Every week, we ask a different local artist to provide their unique perspective on the pandemic experience from a musician’s point of view. Through words, video and music, each musician will share their story, along with an audio or video sample of a recent project, and a link to purchase their music so that you can support their work.
This week, pianist, organist and now, producer, Joel Visentin discusses getting comfortable on the other side of the studio glass, re-affirming a passion for performance, taking stock of what's truly important, and diving into new projects along the way.
"Pre-covid I was making almost 100% of my income from live performance so the pandemic was really a complete halt to almost all of my work. My particular 'pivot' was to shift to learning music recording, mixing and production. Right away I invested in some new mics, began learning how to properly record my piano/keyboards and started putting the word out to whoever I could that I was set up to record from home. Some fun opportunities eventually came my way and i recorded keyboards for Barbra Lica, Tia Brazda, Avery Raquel and Splash N' Boots (who won the most recent Juno for Children's album) among others. I also got my first film score opportunity co-writing with Christine Bougie for a CBC documentary called 'Above The Law,' a very pertinent film for 2020 about police brutality and accountability in Calgary. I dove into live stream performing early and often doing solo piano shows from my home, trio shows with JV's Boogaloo Squad from guitarist Adam's porch and last spring I started my own talk show in my friend's garage called '6 Feet From Stardom' where I'd interview working musicians about their pandemic experience and then play some music. All of these endeavours had huge learning curves and I struggled with imposter syndrome every step of the way. I'm proud of the ways that I tried to make the best of it but I'm equally proud of myself for the times I gave myself a break and just allowed myself to grieve the loss of my old life.
I've learned A LOT during the pandemic but I'll try to keep this to two main ones. The first thing I think I learned is that I REALLY like being a musician and that performance is really important to me. I loved learning production and making new projects from home but never felt like those things alone could sustain me. The connection with an audience and with other musicians on stage is really what drives me and I missed it so much. In summer of 2020 I got to do a lot of things I'm normally too busy to do in the summers - camping, cottage trips, hikes etc. - and at some point I said to my partner 'You know all of this is really nice. All this stuff people do to get a break from their jobs is almost as much fun as what my job used to be!' So I guess the pandemic has made me realize how lucky I've been to do what I love for so many years.
The second big takeaway for me has been the way the pandemic has exposed the inequalities in our society. The worst outcomes of the pandemic have largely fallen on the poorest and most marginalized people in our society. We have front line workers who are essential to our survival and they don't even make a living wage while they risk their lives at work. At the same time the pandemic saw the largest transfer of wealth from working people to the 1% in human history. The greed and inequality is sickening and while I certainly don't have the answers I feel more motivated than I ever have to demand real and meaningful change.
Probably my biggest new venture has been starting a duo project with my best friend Curtis Nowosad who lives in New York City. We both went to the same highschool in Winnipeg but haven't lived in the same city since 2006. We've always wanted to have a project together but, living in different countries and being busy with our own lives, we've never had the opportunity. The pandemic presented us with the chance to make something together for the first time and thus 'Jester Champwick' was born. Essentially I would record lots of synths and keyboards and then send the tracks to Curtis to add drums. Our EP 'Homework' came out last spring and I'm very proud of it. I mixed the EP myself which was something I'd never done before and I'm pretty happy with the result. Right now I'm working on another debut album that was born out of the pandemic - for years I've been in a Phish tribute band called 'The Lizards,' and I proposed last March that we go into a studio for a couple days and just record a series of instrumental psychedelic rock improvisations. I then spent basically the entire third wave of the pandemic editing 8 hours of jamming down to a 68 min record which I then mixed. I'm now getting artwork together and we're hopefully going to be releasing 'The Lizards, Just Jams Vol 1' sometime this fall!"
Here's a taste of the new project Jester Champwick, featuring Joel along with Curtis Nowosad: