BWW Interview: Spencer Day and Effie Passero On Their Mexican Quarantine and The 'State of Emergency' and 'China' Music Videos
Two musicians on the road for a series of shows suddenly find themselves out of their home country and under lockdown for several weeks - sounds like a perfect set-up for a romantic comedy film, doesn't it? Well, for Effie Passero and Spencer Day, the only meet-cute that happened during their Mexican quarantine was one between their mutual songwriting talents because the two friends and colleagues undertook a new venture, and the result was their new song "STATE OF EMERGENCY" which debuted by way of an on-the-spot music video.
When the music video for State of Emergency premiered it became an immediate hit, garnering many views in a relatively short time. Now approaching the three thousand mark, State of Emergency has a younger sibling - a music video of the duo's cover of the Tori Amos tune "China." So, while being away from home and under quarantine for weeks on end can be frustrating, the pair found that silver lining of which we've all heard tell -- being with friends and fellow artists who can help pass the time and give birth to new art.
I caught up with Effie and Spencer to talk about the last couple of months and their new relationship as singers who write songs together.
This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced as received.
Hi Spencer and Effie, thank you so much for talking with Broadway World today. We are so excited to have the opportunity to chat with you about your recent Isolation Creations from Mexico. First off, how did you find folks find yourselves under quarantine outside of the USA?
EFFIE: Spencer and I had a mini-tour planned beginning in early March. We had just arrived in Tijuana when the state of emergency was declared but we decided to continue on to see how things panned out.
SPENCER: At this point, many prominent people in government still declared the whole thing a hoax. Faced with so much conflicting information, we decided that the show must go on. I have never personally canceled a show and unless the venue (or other outside sources) dictate that we should, I think musicians typically soldier on.
EFFIE: By the time we got to Puerto Vallarta, everything was just starting to shut down.
SPENCER: The next two weeks of tour dates disappeared overnight. A few days later this turned into our next YEAR of touring! (laughs).
EFFIE: We decided it was safer to shelter here than rushing back home to deal with all the panic!
Many of us have been getting personal reports on our social media from friends isolating around the country and in Europe. What's the shelter in place experience like in Mexico?
EFFIE: The shelter in place started a little late here, but for the most part people are doing their part. They arrest people they find on the beach and give out fines to those without masks. It's a little intimidating to see the military driving around with guns and airhorns every night, encouraging people to stay inside or get home after a certain hour. Usually, when the lamp posts turn on, that's the signal to get moving.
SPENCER: Because Mexico was so impacted by the swine flu in 2009, I think there is more of a consensus this is real. I haven't seen it fracture into partisan issue quite as much as the states. I think that solidarity will prove important as there are many poor people here who are making sacrifices while standing to lose even more than many of us in the states. I worry for those suffering long before the virus arrived. I worry but I'm proud of them and cheering them on.
You seem fortunate in that you and your band members are all quarantined together, so you have avoided the loneliness of being in isolation alone - tell me a little about that.
EFFIE: I am very grateful to have been able to share music and laughter with these amazing people. I know that if I'd been isolated in my apartment back home I would not be in the state of mind I am now. I don't know if I'd have been able to make it through, to be completely honest. I hope this experience leads me to always be eternally grateful for the people I have in my life- and love them with all my might. Don't wait for the next plague to realize who your tribe is, or show them how much you appreciate them.
SPENCER: As difficult as it has been, I do feel I was given a gift. Eduardo (who is our guitarist) said it best "I think we made the best out of the worst time"
You folks have created two different videos while under quarantine, the first one being a new creation from the ground up. How did "State of Emergency" evolve?
EFFIE: We actually started that song last year during fire season when we were up in wine country and it was burning down. We joked about the apocalypse- if we only knew! We started that little bop so long ago, but I'm glad it took us this long to finish it because now it's even more special. :) To make it even funnier, Spencer's power was out, so we wrote it by candlelight with wine and a charcuterie board. Que romantico!
The production qualities of the video are stunning, how was it filmed and edited? Is that work done by the director of the video?
EFFIE: We were very fortunate to have met Danny and The Groove House. He added a whole new level of production to our videos. I'm so happy we found him! Spencer and he both worked tirelessly on the videos. I admit I'm completely useless at technical things, so I just stayed in my lane and let the men work.
SPENCER: I was going to make some Don Draper style 1950s joke about "letting men work" but I got nothing (laughs), Danny, Zoe and Eduardo were godsends, and I think honestly jumping in and being productive is what has kept me sane.
How many songs have been composed by the songwriting team of Passero and Day?
EFFIE: Just the one so far! But there are hopefully more to come!
SPENCER: What she said! I can't wait.
What prompted the creation of the cover of the Tori Amos song "China?"
EFFIE: Spencer and I were working on a 90s themed show, and discovered we both loved Tori Amos and this song in particular. When we sang it together for the first time here in Mexico we both completely broke down crying because the words suddenly took on new meaning.
SPENCER: It's astounding to me how relevant the song feels right now. So, while we had the Quarantine crew together, I knew we should make the most of us
Both videos have views in the thousands - what has the response been to them?
EFFIE: People have really loved "State of Emergency"! People who have seen the "China" video told me it made them cry. Join the club, guys.
SPENCER: I haven't been online much these days, but when I do, I'm very inspired to see how much our music-making is lifting people's spirits. It's great to be reminded why we musicians do this in the first place. It's times like these that it really can make a difference.
At this point are you folks still in Mexico? Are your families all safe and healthy?
EFFIE: I'm still here in Puerto Vallarta. I lost my apartment in LA due to a totally shoddy landlord, so I have no reason to rush back. I do miss my dog, though. My family and dog are all safe and healthy! Doing the best they can.
SPENCER: I just returned to the states as it finally felt safer to do so and the return has been bittersweet. I'm happy to be here where I can finish mixing my upcoming record but I already miss having the ability to make music with musicians in person. I'm not sure when I will be able to do that again.
With things the way they are and so much uncertainty about when music venues will be open again, have you guys begun to formulate a plan of action for keeping the music flowing out to the fans?
EFFIE: I have a little crew of musicians and we're doing one or two live streams a month. It's nothing too lucrative, but we're doing okay. Unfortunately, the virtual world of music is going to be the regular for a while. There's definitely a learning curve to all the technology, but we'll get there eventually. In terms of future performances, I can't dwell on it anymore. The uncertainty is truly terrifying. I'm also doing a few solo cover videos to just put on Instagram and Facebook. Would I like to be making money? Sure. But I want to be a little beacon of light for people if they need it. People respond really well to them, so I'm glad to make them happy.
SPENCER: I suppose I'm the opposite. I am mostly withdrawing from social media, etc. for the next few months to get re-centered and complete my record "Broadway By Day" and resume writing instrumental music for my passion project "La Frontera," which was inspired by the past few years I have spent traveling in Mexico. I'm so glad the online concerts are happening but I struggle with how things come across sonically coming through a laptop or iPhone. Music is about sound after all and of course, it just isn't the same. But my spirits are still up! In the end, I know music and live performance aren't going anywhere. I just try to keep coming back to the present moment. There is still much to be grateful for.
Speaking of the fans, you both have a very dedicated fan base - what's the experience of communicating with them during the health crisis, while out of the country?
EFFIE: My fans are very happy to live vicariously through me as they see my pictures from Mexico! They're happy to see me doing well, and are very pleased with the musical content I've had the time to put out. I do like to ask how they're doing and do routine check-ups. Especially on my Facebook page because it's a more mature fan base, so I hear a lot from essential workers and parents struggling with losing their jobs and having to take care of their families.
Effie, do you have a favorite tattoo?
EFFIE: My velociraptor is my favorite, followed by my owl piece that I got here in PV in January. Can't wait to get another one when my guy's shop opens in June!
Spencer put me in the picture of what the last year was like, with all the love coming at you from the cabaret community of New York.
The last year has been really incredible in terms of the momentum I've been building in New York with this upcoming project as well as several musical collaborations I've begun discussions about. I'm staying hopeful this pandemic hasn't put a stop to that entirely. My upcoming Broadway project is a love letter to the theater and the city. The letter just might be a little late in the mail.
So under quarantine, when two close friends aren't busy creating art to send out in the world, what do they do to pass the days?
EFFIE: Spencer was honestly creating every second of every day! He was buzzing with inspiration. But I've been a professional potato, lounging around and playing video games. I was kind of living the quarantine lifestyle before it was cool, so being inside all day hasn't affected my daily life too much. I've finished an embarrassing amount of series on Netflix. If I never watch TV again after quarantine is lifted, it would be too soon.
SPENCER: Honestly, this has been one of the most productive periods I've had in a while. Like everybody, I wish none of this were happening. But since it is, I intend to make the most out of it. I was touring so much last year that I didn't have much time to focus on writing original music. It's great to see the ideas flowing now that space has been created for them.
Effie and Spencer, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and your art with us. Stay safe and sane!
BOTH: Thank you for having us! You too! Much love.
"STATE OF EMERGENCY"
Written by: Spencer Day & Effie Passero
Performed by: Spencer Day, Effie Passero, Zoe Wood, Eduardo Leon
Videographer: Daniel Marquez Ortega (The Groove House Studio)