Van tours are still a thing.
Kasey Maloney and her two bandmates in the cow-punk band Fever Beam had been venturing out about four times a year in a 1997 Ford Econoline with a broken odometer, playing gigs in the Southeast and down into Texas, staying at friends’ houses when possible.
That career path made more sense than working local bars so often that the trio became overexposed and led to “shittier and shittier shows,” Maloney said. In fact, the periodic gigs that Fever Beam played in the Tampa Bay area were more apt to happen at record and book stores than in clubs.
This story is part of a series about how musicians are coping with life during the COVID-19 pandemic— from a creative, financial and emotional standpoint. 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]
Van tours are out these days, of course, and Maloney’s job as a stylist at Number 9 salon in St. Petersburg vaporized as well, although not permanently. She’d made a habit of setting aside money from her day gig to help cover tour expenses. Those dollars now go toward paying bills.
“The thought of May 1st makes me nervous,” she said. “A big chunk of my savings will go to rent. Actually, I’d say I’m OK for eight to 10 weeks.”
Maloney—Fever Beam’s 22-year-old frontwoman, guitarist and songwriter—laments having to milk her tour fund, but is glad she has the money on hand. She shares a house in St. Pete with Sam Loder, the band’s drummer, who has a five-day-a-week job at Cappy’s Pizza in St. Pete. Bassist Dane Giordano lives nearby in the Roser Park neighborhood.
Fever Beam spent a couple of months prepping for South by Southwest, where they had three official showcases booked, as well as a dozen other unofficial gigs over eight days. The band also had a show set for New Orleans on the way to Texas. The City of Austin canceled the SXSW on March 6, and Fever Beam’s side performances disappeared four or five days hence. Still, Maloney bought a cheap ticket and hopped on a plane to Austin on March 15. (Before you think that was a sheer act of foolishness, note that Maloney visited her boyfriend there.)
“Everything was closed and when I got there no one was hanging out,” she recalled of her time in Austin. “I managed to do a little networking and got a few leads for a potential label and connections for next year’s South by Southwest.”
Maloney flew back on March 28 in order to make Fever Beam’s show at The Bends the following night. She arrived to find that the gig had been canceled. Maloney has been staying home ever since, venturing outdoors only to walk the dog in her Crescent Lake neighborhood. She’s also been writing songs—or trying to.
“I’ve had a bit of a creative block, trying to get through this really serious time we’re in,” she explained. “My songs are mostly made-up stories, and they’re usually lighthearted. It’s hard to tune into that part of myself creatively when all I can think about right now is how tough it is for everyone. It just feels wrong or forced to tell a lighthearted or silly story.”
I asked her if she’d considered writing songs that reflect the times? “I might have to go in that direction, but it’s one of the reasons I’ve been blocked,” she replied. “I’ve been trying to avoid the [coronavirus] reality—not ignore it, but so it’s not so front-facing. I think I’ll have to wait until the waters have calmed a bit and see if that [more serious] direction works for me.”
In the meantime, Maloney is learning cover songs to add to Fever Beam’s repertoire, expanding her knowledge of guitar chords, and working on melodies, as well as reading and watching movies, in part for songwriting inspiration.
Maloney grew up in St. Pete. Her father Jim licensed a franchise of the Rock ’n’ Blues Academy, and Kasey worked the desk there as a preteen. After some initial guitar lessons, she rebelled.
“I had that angst, ‘I don’t wanna do this,’” she recalled. “‘I wanna skateboard and film my friends skateboarding.’”
Kasey moved with her father to Honolulu, Hawaii for a couple of years during high school, and returned to St. Pete at age 18, more deeply into music. She bought an electric guitar, which collected dust for a couple months before she knuckled down. Maloney and two girlfriends formed a garage-punk band called The Spuds. She then joined the new wave-ish group Glove, with whom she got her first touring experience.
A bit stifled by a lack of creative freedom, and getting more into riot grrrl rock, Maloney left Glove and formed Fever Beam, which has been together going on two years. She’s grown comfortable being the band’s focal point.
“Our debut show, I realized, ‘people actually like when you’re shockingly a frontwoman,’” she said. “‘I can take this and run with it.’ Plus I got more comfortable with my band members, and my role.”
Maloney has broadened her influences to include Lee Hazlewood, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and others, which has added a touch of twang to Fever Dream’s punk foundation. They can sometimes be seen in campy Western garb. Hence “cow punk.”
“It’s a more specific genre, more so than just punk, but it’s also unique enough and can be a lot of different things,” Maloney said.
During our interview, Maloney expressed relief that she does not “know anyone who is personally impacted by the Coronavirus. I don’t have a family member in the hospital, no family friends are sick. First and foremost, I’m thankful for that.”
Still, “I guess I feel a little trapped,” she continued. “Being an extrovert and a performer, I’m used to socializing. And I miss my cheerleaders. I try to stay on the positive side—‘aw, this is temporary. I’ll stay at home watching movies, listening to records and writing as much as I can.’ But at some point it’ll become, ‘How much of this can I do before I’m missing real life?’”
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