Utah musicians sacrifice equipment for survival

Story and photo by HELEN COX

The current recession has several local musicians struggling to sing the blues about the hardships of everyday life – specifically the economic ones.

After saving for almost a year, Alex Jorgenson is able to play music with his own equipment again.

Music, often used as an emotional outlet during hard times, has taken a backseat to financial priorities for many locals in Salt Lake City. They are disgruntled about selling their musical equipment in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. But they are doing what they must to make ends meet.

“I traded my harmonica for a sandwich last week,” local musician Kelsey Perkins said.

It is a matter of survival, but most musicians agree the sales are worth it to keep food in the cupboards and collection agents off their backs. Regardless of the circumstances, it is very difficult to find a local musician in Salt Lake City who can get by without a day job and is not feeling the effects of the down economy.

Liam Hesselbein, of rock and roll bands Calico and The 321s, sold his Rhodes electric piano in April 2010 to make a necessary mortgage payment while he was unemployed.

“I was hoping to hold on to that piano forever, and I could really use it in at least one of my bands at the moment – but ultimately my mortgage came first,” Hesselbein said. “I was lucky to at least be able to sell it for what it was worth.”

Others have not been so lucky. It only takes a quick look into a pawn shop or on eBay or Craigslist to discover there are musicians who are trying to sell their musical equipment for only a fraction of what it is worth.

Matt Dinsdale, upright bassist of the Ugly Valley Boys, sold a guitar, a bass and an amplifier in order to get through the past holiday season. He explains they were all things he did not want to part with, but let them go because he didn’t use them often.

“I figured it was better to keep the bills paid than to have the security of backup equipment, even after having my upright bass take a fall and literally break its neck,” said Dinsdale, who has also played with rockabilly and country groups such as the Sleazetones and Kate LeDeuce.

Heavy metal musician Alex Jorgenson, best known for his guitar and vocal work with the Obliterate Plague and Terra Noir, is another Utahn who has learned about financial priorities the hard way. After being laid off in May 2010, he began working temporary jobs. The difference in income made supporting his family more difficult and he had to pawn his guitar speakers.

“I’ve had to sell a lot of gear,” Jorgenson said. “For the last two years I’ve been a father, and putting food on the table and a roof over our heads is a priority. It’s not just about me anymore.”

Thanks to the aid of his friends and peers, he has been able to borrow equipment – allowing him to continue playing music through difficult times. Jorgenson has been saving money for new speakers since he sold his previous ones nine months ago. Two weeks ago he was able to buy new ones.

Jorgenson remains hopeful for local musicians and the nightlife in Salt Lake City. Despite financial hardships, he has found that many musicians are willing to share and unite for the greater cause of the music.

Eric Elde, guitarist of Iconoclast Contra and Gravecode Nebula, disagrees with musicians who are selling their equipment regardless of financial difficulty.

“How can you call yourself a musician, songwriter or a performer if the means to do so and the tools of the trade are not of the utmost importance to you?” Elde asked.

Elde, who has played in several prominent black metal bands, cringes at the thought of selling his gear. He has gone to great lengths to personalize his own equipment and keep it through rough times, including unemployment.

“If you want to borrow people’s gear and not put any hard work into being a musician or songwriter or whatever, bar none, your music is going to suffer and most likely suck as a result,” he said.

While most musicians agree it is important to try to hold on to necessary equipment at all costs, it may be a while before Utah locals will be capable of doing so without having to sacrifice more important things.

“Utah’s minimum wage isn’t great,” Jorgenson said. “It gets really hard sometimes and you have to do whatever you can to get by.”

%d bloggers like this: