Somewhere out in the woods northeast of Grand Rapids, MI, Lokella are holed up (some might say quarantined) in their new home studio. Like so many of us, they currently have plenty of time to reflect not only on the state of the world, but where they've been and where they're going.
At the end of 2019 I was slated to do new photographs for Lokella, but there was a sense of uncertainty in talking to Jennifer Bartlett, the band's color-changing singer, lyricist, and keyboardist. That uncertainty had nothing to do with COVID. It might've been influenced by the politics of the past three years, but more than anything I sensed an exasperation. A grasping at straws.
She was burning out.
I didn’t pick up the microphone, the pen, the flute or the headphones as a child to make a living. I picked them up to make a life...so no, I could never quit music.
Booking shows, getting rejected for shows, researching, networking, responding to emails, reaching out to promoters and radio stations, posting on multiple social media accounts almost daily, rehearsing, recording, writing, self-producing music videos, promoting singles, writing blogs, working a day job as a self-employed beauty professional, caring for her dogs.
The sheer momentum of life seems insurmountable at times.
But Jennifer is a powerful advocate for mental health and for women to use their voices and now and again remembers to tend to her own. She backed out of our photo shoot to reassess the direction everything was heading.
Then COVID-19 took over our collective lives.
Shows cancelled. Client appointments rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then eventually cancelled. Then she had had enough and retired from the beauty profession altogether, stayed home with her dogs and helped husband and Lokella bassist, Evan Bartlett, finish putting together their new home, studio, and rehearsal spaces.
Then one day I get another text message. Time for new promos.
Q: What’s the biggest news for Lokella right now?
Lokella has officially partnered with another trusted human for the first time in the band’s history, outside of its four main members. Times are strange, but we’re working hard in spite of it. Besides bringing on a manager for the band, we’re soon to release a new single and currently in the middle of writing and recording demos for future releases.
Q: There are many struggling solo artists out there across various mediums. What does it feel like to go through this pandemic as a band? Does it change your motivation or perspective at all?
This pandemic has had a pretty intense impact on so many of us individually. Perhaps it has something to do with the law of attraction but, as I suspect it has with so many other people, the last six months have sent us into a tailspin. We’ve been forced to face reality and answer the burning questions of what truly matters to us and what we want to spend our limited time doing. So in that regard, I feel extremely lucky that the four of us are still not only hanging in there but more importantly, hanging in there together. I can imagine that being a solo artist would feel extremely lonely right now.
Q: What, if anything, do you see right now that gives you hope and positive energy?
As a band, we’ve leaned on each other more through this pandemic than we probably ever have. I think these situations can either make or break relationships and perhaps a pandemic will put anything that was bound to happen on a fast track. So I hold out hope that if we can get through this in one piece, if we can climb this mountain of looming illness, economic devastation, fear of the unknown and make it out on the other side, we’re doing alright.
Q: How do you feel about writing right now? Are words and songs coming more easily? Or is it more difficult? How so?
I can’t speak for the guys but recently, writing is much like my mood: some days I’m feeling powerful. On those days I attack things with vigor and confidence. The next day, however, I might feel hopeless and powerless. Those days, if I am feeling strong enough to pick up a pen, I’m lucky to get out one or two coherent lines and then I have to walk away.
Q: We know lots of performers who can’t perform right now. Do you have any advice for the singers, songwriters, and bands who can’t even do an open mic at this point?
Virtual lives are popular right now and understandably so. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to make this happen and to be honest, as a listener, I don’t have a lot of interest in watching these because of streaming lag and sometimes poor visual and sound quality. I think that–and this goes not just for performers and musicians but for anyone–this is a time to reevaluate, research, learn new skills and find ways to reinvent yourself. Though it may look different, live music will come back in full force eventually. It has to. If we’re truly hardwired for connection, we will find a way to bridge that gap. For now, we’ve got to reach down into that creativity well a little deeper.
Q: This might sound like an insult, but it’s not meant to: Have you ever thought about quitting music? And if you have, why do you choose to keep going? Many people are feeling unsupported in all kinds of ways currently. Government, family, friends, community.
Quitting music would feel like cutting off both of my hands myself. A friend asked me the other day what music meant for me. I explained how music is my lifeline. That it’s the way I learned how to communicate. It gave and continues to give me permission to not just feel, but a way to express those feelings. As a kid, I didn’t feel like I had a voice until I had music. To this day it is still my landing place. When I feel like I’m dipping deep into a depressive and disconnected phase, music is the anchor. When I’m reeling in love and floating into the clouds, music is the anchor. I didn’t pick up the microphone, the pen, the flute or the headphones as a child to make a living. I picked them up to make a life...so no, I could never quit music.
Q: What is inspiring to you right now?
Much of my current inspiration is drawn out from the stories of the people around me. I feel like I’ve sung enough about myself for a while...perhaps I’m not ready to dig in there. With a major election around the corner, economic hardships and civil unrest in the midst of a pandemic, there isn’t a shortage of emotions to feel.