Off The Stage: Emily Duff

For most casual fans of music, the forty-five minutes that a band spends on the stage is all they can see. However, when the guitar cases are closed and the venue’s floor is littered with empty beer cans and trash, most bands load their gear into the van and return back to their normal lives.

Mother Church Pew’s Off The Stage is a series that celebrates artists’ paths to where they are and the things they do behind the scenes to stay there.

Emily Duff, who recently released her new album Born on the Ground, is quarantining in her New York City apartment with her family; she shares with us scenes from life in the pandemic epicenter, the repercussions of having to cancel her upcoming international tour, and how she’s keeping herself sane:

Friday the 13th.  More specifically, Friday, March 13.  That was the day I was supposed to board a flight to London to kick off my 2020 UK Tour to launch my new record, Born on the Ground.  I had finally made a record with Brooklyn Producer, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and I was really excited to take these songs back to England and Scotland where I had enjoyed a very successful run of shows the year before with my gospel album, Hallelujah Hello.  My tour manager, Janice Moore, had organized a brilliant assortment of venues & house concerts that took me up and down the UK.  Janice was the driver, my band guitarist Scott would be shotgun co-pilot, and I was luxuriously left alone in the backseat to stare out the window, enjoying the beautiful English and Scottish countrysides, resting until we would pull into town where I would jump on stage and “do my thing,” tell my stories through songs I had written.  I am a performing songwriter and I live in NYC, the epicenter of our current Covid-19 pandemic.  

I never got on that plane.  I honestly started having reservations (pun intended) two weeks before, but I kept my mouth closed and decided to wait and see what developed.  Monday, March 9th, I knew it was time to discuss, so I called Janice and we considered our options.  Scott confessed that he was unnerved about getting on an airplane but would do whatever I decided.  Wow, that’s trust.  I had lots to be worried about you see.  I am not just a performing songwriter.  I am somebody’s wife and the mother of two.  If I was to fall ill, get quarantined or stuck in the UK away from my family, that would be bad.  Very bad. Rock n’ Roll and life on the road is great – it’s a vacation away from my responsibilities at home and a return to my past “wild life” –  and I do it very well.  I LOVE it, but it is a very difficult path that can definitely wear you out.  You MUST be healthy, strong and wise to survive.  And that is why most, unfortunately don’t.  Motherhood builds a mighty road dog.

Making the decision to not go on tour was easy.  What came next, not so much.  The entire world was busy coming to similar conclusions and seemed to all be on the phone at once trying to cancel travel plans.  Tuesday morning I spent 4 hours on hold praying that I might get a refund on the $1,300 round trip airline tickets.  I had wisely bought travel insurance so I thought I was good to go.  No, not this time.  A Global Pandemic is not included in the “money-back guarantee.”  I did, however, manage to get credit for the tickets so when I am ready to travel, whenever that might be, they will be paid for…..but I needed the cash.  Publicity expenses for the tour had already been paid for.  Out of my pocket. The recording of the new album (studio, musicians, producer, engineer, mixing, mastering, cartage, meals, etc.) was paid for. Out of my pocket.  The duplication of the CDs was paid for. Out of my pocket.  Making a great record costs money.  Touring is where you recoup that money already paid out.  Canceling a tour will definitely set you back.  But it’s only money…..

That same Friday the 13th I told my children that they were not going to school.  NYC had not made the decision to close schools yet, but I had.  If it wasn’t safe for me to get on an airplane and go on tour, it was not safe for my children to get on a city bus or subway, and go to 6th and 9th grade on the East side of Manhattan.  So much was unknown so my husband and I decided to shut it down and start “sheltering in place,” which was declared a week later.  We have been in limbo since Friday the 13th, an iconic and ironic date marker for sure, but we are all artists so we are constantly producing.  Since we have been home I have not stopped working as a musician, writer, mother, wife and retired NYC chef and former restaurant owner.  Yes, I was a chef.  You want to be stuck at home with a chef…and go on the road with one too.

I play guitar and write every day. Sometimes all day.  It keeps me sane.  Songs of course, but also a column for an audio magazine, Tone Audio, about music and the songs I am loving.  I write for various cooking blogs, Family2Table, help other chefs write their cookbooks and teach cooking to private clients – now via video lessons.  I do a Facebook Live Stream every Sunday at 4pm and post a video recorded cover song every Friday morning on Facebook and Instagram.  My film editor husband and I just shot a music video for one of the songs for my new record, get ready for it…”WE AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE” – will the irony ever end?  

My children are busy being artists too and keeping up with school as best they can, online.  They have both celebrated birthdays in captivity and we made the best of it in our 340 square foot apartment in Greenwich Village.  Yes, we all live in a space that small…..Even in the epicenter of viral insanity, where I have lost too many friends and colleagues to speak about here….we are finding our little piece of peace.  Artists find beauty. We create in isolation and we are quite used to times of scarcity.  We live for our needs and not our wants.  Guitars are necessary friends right now.

This time is not the best of times, but it’s far from the worst.  I will not profess Dickensian depression and angst over here.  As a matter of fact, I am starting to think that we are the luckiest people in the world.  We are healthy. We are happy.  We have more than we need and we are doing our best to share that with our neighbors who have less. We have each other and that love and connection between us grows stronger every day, solid and born firmly on the ground to sustain these trials and uncertainties.  We are passing this test and awaiting further instructions.  No doubt, a new record will be written about this too. Stay tuned…..

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