Stealing Sheep tell us about starting their U.S. tour when COVID-19 hit, share quarantine playlist
UK trio Stealing Sheep began their first-ever U.S. tour right as everyone started to get very serious about COVID-19. SXSW had just been canceled, and they only played two shows -- Boston and just one of their many scheduled performances at NYC's New Colossus fest -- before bagging the rest of the dates.
We've been asking bands for coronavirus isolation playlists and when we asked Stealing Sheep for one, we also asked if they could write about their experience of being in it as a touring band, and then stuck in NYC for a few days waiting for a flight home. "We had to start thinking more seriously about our responsibility to fans, about everyone's health and safety, whilst all the time, wandering around a seemingly normal Brooklyn amongst pedigree pups, chic vintage clothes and blasé folks in bars... we were in a surreal position of being in the most exciting city in the world counting down the days we could leave and hoping for our own ruby slippers moment." They wrote a lot more, basically a tour diary of their very short visit, and you can read the whole thing below.
As for their quarantine playlist, it's definitely on the calming tip with an emphasis on voice, featuring tracks from Bjork/Dirty Projectors, Meredith Monk, Yellow Magic Orchestra's Haruomi Hosono, Steve Reich, and more before a diversion into jazz with Duke Ellington, Al Bowlly, Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith. You can listen to that below.
STEALING SHEEP ON STARTING THEIR US TOUR WHEN COVID-19 HIT
We arrived in New York with a general feeling of excitement on International Women's Day, anticipating our first US tour that would span three weeks from the East to West coast, starting on March 10th in Boston and ending on the 28th at Treefort Fest in Boise. In the weeks leading up to the flights there was growing concern in the media about the spread of coronavirus (COVID -19) and apprehension about whether it could turn into a full scale epidemic. With retrospect on our side now, it seems so short sighted that we even stepped foot on the plane, but we were two days ahead of what was about to be revealed and in a semi-state of denial about the reality of what could happen, whilst also trying to avoid catastrophizing and feeling paranoid about the unknown! Plus we had a lot at stake, we had put a lot of time, energy, money and work into the tour with a huge team of people helping us that we also didn't want to let down. We had to take our chances.
So a bit of background about us...we're currently in our tenth year as a band and have been established in our home country in the UK for this time, whilst making waves in Europe and Asia. We had never attempted the US until now, due to the general expanse and expense involved! It's a daunting commitment that many UK bands also face...But! Finally, we had the right team in place and our music and performance felt ready to break new ground, it felt like nothing could stop us.
We received a message that SXSW was no longer going ahead, which was a huge blow as we had planned a whole week there playing shows (as many other bands had) so we got galvanised with loads of DIY shows offering to host fringe events and the atmosphere of people coming together felt positive and buzzing. So we were remaining optimistic and head out to Boston for a Berkeley college radio live set ahead of our Boston gig at Great Scott. This is when the first hit of reality checked in! Boston declared state of emergency as we were on route, and the radio producer we were heading to had been told to self isolate after coming into contact with the virus via students. So, as you can imagine, it's starting to sink in. We go ahead and play our first show with a sense of trepidation! There's about 20 fans in the crowd, and although we had hoped for more, they are the most committed audience we'd ever played to, perhaps caught in a state of hysteria themselves, but we couldn't have been happier with their atmosphere and support! But something was definitely wrong here, should we even be encouraging people to come out? We pack up and head back to New York, feeling strange. We were staying in Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue, and that would become our fallout shelter for the rest of the week. We woke up the next day to hear that LA had now also declared state of emergency and that shows were being cancelled there. We had to start thinking more seriously about our responsibility to fans, about everyone's health and safety, whilst all the time, wandering around a seemingly normal Brooklyn amongst pedigree pups, chic vintage clothes and blasé folks in bars. We pick up Time Out magazine in a local coffee shop to find a live shot of us being heralded as 'ones to watch' at New Colossus festival and thus make the heavy decision that this would be our last show.
We head to Pianos in the Lower East Side and meet the promoter Lio Kanine, who welcomes us with drinks and a full house of eager festival goers keen to catch all the new acts. It's a euphoric moment amongst the mayhem, a little utopia celebrating music and a feeling of being united. As we play, we can pick out members of our whole US team, supporting us from the crowd, it felt like the end of the labyrinth film when Sarah wakes up and it was all a dream but all her friends wave at her from the mirror! The next day we cancel the rest of the tour and it doesn't feel so unexpected, as social media presents a river of cancelled tours around the world, festivals everywhere shutting down and more unnerving announcements start to follow. New York declares a state of emergency, borders begin to shut, flights suspended from Europe and the death toll begins to rise around the world. Priorities very quickly begin to shift, from one day to another...wondering now if we'll be stranded in Brooklyn and told to self isolate. Something was making us desperate for home now, and we were in a surreal position of being in the most exciting city in the world counting down the days we could leave and hoping for our own ruby slippers moment. We had around 4 days ahead of us before our flight from JFK. Everything in NYC had been closed and all we could do was walk, it was like a strange pilgrimage to nowhere, but it stopped us from over thinking and kept our moral up, it tired our bodies out so we could sleep at night. In the final days a National Emergency was declared, photos from supermarkets back home were buzzing around our social media with completely empty shelves from panic buying. Our new question...what were we going back to?
We found our paradise in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, cherry blossoms, a Japanese garden and glass houses with exotic plants. Somewhere we could take stock and remember that amidst the madness nature can continue with beauty and grace. Life as we had know it, had changed forever. We've all began to experience something that none of us have ever experienced before. Now the world is on pause, it lends itself to a big creative question on everyone's lips....how will we do things differently when we bring it back? We will hopefully reminisce on this monumental event one day, when the storm has calmed, and think what an epic moment in history to have been in New York City.
Listen to Stealing Sheep's new single, "Just Do"