Music is one of the last things Tampa songwriter Shawn Kyle is concerned about right now

"My worries now are about my mother who has a heart condition and has had cancer."

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click to enlarge UP ON THE ROOF: Shawn Kyle atop his girlfriend's apartment building - The Dashing Ginger
The Dashing Ginger
UP ON THE ROOF: Shawn Kyle atop his girlfriend's apartment building

Hanging out on the roof of a converted church in Tampa Heights, sipping a mezcal & tequila margarita, Shawn Kyle asked me to hold a second while he checked his schedule on his phone.

“Oh, I was supposed to headline the main room at the Hard Rock [in Tampa] with my four-piece tonight,” he said. “That’s not happening.”

Perhaps no Tampa Bay musician in the last two decades has exhibited more natural rock-star swagger than Kyle, who grew up working class in the tough “Suitcase City” section of Tampa. He fronted the popular band The Beauvilles until walking away in 2012. Afterward, he followed a peripatetic career path that found him in D.C, Nashville, Austin and Los Angeles. Kyle rode high for a while fronting the band AMFMS, which toured regularly, did showcases at SXSW and CMJ and reached the Top 50 on college rock radio. He returned to Tampa full time about three-and-half-years ago.

This story is the first in a series about how musicians are coping with life during the COVID-19 pandemic — from creative, financial and emotional perspectives. The subjects are those who make their living as full-time musicians, not as a sideline. If you fit into this category and would like to share your story, email: [email protected] 

Kyle did music production work (notably with Have Gun, Will Travel), ran his own video company, and wrote songs for other artists. About eight months ago, he started performing again, landing good-paying one-off gigs that he described as “sort of rock ’n’ roll revival shows where I drag out some vintage covers, pull from my own catalogue, and play with a group of great musicians. Sometimes it was an ‘Animal House’ type thing, playing ‘Louie Louie’ and shit.”

Clearly, that work is kaput.

“95% of my income was gone in less than a week,” Kyle said matter-of-factly.

Until then, Kyle said, he was enjoying one of his best earning years. He was in the process of renovating a midcentury house he owns in Seminole Heights, so is staying at his girlfriend’s apartment. He hangs out regularly on the rooftop, which has a panoramic view of the city.

“My standard of living allowed me to buy a house and put some money in the bank as long as I wasn’t being frivolous,” he said. That living standard is certainly on hold, if not yet in jeopardy. 

Not long ago, Kyle engaged in some musical-equipment arbitrage that provided a hedge against the COVID-19 crisis. Because he has toured so extensively, Kyle had been speaking with friends in Europe about the virus’s spread, as well as keeping up with international news.

“I had a gut feeling that this would happen,” he said of the coronavirus assaulting the United States. So he made a prescient move—one that stung. Kyle sold off nine vintage guitars and some analog gear before the pandemic depressed the market. “If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to make my house payments. I have a few months of being able to pay for food and my mortgage and any debt.” 

Kyle readily points out that he’s in much better shape than other working musicians, and that he’s deeply concerned about them. Still, the career momentum he’d built over the last couple of years has ground to a halt, as has his income.

“I think you have to be someone who can deal with loss to be a touring artist for 20 years,” he said when asked how he’s handling the situation emotionally. “You have to be able to deal with breathtaking highs and terrible lows, otherwise [touring] would’ve killed you off a long time ago.”

“Yes, I loved a lot of those guitars, but my worries now are about my mother who has a heart condition and has had cancer and I can’t see her. I’m worried about friends who work as musicians and in bars and nightclubs and have zero income for the foreseeable future. And they have families and mouths to feed and this caught them completely by surprise. So fuck it if I don’t have a few guitars. I kept a couple that I can make music with.”

“For me to be upset that I don’t get to play on stage for screaming people right now is absurd. I don’t miss performing right now. Now is not the time for that. Whenever I start to feel that way, I say to myself, ‘How else can I be productive? How else can I help other people?’”

Kyle has been staying busy completing songs and recording tracks at the studio in his Seminole Heights house.

“I go there everyday,” he said, “stuff like, ‘I’ve been meaning to finish that.’ ‘I should add a bridge to that song.’”

For health and conscience reasons, Kyle decided to skip a live-stream event that gathered together prominent Bay area musicians. He’s giving guitar lessons on the cheap to kids via video chat. 

Like everyone else, Kyle has his highs and lows.

“Did I sleep last night?” he said. “Not really. A couple of hours. I got out of bed this morning feeling really angry. Then I realize that there’s nothing I can do about this but follow best practices and be as productive and helpful as I can. You slap yourself a couple times and get on with it. I can’t let myself get so worried and upset that I won’t be able to help where I can. I can’t become paralyzed—and you can’t create something out of paralysis.”

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About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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