COVID-19 has made musicians and music venues adjust in various ways over the past 12 months. The same can be said for recording studios, which has resulted in rooms being split up into pods to separate band members from each other to ensure safety. It’s also resulted in a rise of records being produced remotely to abide by social distancing guidelines. Based in West Kingston, Ray Gennari has been dealing with this while running his studio at Rocktorium Records. Think of any obstacle that may have arisen during this pandemic, and chances are he’s faced it head on.
We recently had a talk about the changes he’s had to make, working on a couple of albums remotely, making more space in the studio and what his plans are for the next few months.
Rob Duguay: Going back to March of last year when COVID-19 shut everything down, what were you working on as part of Rocktorium Records? Did you have to postpone or cancel any projects?
Ray Gennari: Yeah, absolutely. Right before everything shut down — a week before — we released The Z-Boys debut LP Elwood that had a huge release party at Dusk in Providence, but then things kind of stopped there. Radio stations were doing pre-recorded shows for a while that didn’t have any new music, so it was tough to get that album any airplay so stuff like that got shut down. We also had a bunch of showcases featuring Rocktorium Records artists that got scheduled for last year that had to get canceled. Other records had planned releases that got shelved for a lot of reasons. There wasn’t any touring to support those records, and because people were suffering through a pandemic, some people felt weird about releasing music while wondering if it was the right thing to do.
They didn’t know if it was a good idea or a frivolous one. If you had a record that was made before the pandemic, would it feel right to put out? It just made a lot of things weird and difficult to navigate.
RD: From the bands I’ve talked to that are releasing new music now, a lot of them have been waiting on it due to being apprehensive about when would be a proper time to put it out. They ended up waiting until now so people were more ready for it and more expecting of it.
RG: There’s a ton of records that are going to be dropping very soon on a national level.
RD: Yeah, definitely. What adjustments have you had to make as a producer for the sake of social distancing and abiding by the COVID-19 guidelines at your studio? I know you’ve done some renovating, so how has it been for you to adapt to this new landscape?
RG: Initially to go by the guidelines, having a functioning studio was nearly impossible — and especially for us on a personal level here. My wife has been continuing cancer treatment; her immunity is compromised so we’ve been doing a lot of self-isolating. Figuring out how to make records without people in the studio has definitely been a challenge, so I’ve started to figure out how to work remotely as much as possible. I have a record that I’m going to be putting out in May with a young woman from Maine that we figured out how to do pre-production over Zoom while sending ideas to each other back and forth.
It was great for feeling out the songs and getting to know the melodies. She would send me some stuff and I would mark it up at the studio, then I would send it back to her and she would sing on it. It was a weird process, but it was at least a process. Then she would get a COVID-19 test and come down to stay at an Airbnb for a few days while coming in for stuff that we had to do in person. No one was in the studio for a long time so I made some alterations to create more space for musicians, who wear masks while they’re playing or singing.
RD: Who’s the musician from Maine that you worked with?
RG: Her name is Angelina LaCarrubba.
RD: Along with being a producer, you’re also the lead singer and guitarist for Gumption & Glory. Have you had any time to work on new music with the band remotely at all over the past few months, or are you still waiting until you can all get together in a safe environment?
RG: Honestly, I haven’t had as much time as I thought I would while everything was shut down. Our new record is mostly done with everyone else’s parts, and there’s vocals that need mixing and parts that I need to play. I ironically started doing them last March when the pandemic hit and everything changed, but then they got put aside while I scrambled to figure out how things were going to work. It was in May that I had another project come my way that took up a lot of my time while being done remotely as well.
RD: What can we expect to come through the Rocktorium Records pipeline for the next few months? You just mentioned how you worked with Angelina LaCarrubba on her record, but is there anything else you’re working on that’ll be released either later this spring or during the summer?
RG: Yes, coming up very soon in late April is a record by trumpet player Curt Ramm who’s played with Bruce Springsteen and They Might Be Giants.
RD: He’s played with Chic as well, right?
RG: Yes he has. That’s the record I started working on in May that pushed mine aside and we did it mostly remotely while I recorded all of the rhythm parts. It’s a reggae inspired record with me and some folks doing the instrumental tracks while Curt did the horn parts at his place. We were sending each other stuff back and forth every day while figuring this out, and then we got some friends involved such as Charlie Giordano who played with the E Street Band, Andrew Moon Bain from Boo City and a few others. It’s due out either in late April or May and it’s getting pressed right now.
I’ve also been changing the space up to add video to the audio production that we do at the studio. Part of this is through being awarded a business adaptation grant, so what I’m hoping to do with artists — because no one is really touring or playing much — is livestreams, but they’re going to have the same amazing quality that the records have. They’re also going to be filmed with really great quality equipment; there will be three or four cameras. Artists can come in and have a chance to monetize one performance, it sounds great and it looks great so hopefully we can get an audience to donate and generate some money. The audio is also recorded unedited through all the channels, so they can make a single out of it or even a live album.