work in the marketing department and it’s been an amazing way to keep in touch with people I’ve met through playing music and on the road.
My first project when hired on was to produce a punk album featuring real internet comments from people hating on the brand. I got Brendan Kelly (The Lawrence Arms) and Chris #2 (Anti Flag) involved and we were able to spend a week in a studio together. It was a total unforeseen highlight of 2020 for me. Not to mention Tim McIlrath, Joe Principe, Dan Andriano, Ashrita Kumar, Jer Hunter, and Paul Miner lent their talents to the album.
It’s a dream job which I’m extremely grateful for.
The most satisfying thing I’ve learned in 2020 is how to train my German shepherd/ husky puppy, Saloon. Learning how to work with her has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s meditative for me and has taught me the true benefits of having patience and being able to stay in the moment.
I don’t think we’ll be going back to normal anytime soon, and although that’s heartbreaking to say, I believe there will be a silver lining in the new way things are done.
The music industry needed some adjusting and artists now have many more avenues of exploring ways to get their music out into the world that no one else can touch, except for themselves. I think that’s a great thing, and although navigating through new platforms can be daunting, it’s a way to be creative and there’s an audience that wants to watch and hear it.
I predict a new renaissance in the underground DIY venues with more house shows, more warehouse shows, more shows in industrial park spaces, etc. We don’t need much to have a punk show, it doesn’t need to sound great, we don’t need fancy lights. We just need it to be loud and to be able to dance and sing along.
Punk is gonna be fine.
Brian Pretus – PEARS
During lockdown Brian Pretus from PEARS had sex at least once— and that’s more than a lot of you. He also hustled, became a homeowner, learned to just be home, and got back into his first instrument, the drums.
In February me and my wife Catherine decided it was time to have a baby, so we got that going (whatever that means, I don’t know how all that works, but it did).
PEARS’ third album came out a few weeks later in early March just as people were really starting to talk about COVID.
Our first full world tour was supposed to start the second or third week of that month, and a week before our ‘was-gonna-be bangin-ass New Orleans kickoff show’ the entire world began to shut down and it became pretty obvious real fast that everything we had planned for the year and worked toward for the last six months was going to get canceled.
I lost my job(s) and basically stayed at home for a long time with my family (+1 cooking in the oven) and spent a lot of time writing and taking various substances to try and figure out the hidden meaning behind everything that was going on. (Spoiler: there isn’t one).
Then in November, the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me happened when my son Leo was born. The people at the lil boy factory made him out of sweetness particles, and he is my perfect little man.
Also, I started a ska band (yeah, as an adult, so what?) with some friends called Bad Operation and we wrote and recorded and released our first album. You should check it out if you like rad, fun shit.
I also spent an absurd amount of time writing music that I don’t think will ever even see the light of day. It was a lot of me just going through the motions of songwriting alone, just trying to keep my wheels greased, but also kind of served as a journal for myself since I’m the only one who really has gotten to hear it all.
While it’s not getting my work out into the world, I got a lot of stuff out of my head and actually into documentation, and sometimes even that alone is satisfying enough when you share all your other work with anyone that will listen. It’s kinda nice to keep some stuff to myself too, I guess.
Most of my year’s income was going to be what I made from touring with PEARS for most of the year, and my other job when I’m not on the road is doing sound for shows in New Orleans (the only job I’ve ever had that I’ve ever enjoyed). Since my band is a punk band that gets paid in 5 dollar bills and has virtually no paper trail, and I get paid under the table at my other job I was pretty much considered a jobless freakazoid in the eyes of the state, so I didn’t qualify for normal unemployment benefits, which super sucked.
However, I was able to get a couple hundred a week from the Cares Act or whatever it was, but that ran out after a couple of months. I basically got by doing what I’ve always done: being a pro at living broke. Luckily I’ve got a wife who’s good at saving money, and she and I saved every penny of stimulus and unemployment money we could.
I did your basic ‘hustling’ here and there and was able to get by with that and somehow by some magic gift the universe enabled us, even though both of us have been jobless due to COVID, to end up buying our first house literally a week before our baby came.
Talk about a stressful week. We finished moving from the shitty-ass house we’d been renting for the last six years into our new home literally the day before going to the hospital to have the baby. We’re still unpacking boxes.
I spent half of the last five years constantly going on long tours and coming home and going back and forth from being on the go and getting ready to be, so I had to learn how to just be in one place for a long time.
And I gotta say it was hard. I’d get so stir crazy sometimes. I’d feel like I was losing my mind and life was just passing me by, but then I’d realize everyone else was in the same boat and that in itself was calming. But still, it took time to really get used to not having any tours coming up, and with nothing to do for weeks on end, I had to learn just to sit around and be a person. Definitely harder than they say.
I also re-learned how to play the drums. The drums were my first instrument when I was a kid, maybe about eight or so. I played drums all day every day for a long time, never got good because I was just so young, and then got a guitar when I was like ten or whatever. I’d meant to get back to drums one day, and this year I finally did, and I gotta say it’s been one of the most fun things I’ve learned in a long time. I’ll never be as good as I want to be, though, and that kind of rocks because it’s something I’ll be working on for the rest of my life, and I’m glad I had this off time to get that train rolling finally.
I feel like people think this year is gonna be normal, but really it’s just not. Maybe later in the year, there will be some inklings of normalcy, but literally nobody knows what’s going to happen next week; only time will tell. All I know is I can’t wait until this is a thing of the past. It’s literally becoming painful not being able to see friends and play shows and have normal good times.
I feel like maybe in the fall some shows and tours will start happening, but my only prediction is that by 2022 shows will be in full swing again, and I think that live music is going to be better than ever because people aren’t going to take it for granted ever again. People have seen what life is like without it, and how bad it sucks when it’s gone. I think show-goers and musicians alike are all going to appreciate it more than they ever have, and that’s going to make for some incredible times after these incredibly stupid ones are over.
Life’s all about that duality shit.