Interview: The Burning Hells’ Mathias Kom on How the Coronavirus Outbreak Is Affecting Independent Bands

The effects of the Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent measures put in place by governments across the world to reduce its spread are already having far-reaching consequences in all sorts of different ways.  We’ve contacted several of our favourite bands and venues to ask them how they’ve been affected and what can be done to support the independent music scene amidst the chaos of cancelled gigs and festivals.  First up is Mathias Kom of The Burning Hell who have been caught overseas from their native Canada mid-tour.

How have you been affected by the virus and the restrictions that have been put in place to contain it?
The Burning Hell was in the middle of our first tour of Australia when the WHO declared the Covid-19 crisis a pandemic, and suddenly everything started to fall apart around us. The Blue Mountains Music Festival cancelled the morning we were due to arrive there, and as they didn’t have insurance for this kind of thing, it meant that not only could we not play, but we also didn’t get paid. That festival fee was a significant part of our tour budget, so we’re now a couple thousand dollars in the hole from our inaugural tour down under. This is obviously a huge financial blow—like most indie bands, we exist on a constant economic knife edge, and this has effectively bankrupted us, at least temporarily.

On the same day, we started to get notifications from promoters and venues in Germany that they were having to shut down all their shows, including the album release shows for the new Ariel Sharratt and Mathias Kom duo album Never Work, which was due to go from March 31 – April 26 throughout Europe and the UK. Within a day or two, most of our UK shows were in jeopardy as well, and following the advice of just about everyone we spoke to, we decided to cancel the whole tour. The Australian losses hurt, but this was extremely painful, as this release tour would have represented around a third of our year’s income. We’re now essentially unemployed until we can reschedule shows and get back on the road, since—like nearly every band out there—most of the meager money we do make comes from live performance.

Has there been any support available to bands to help with the impact of these changes?
I’ve heard rumours about potential initiatives on the part of the Canada Council for the Arts and SOCAN (the Canadian equivalent of PRS), but nothing concrete yet. For now, we’re relying on the kindness of our fans in buying merch to help us cover the losses and the unexpected expenses of buying new plane tickets to try and get home before they shut the borders completely or the airlines stop flying altogether. As of right now, we’re stuck in a sort of virus-limbo in the UK, hoping we can get home somehow. To add insult to injury, our travel health insurer has written to say that they are stopping all coverage as of March 22 because of the severity of the situation, so if we can’t make it home before then we will have no medical coverage abroad whatsoever.
Have you been doing anything to keep in touch with fans that haven’t been able to attend live shows?
We’ve been doing our best via Patreon, Facebook, Instagram and so on to let everyone know what’s going on, and people have been so kind. We’re so lucky to have such wonderful fans. At the moment we’re trying to organize some sort of live-streamed concert, and we’ll keep in touch as much as we can to let people know about rescheduled shows and so on.
What can music fans do to support their favourite artists at this time?
If an artist you love has been affected by this (and there aren’t many that haven’t), the best thing you can do is buy something from them directly via their websites or platforms like Bandcamp. If they have a Patreon page, consider supporting them there. If you have the capacity, you could even make a direct donation—send them a message and ask the best way to do that. On the other hand, we’re all heading into uncharted and unpleasant economic waters, so it’s understandable that for a lot of people facing uncertain employment it’s not an easy time to be spending money on music. Simply sending your favourite band a message of support is a good place to start. If you have tickets to a show that’s being rescheduled, consider asking if it will be valid for the new date, and hold onto it. Musicians, artists, health care providers, service industry workers, teachers—basically everyone but the corporate bosses that are begging for bailouts—we all need to show each other compassion and solidarity. This is a time for unity and mutual aid, and that doesn’t need to be only financial. Support comes in many forms.

Music is a kind of ecosystem: artists, labels, promoters, venues, venue staff, and so on all depend on one another, and this ecosystem absolutely needs audiences and listeners to maintain itself. There’s no telling what will happen when the smoke clears in this situation, but it’s almost inevitable that many of your favourite bands, clubs, record labels and so on will not survive. More than ever, we need to ask for help when we need it, and give it when we can. Solidarity is the only way we will make it through this.

Interview by Paul Maps



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