It's been nearly a year since many musicians have performed live. The loss of live energy and fan enthusiasm has been a big struggle.
Before the pandemic, the three members of the Blank Stairs were everywhere. They made the circuit playing in local bars and restaurants, performed regularly at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts in Peoria Heights, and entertained at local charity events.
They were even featured on WTVP's local music program, State and Water.
But for the last 10 months, any in-person interaction with fans is out of the band's grasp.
Cami Proctor, the Blank Stairs' singer and guitarist, said it's difficult trying to navigate through the pandemic as musicians and artists, especially with the group being so young.
"Really, we've just been like all the other artists of any type," Proctor said. "I feel like we've just been trying to navigate this completely unfamiliar terrain. And also, I just got out of high school. Josh is just in college. Abbey is finishing up her senior year. We don't have a ton of experience in this career field, yet. So we're just figuring things out as we move along."
COVID also is taking a toll on personal relationships with music.
Whether it be the inability to perform live, lack of connection with other musicians, or just feeling burned out, most musicians can agree that music in this setting feels different. The Blank Stairs are no exception.
Abbey Haste is the band's drummer. She said not being able to perform live is hard.
"I'd say in this setting, it's been a little bit more difficult for me, at least, because part of my joy of playing music is playing music with an audience. And I've always liked going to concerts and hearing other people, because that's been the main inspiration," she said. "But it's also been nice, because it has given me a big chance to play to focus purely on getting better, and not have to play in a live setting."
All three members of The Blank Stairs have long relationships with music. Abbey Haste has played the drums since she was in the 6th grade. Cami Proctor and bassist Josh Sweeney first picked up their instruments in 8th grade.
But the band is still finding new ways to enrich their relationships with their music, despite the pandemic robbing them of live audiences.
Sweeney said despite the challenging times, he feels he is still finding ways to grow and learn as a musician.
"I hear a lot of people saying they feel like they're not learning anything. A lot of my fellow music majors over at Millikin," he said. "But I don't really feel that way. Music is just an escape. It's something that makes me feel better about myself."
Proctor said COVID has taken away some of the pressure of performances, and allowed the band to have more time to think creatively.
"I really think it has put us in a position where we can be super-creative. We can really throw crazy ideas at stuff and not worry about, Oh, is this going to come by OK in a live setting?' No, we can just make stuff and record it, and keep it, and immortalize it, this kind of idea and performance that we have in the moment," Proctor said.
The band's new album, "FacePaint," was released last Friday.
All three band members say this album is emblematic of who they are as a band at this particular moment. The isolation of the pandemic shaped the album's concept into a unique story arc.
Sweeney said the Blank Stairs are using this time to change the band in a new direction, and really focus on writing songs in a way it hasn't before.
"Less than a year before COVID hit, we had a big change," Sweeney said. "We were this band playing a lot of cover songs. We're almost just purely writing songs now."
Sweeney, Proctor, and Haste said they're proud of this new album they recorded amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. And though they're physically distanced from the fans, the Blank Stairs say they couldn't have done it without the support from Peoria's music community.
The new album "FacePaint" is available on several streaming services. For more on the Blank Stairs and where to listen to them, head to their website.
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