As 2020 comes to an end and you think about your goals for next year, we've been thinking about how musicians have worked on moving their careers forward during the time of COVID-19. We reached out to a few different independent bands and artists to find out more about life as a performer during a global pandemic. This week we had the pleasure of chatting with psychedelic collective Gentleman Brawlers.
Gentleman Brawlers, a Brooklyn 6-Piece fronted by the creative duo Matt Walsh and Becca Fox, are psychedelic Afro-soul revivalists known for infusing throwback electronica and acid rock into their funk-based compositions. The band recently expanded their lineup and began performing in NYC jazz & world music clubs as the Gentleman Brawlers Afrobeat Project.
Has COVID-19 changed your perspective on making music?
Before the pandemic, our band was strongly focused on booking and playing live shows. The inability to do what we love most was a hard pill to swallow, as it was for many musicians we know and play with.
Gradually we took the hiatus in stride, focusing more deeply in the studio. Often as a live touring band, it’s hard to strike that balance between booking and producing new music—an odd silver lining to COVID-19. Beyond that, this global experience has made us more aware of how much we all still need each other, and ultimately need music more than ever now.
How have you been connecting with fans during COVID-19?
We’ve definitely gotten more creative with how we connect with fans, primarily growing our community on Instagram. We’ve been sharing everything from the frustrations and mundaneness of quarantine life (hello baking and cat videos!), wins large and small (producing new music videos in a pandemic world, receiving a music grant, and our first sync licensing deal!), and celebrating new music releases in fun ways.
For our latest single release, “My Thing,” we showed our fans “our thing” and invited others to share theirs as a way to connect. The response was so overwhelming that we ended up creating an additional music video out of everyone’s submissions. We also hosted a single release party on IG Live with live Q&A from the Soundshop, a dance party and slideshow, and a pre-screen of the music video.
Another more intimate event we’ve been hosting is 15-min Dance Party Pop Ups. We can all share in a little ‘mosh-pit-thrash-out’ from the comfort of our own living rooms without that dreaded “middle school dance” awkwardness. We didn’t really focus on that level of intimacy before the pandemic—it’ll be cool to see how many of these new ideas stick in the future.
You released a single in 2020, can you tell us a little bit about “My Thing” and where you got the inspiration from?
“My Thing” musically was inspired by a harder edge approach to disco and pop music we heard on songs from French Electro House artists—those featured on Ed Banger Records—music such as Breakbot and Justice. The song for us evolved into a dance anthem for these uncertain times. The positive message sparked some fun buzz around the song and it’s been exciting to see it pop up on Spotify workout playlists.
If you could give any piece of advice to other independent bands out there, what would it be?
Go support your other musician friends—that’s what this community is all about! Also, perhaps look at different ways to collaborate with all of this unexpected free time or really take the time to hone in on your sound.
For us, we often feature outside singers (like on our upcoming single, "Permanent Waves"), depending on the vibe we're going for. We also recently teamed up with other artists on a remix EP that wouldn’t have been possible without one of our fans (who makes remixes) encouraging us to put our new music out there for others to play with. You just never know.
We have heard that you are planning to release your first full-length album at the start of 2021, how was the process of putting together an album been impacted by COVID-19?
Change of plans! Yes, we were originally shooting for the start of 2021, but as the world paused we decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to release our LP without the ability to tour and promote it properly. Good music takes time—ultimately that time should be reflected in how new music is shared and received. In the meantime though, our focus is on releasing singles with our next, “Permanent Waves,” due in January 2021.
What platforms have you used to reach out to fans, have you learned any tricks with streaming, and have you been able to increase engagement? Have you run into stream fatigue?
Primarily we’ve been using Instagram and Facebook with the ultimate goal of reaching new listeners on Spotify. We’ve also done a few stripped-down shows via Zoom, but realized pretty quickly that we would need to reimagine our whole show to accommodate our full 6-9 member band with good sound quality. Live online shows may be worthwhile down the line as the technology catches up. But for now, with our bandmates scattered across the country, the studio and music video production has become our focus.
We also recognize that with everything online people burnout on screen time. It’s a bit ironic though; you can literally reach anyone through the internet but keeping their attention is now a precious commodity.
Career-wise, how are you planning out 2021? What hurdles do you expect and what goals have you set for yourself?
No matter what our plan is to focus on releasing singles this coming Spring/Summer 2021. We hope to get back out there and connect with live audiences as soon as possible. Our live shows can sometimes go for 3 hours—with the new material we look forward to jamming even longer.
Hopefully when we’re all back together rehearsing there won’t be too many, “…How does that song go again!?” moments. LOL. Even if there are though, making music is resilient, creative, and forever evolving. I know we’ll be alright.