By Stephanie Conner
I think I speak for many in saying that this year has been weird, frustrating, or just downright demoralizing, for a lot of people. Many in the music and entertainment industry, especially, are feeling the crunch. Josh Cannon and Stephanie Conner (that’s me) of Dancing with Ghosts–known locally as a highly-productive band–we are the type of artists who need to “create to exist.” 2020 has been quite the ride, and we’ve had to adapt in order to move forward.
In this bizarre age of livestreams instead of concerts, and FaceTime instead of dinnertime with loved ones, how does a band stay relevant? If you think about it, these “live arts” are mostly contained exclusively on the internet at the moment. Decisions had to be made. How do we continue to “exist” in this uncharted landscape? In order to understand what some of these processes looked like for us, we need to go back to how 2019 was wrapping up. We went out on a pretty high note and felt really good that 2020 was gonna be big for us.
Dancing with Ghosts is an Independent, Electronic/Alt-Rock Duo, based out of Jax, FL. With a local rock scene that is reminiscent of Shinedown, Disturbed, or 5-Finger Deathpunch, we, as Josh says, “stick out like a sore thumb for people who like sore thumbs.” Booking local shows with “like” artists has often been challenging.
We had released our single “The White Room” in late August of 2019, along with a promotional lyric video. This song, we felt HAD to do well for us, since this was the first single since March of 2019’s “Hex” album. We also felt that we wanted that single to be the most rock-oriented song that we had made for DWG. We fought not to overcomplicate it, and just let it be what we needed it to be. We wanted it to be a more easily understood song, for those ears who had never heard our sound. For me personally, as a lyricist, I wanted this story to be heard, since it had a lot of meaning to me. Overall, it was well received by the fans we had, AND by the fans we had yet to scoop up. It was nice to see the positive responses to it, and it was a huge relief to see we could venture into different territories and still have fans who supported our endeavors.
We played some great shows across the state and in Georgia that fall, but we had more music to produce. In the spirit of trying new sounds, we decided to move forward with our 80’s-vibe single and music video, “Faded Neon.” In this music video, for once, we weren’t playing anything scary or macabre, something that we are known for in visuals, along with our often darker sound and lyricism. I believe that sometimes, real life is scarier than all those invented monsters. This was more terrifying, as the concept for both the video and song were so raw and exposed. We got to film in a local nightclub, a nice change of pace from “Josh’s living room” or “Josh’s yard.” This video isn’t as “open to interpretation” as some of our prior works. It showcases our own fears very plainly for the world to see. Universally relatable topics such as aging and missing out are very palpable. And while we are by no means old, we aren’t 16 with a seemingly endless supply of time to make mistakes. We run, almost daily, for these goals of ours.
We closed out the year by participating in a great local show here in Jax, A-Not-So-Silent-Night at Jackrabbits. It was pretty packed, and we made a lot of connections–be that fan or band connections, they’re all good to have. We got some sweet photography as a result of the show as well, which can be invaluable for many bands. More show offers were coming in as well. 2020 was gonna be rad.
What we had been planning behind the scenes from the tail end of 2019 onward, was an awesome 14 day Midwest Summer Tour. It was something neither of us had ever been able to do, and the fact that we booked it ourselves (and learned how all that works in the process) had us feeling the grind. But we knew the reward would be the best gift we could possibly give ourselves.
Here’s the thing, I love traveling more than just about anything (aside from music). When I joined this band 3 years ago, I told myself I would switch from channeling my spare change into travel funds, and instead divert it all into band expenditures. I told myself, that if I did this (because I had absolute faith in the product we put out and the continuous daily efforts we put in) I WOULD be able to travel again eventually, but it would be on tour with my band, a literal dream that I NEVER thought could be lived out by me, but something I’ve wanted my whole life. And we, we were about to do the damn thing!
We knew it would take about six months of planning, but we were prepared to take that on. We knew that early spring was likely shot in terms of “extra stuff” we could be doing that you guys would “ooh” and “aahh” at, but if we got to see any of your faces in person and meet some cool people, it’s definitely worth it, so we pressed on.
Around February, we started hearing the rumblings about a virus from China. I’d not paid much attention to all that before, and just went about my grind. I have a forced tendency not to allow myself to get excited about things until they are ACTUALLY happening, and lord, was that ever important here. On March 17th, we got the official shutdown on the local level (and with Josh and me both being DJs for a living outside of the band, this was very detrimental to our livelihood). Then a few days later, give or take, we saw all the big festivals getting cancelled, flights being cancelled, countries closing their borders, etc.
I didn’t want to believe this was happening. I refused to let our tour die just yet. Unfortunately, no one had all the answers. Some in the industry said it would pass. Others were saying to push all tours back to 2021. I could not fathom a world where the music/entertainment industry could just “shut down” for a year and cease to operate or exist. For all the shows I was personally looking forward to going to this year (and there were many, let me tell you), I grieved the only way I knew how–by listening more to the artists and buying merch. I may not be well off, but I have always been huge on supporting bands I love through merch when I can. More than that, the panic of hearing we’d miss out on our first tour, AND be a whole year older when we do tour, was just such an overwhelming disappointment for us both. It felt nearly crippling.
We started scrambling on what WAS doable. What could we do to keep this momentum going? How could we not get discouraged from the seeming loss of our dreams that were so close to fruition?
As is often the case, we decided that music was the answer. We did livestream after livestream, to keep people’s spirits up, including our own. Ultimately though, it wasn’t enough to ward off the impending sense of desperation that was starting to grip us both. We needed to invigorate ourselves and put out a new song. But which song would we move forward with? At any given time we have loads of incomplete songs in the theoretic “cannon”. It all comes down to what we feel is the “right choice” for us, the music climate, or our “brand”. We proceeded forward with two contenders and decided that “I Like You” would move forward with development.
This song took us about 10,000 lyrical drafts (or so it felt), and again, was so far from things we had released in the past. Though I loved it, I wasn’t sure how it would be received.
Initially, we hadn’t thought we would be able to afford to front the cost for another music video, especially with us being out of work from Covid closures. But little workaholics that we are, Josh figured a way to film some of it at least, for less cost, so I was sold. We storyboarded and realized our costuming budget was also gonna have to be nearly zero.
We had already slated a release date for the song, and hadn’t even decided that we were officially filming a video for it. Every store was pretty much closed due to Covid, and even Amazon couldn’t be depended on for fast shipping at the time. We needed to film NOW. So we dug through our respective wardrobes and tried to make this zero-dollar wardrobe budget work. It HAD to work.
After filming some of the scenes, we knew we needed at least one “location” to really solidify the video and make it more visually diverse. As a DIY band, we do all our filming, editing, you name it, and we did not want this video to fall short of our previous videos.
Josh found a cool 100-year-old brick building in downtown Jax that we could rent to film. So film we did….and not all of the shots turned out how we thought they would, due to some of the lighting techniques we had tried. So we dug deep into our little pockets and scheduled another session, taking advantage of the outside alleyway there for yet another “location.” Finally, we began to go through the shots, and we knew we had what we were looking for.
Simultaneously, we had been working with a few different media outlets to secure interviews, or at least to know that they would push the release. So, the weeks leading up to the inevitable release of “I Like You,” each day was pretty much – get in costume/makeup, setup at location, film, film film, or edit and do interviews, send emails, etc. Oh, and we also signed to a small Indie Label, DI Records, during the filming. We have tried, and continue to try, to do anything do-able during a time when the world seems particularly hard on the music industry as a whole.
But we aren’t stopping. We have decided that this is the time to go back into the studio. We have new music to produce, and given the unknown state of things in the immediate future, this seems the most productive course of action.
Our next single, “Locked In” is the last one we will be releasing for a while, since we’ll be making a new album. This is another step in an unknown direction. It’s a creepy, low-fi, in-your-ear track dropping on all platforms July 31st.
To be clear, this next round of DWG songs is NOT a COVID album or anything like that. This is the next chapter of us doing what we do best – fighting to do what we love. We stopped thinking about what can’t be accomplished and focused on what CAN BE. We’re pushing through the rest of the year, and we hope you’ll be there with us on the other side.
Individual Music Video Links: