How Iowa-based musicians are coping with the loss of their normal lives during times of social distancing

The lives of touring musicians were all flipped upside down when the COVID-19 pandemic rendered everyone at home for the foreseeable future. They went from playing shows on stage to instead creating music during the quarantine.


Tate Hildyard

Musician Avery Moss livestreams an improvised jam session in his basement on Thursday April 9th. Moss runs a special music project known as Quarantine Dream, where he collaborates with local musicians to create and share music in the midst of the COVID19 outbreak.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

From the nightmarish COVID-19 pandemic, musical project Quarantine Dream emerged.

What was a collaboration between Iowa City-based bandmates on tour is now a virtually collaborative effort to continue to create music while social distancing. It’s a different way of producing music amid a pandemic which has forced musicians to cancel concerts, suspend their tours, and create music in isolation.

Before the pandemic, musician Avery Mossman was already in the preparation stages of reinventing his musical identity. In February, he ended his solo project, Ivory James.

“I’m not the same person I was when I was 20,” Mossman said. “It was time to allow myself the freedom to evolve and grow and not feel like I’m betraying the expectations for that project. Immediately after that, there’s a pandemic. I know I’m going into a period of rediscovery and then it was like, ‘Surprise, you’re not doing anything else.’”

Out of this period of reinvention, Quarantine Dream was born: a musical project and song produced by Mossman along with musicians Hannah Frey and Sam Farrell. The project’s title song, Quarantine Dream, sounds the way isolation feels; slow, dreamlike, the lyrics nostalgic for what life was like before the novel coronavirus spread across the globe.

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Frey wrote the song in 15 minutes. Mossman mixed and mastered it, then put it onto Bandcamp, a streaming platform for musicians to release work and garner direct support from fans.

Video: Quarantine Dream

All proceeds from the song go to the CommUnity Food Bank in Iowa City to help ease the burden of the pandemic as millions nationwide face unemployment because of COVID-19 closures.

“We speak through music and this felt like a way to put (silly) words to the seriousness around us and come together,” the group’s description on Bandcamp states.

A “workaholic by trade,” Mossman has also resorted to creating songs from scratch on Instagram live. From his basement set up, he produces and writes songs in real-time for his viewers to watch.

“I’m making all these songs without a computer or software. I’m making them the same way synth-pop, or electronic music, or even hip hop was created in the ‘80s or ‘90s. It’s a hardware drum, a sequencer, and hardware with no plugins or anything,” Mossman said.

He continues to add to his setup as time goes on to improve the quality for the viewers. For instance, he uses a direct interface set up to his phone to improve sound quality.

Anthony Worden, Mossman’s bandmate from Anthony Worden and the Illiterati, has also continued to create music at home when he’s not working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the nutrition department.

“It’s become more solitary. I’ve been doing a few demos at my house,” Worden said. “I recorded a few personal recordings. I’m still making plans for the future, making material for when we can do shows again.”

Worden has also played a few Instagram live shows. While the Instagram live shows are OK, he said, nothing compares to performance for a live audience.

Anthony Worden and the Illiterati released an NPR Tiny Desk performance from February called “How Long” on April 15. In typical band fashion, Anthony Worden, Carlo Kind, Capel Howorth, Avery Mossman, and Elly Hofmaier performed with a notable passion for the craft. “How Long” is a dreamy pop song about a former relationship, sung powerfully by Hofmaier.

Iowa City-based singer-songwriter Elizabeth Moen is also no stranger to the stage, but she said her creative juices are continuing to flow freely during the pandemic.

In November, Moen and her band were touring Italy. Now, she’s adhering to social-distancing recommendations, only leaving once a month for groceries and living at her aunt and uncle’s house in Iowa.

Despite the new environment and downtime, Moen is trying not to put pressure on herself to be productive. However, with what she describes as a “less foggy” brain, she has been writing music by herself — with a keyboard and a bass she borrowed from a friend to teach herself and create.

Because of the pandemic, her studio album had to be pushed back, potentially to next year. She said she plans on recording a quarantine EP to be released in the near future.

“My songwriting muscle feels stronger than ever,” Moen said. “I’m usually writing on the road. I recognize that I’m very lucky to have this down time and alone time to spend a whole day working on a song. I think some of them are my best ones yet.”