We checked in with Joe Anderl (The 1984 Draft) and John Rejba (Wet Tropics) 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!
Joe Anderl – The 1984 Draft
Joe Anderl of The 1984 Draft started 2020 by throwing a fest and touring, and was preparing a new album for the world, but when pandemic hit became protector, teacher, painter, renovator, entertainer, and wearer of ‘sweatshorts.’ While a love of music will always be central to his life, the methods and ways of appreciating it all will never be the same.
Last year started off pretty good by throwing a fest in our hometown and doing a weekend run with our pals in Benchmarks. We had finally completed writing for our next record. Then, a week after our shows, the world shut down.
It’s been weird to watch myself progress through various stages during this pandemic. I started in protector mode. As a father of three, with a wife and mother-in-law who lives with us, my number one priority was to keep my family safe. We didn’t leave the house, were hyper vigilant in hand washing and mask wearing, and we began plotting out how this would look as we removed our youngest from day care and my wife took a break from one of her jobs.
Two of my kids are of school age so immediately after accomplishing goal one, we then had to figure out how to be teachers. Just adjusting to the day where six of us were all together, all day, was difficult. I was fortunate enough to be able to work at my day job from home.
After that phase was done, I hit the “well if we are stuck at home, I am going to get every project done.” We discovered you could call Sherwin Williams and they will bring the paint out to your car and put it into your trunk. That lead to painting the majority of the interior of our house. Since we had only been in our house a year, my wife had a lot of projects on my list. After the painting, we moved onto light fixtures, and then finally reorganizing everything.
Once security and home stability was established and we realized this was going to go on for way longer than we expected, we moved on the ways to find joy phase of this. I just looked for ways to keep my kids happy and entertained. A lot of time was spent in a plastic pool in the backyard this summer. Luckily the kids also have a swing set as well so they were mostly entertained.
As fall hit and school restarted, we once again became teachers for our kids. My wife started college and I continued to work from home. I think this is where the mental wear and tear started to settle in and my wife and I really started focusing on all of our mental health. We began taking more hikes, getting fresh air, and trying to be more intentional with the time we are spending with our kids.
Now we are hunkered down for winter, trying to exercise more, and eat better.
I took a couple different angles with all the time I have now being at home. I continued to write music for the Draft. I now send more complete demos with ideas more deeply flushed out. I invested in a simpler phone recording set up to help with this: an I rig and a loop pedal. We were able to use these demos to flesh out ideas for our latest two song single well in advance. This made the rehearsal of the songs and recording so much easier.
The band managed to practice once (socially distanced and masked) in order to be able to hit the studio for a day to record these songs. We were able to release Destination Breakdown in November. In addition, we were able to put together our first all- mobile recording, a cover of the Black Crowes “Soul Singing” for a compilation to benefit Fairfight.org.
I started a secondary home recording project with my friend Aaron Hiser (ex-Deadbluesky) called SWM CLB. We basically just send each other tracks back and forth to build out the songs. Hopefully someday there will be a full album of material there.
I am fortunate to have a day job that affords me the ability to easily make music. I am lucky that I was able to keep that job this year as my wife was furloughed from her job at a local music venue.
I have learned a couple new skills in the past year, along with refining some others.
I spent a lot of time cooking. I watch too much food tv which really inspires me. I have been working more on my technique and my seasonings. Unfortunately, the opposite of this is that I have been eating more.
I took on a roll at my brother’s PR firm, Sweet Cheetah. It has been fun learning all the ins and outs of that side of the music industry and supporting bands I love. I have learned how to write a better press release and different techniques for getting some additional attention. Mainly, I have made a lot of new friends.
Finally, I decided to try and work more with my hands. I built a couple plant stands, a shoe rack, an amp stand, and a desk out of pallet wood for my music room. I was never the most handy person, so the fact that I was able to do this and have them still be functional and standing is pretty miraculous in itself.
I’m not sure we will ever reach normal again. Maybe a new normal, but not our previous normal. Everyone has been affected by this in some way. Personally, my mental health has been a little shaky. I’m not so sure I am excited to be around large crowds again. I have found I actually like the slowness of being at home and not having something to do every weekend. In fact, I think I have gotten a little weird during this isolation. I mean, I did buy a pair of chacos and did start wearing sweatshorts.
The flipside of this however is that I am going to value in person time with my friends and bandmates much more. I miss them.
I hope vaccine distribution goes quickly and businesses can begin to see some recovery this year. Also, I hope to safely be able to see live music again. I feel like there is some hope this year, a light at the end of the tunnel, but after last year I know that sometimes life can change in an instant.
John Rejba – Wet Tropics
The dumpster fire that was 2020 actually started early for me. I got laid off from my job (of nearly 20 years!) during the holidays in 2019 and never really quite recovered from it. The job market fell off even before the holidays and then the pandemic hit. For me it was like watching a tsunami come ashore in slow motion. While looking for work I always had the news on in the background and was well aware something terrible was on the horizon.
That being said, 2020 wasn’t a total loss for me. I started my pursuit of a master’s degree in secondary education. I was fortunate enough to be in the system for unemployment insurance when this all hit and millions of people lost their jobs. So that being said, I’m lucky to still be receiving unemployment benefits. It’s not enough to make ends meet and I have taken to gig work teaching English and delivering packages to pay the bills. I’m learning to become a high school teacher. I’m full-time so I’m learning a lot about pedagogy and teaching skills that I will be able to utilize with high school history students. I was a cartographer for over 20 years in my past occupation and picked up a lot of design skills in publishing. So, I have a chance to expand on those skills and learn some new things while working on the various layout projects I worked on over 2020.
Although my main musical project, Wet Tropics, hasn’t been able to play live, we found ourselves fortunate enough to be able to concentrate on other aspects of the band. We made our first video (socially distanced of course) and released our first proper full- length on Friend Club Records.
I also got the opportunity to prepare the artwork for the upcoming vinyl re-release of an earlier band I was in called The Farewell Bend. That was a lot of work since the designer lost the original artwork and I had to rebuild it from scratch.
I’ve also spent some time with a pet project of mine where I released on cassette a live recording of Boys Life in Washington, D.C. That project was born out of the pandemic. It gave me something to do with my free time.
Last but not least, I just finished another design project for a band called Heavy Seas and I’m in the process of beginning preparing demos and ideas for the next Wet Tropics record.
I’m a firm believer in content. Content is king and I think anything of value can be made into compelling content. I, along with my bandmates, fellow collaborators, label, and PR team, have been working constantly to keep Wet Tropics and other projects in people’s minds. We’ve been using social media and platforms like YouTube to stay connected to friends and fans with content, interviews, etc.
I’m always the optimist, but I think things will go much slower than we as a society anticipated. We are currently in the midst of a coup by American traitors and have basically no one leading our government at the moment, so I don’t have high hopes for 2021.
I’m hoping that the vaccine rollout will move more quickly and will get into more people’s arms before the end of spring. If that happens, I predict that getting back to normal will be more like coming back from a rolling blackout where some areas will be up and running sooner than others. At the macro level we’ll probably see small countries with much better COVID guidelines have more normalcy first. At the micro level here in the U.S. I think it will be cities and states that have a better handle on COVID and better vaccination rates, so they will be the first to get to a more real normal.
It’s always the darkest before the dawn, and right now it’s pretty dark. I predict that the next few months could possibly be the worst for COVID and our country. That being said, I’m optimistic and I truly believe with all my heart and soul that we will come out of this. I predict that students will be back in school full-time in the fall and most of life will start to look something more normal by then. Time will tell.