Aether Realm Frontman Opens Up About Working in Pharmacy During Pandemic — Exclusive Interview
Aether Realm are a death metal band from North Carolina, but when frontman Vincent "Jake" Jones isn't in the studio or on stage you can find him working as a pharmacy technician.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic where release dates are being pushed back and tours and festivals are being canceled all over, the group have an album coming out May 1 called Redneck Vikings From Hell, on Napalm Records (check out the latest single, "Slave to the Riff," below). But, while Jones is looking forward to Aether Realm's album drop, his day job also is keeping him very busy.
We caught up with the vocalist via email to discuss the new album, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic (especially working at a pharmacy) and what it's like juggling two very different careers at once. Read the vocalist's introduction followed by the interview below.
Hey y’all, my names Jake, and while I love playing heavy metal with my buds in Aether Realm, it doesn’t always pay the bills. I keep the lights on as a pharmacy technician for a chain pharmacy. I understand that while we’re all facing this COVID-19 pandemic there’s a general urge to search for answers and simple solutions from anyone that’s willing to give them.
I want to state up front that nothing in this interview should be interpreted as medical advice or medical opinion, I am not qualified to give that even to people I know and love. Anyone that's not a medical authority (like your physician, the CDC, or the World Health Organization) that gives unsolicited medical advice should be treated with extreme scrutiny. In times of panic, we often see a rise in individuals and companies looking to make a quick buck from desperate people. Don’t fall victim to the grift, there is no miracle cure for this virus. When there is a known effective treatment, it will be studied as rapidly as possible by medical experts and approved for us by the FDA.
I will not speculate on the efficacy of any drugs rumored to be possible treatments for COVID-19. I can, however, speak about my experiences in pharmacy and the problems we're currently working to solve, and how that has evolved in the last months.
A lot of artists are pushing back their album release dates due to the coronavirus disease, but 'Redneck Vikings From Hell' is set for May 1. Did the pandemic have any effect of your plans for the album?
Thankfully it hasn’t affected our planned release date (huge relief, I don’t know what I’d have to look forward to otherwise). It has, however, caused us to postpone our album release tour, as well as make multiple last-minute changes to our music video plans. We’d initially planned to fly out to LA in March for a video, then when it became clear that was unwise, we planned to gather with some friends at home and shoot it ourselves. North Carolina then put a month of travel restrictions into place, so now we’re onto Plan C. Check back in a month and you’ll know whether it worked, ha.
Metal musician and pharmacy technician are two very different types of lifestyles. How do you manage to balance both?
Gotta keep the rent paid somehow. I sort of stumbled into the field about six or seven years ago. Started as a member of the floor team that occasionally helped fill prescriptions and through a series of lucky opportunities, eventually became a certified tech after a time. I balance it the same way anyone pursuing music balances it with their day job — as best I can. Sometimes band stuff that requires my attention has to wait until I'm home, and on the flip side, sometimes music demands that I request cuts to my hours in order to complete band related work.
Our last two albums both had me taking additional time off and living in the studio with Kile Odell for a bit to ensure the final sound was what we wanted. I always tell myself I'm not going to do it, but inevitably I end up with some strings of days where I'll work the pharmacy during the day, drive the 3 hours to the studio and mix at night, then drive back home after knocking out as much as possible. Got myself into trouble with that while working on Tarot (2017) — fell asleep driving and totaled my car. Nowadays I've just gotten good at grabbing some sleep at rest stops.
Is the coronavirus pandemic forcing you to prioritize the pharmacy job over your music at all?
Yes and no — before we were experiencing this I would have a bit more leeway to take care of band needs at work. While we were working on the orchestrations for the new album, Ben Turk (Gloryhammer, he orchestrated the album) would often have ideas and arrangements that would require input from me before we could proceed, so I'd find bits of time where I could to run off into the bathroom or the immunization room to listen to what he'd done and give feedback for a minute or two before returning to work.
I'm glad we aren't trying to work like that currently. With the additional precautions we're taking (masks, regular cleaning, constant hand sanitizing, shutting the main window down and having all patients use the drive through) it would be difficult to try to manage any music related work while at work work.
We’ve never seen a crisis like this in our lifetime. How has your daily job changed since the cases started increasing in the U.S.?
My daily job has changed a lot less than many other folks' jobs I reckon. I get up, drive to work (I've got a little official looking document that states I'm a healthcare worker if I get pulled over and questioned by police about why I'm out). The main difference now is the extra precautions we're taking at work to try to ensure we don't become a disease vector. My coworkers and I are not particularly worried about our own health if we contract it as much as we worry about the health of our patients.
We see a lot of elderly people who are at an increased risk for serious health complications as a result of COVID-19, as well as sick and immunocompromised folks in general. On top of that, there's a general nervousness that permeates the pharmacy — there are far more people we see that are coughing for reasons unrelated to the current pandemic, but when you hear it everyone kinda looks at each other a little bit like, "Huh, is this guy gonna be the one?"
What new precautions must you take, and what struggles are you facing?
We had to fight a bit with corporate to convince them to shut down the main window of pharmacy and go to drive through only, but after about a week and a half we managed to win that fight for our store, so they're watching what we do and rolling it out to their other pharmacies. This allows us to better focus our regular cleaning efforts on a single area, it provides a shield between us and patients (ideally preventing either party from spreading it back and forth).
We're wearing masks, cleaning constantly and when the line is backed up occasionally we have to send someone outside to sort of uhh, “Chik-fil-A style" — take people's prescriptions orders and relay them inside so they're waiting right next to whoever is working the window.
What are pharmacists recommending people take who may be experiencing symptoms of the virus? Are these products selling out fast?
Pharmacists at this time are recommending the exact same protocols that the CDC is recommending. If someone reading this is concerned they might have coronavirus, follow this link for the best, most up to date info on how to proceed.
Most people who have symptoms will be fine, but you want to ensure you don't contribute to the spread.
Many general products are difficult to keep in stock — sanitizer, soap, toilet paper (somewhat inexplicably), masks, gloves, thermometers — we have enough to run the pharmacy where we are, but when we get shipments in they're gone pretty quick. I would plead with anyone that is hoarding any of these supplies to reach out to your peers or local healthcare facilities and see if there is a dire need.
There are always rumors going around about miracle cures. Be wary of these claims — in the USA, we've seen cases of overdose deaths from people trying to protect themselves by taking drugs they have not been advised to take by a doctor. If your cousin's friend's mom who used to work at the Pentagon says you can stave off the disease by running around your house naked three times under a full moon, I would recommend speaking to a medical professional before doing so.
What is the worst thing you’ve seen during the pandemic so far? The most uplifting?
It's a retail job, so we have our fair share of rude customers, but I was disappointed by one unscrupulous doctor who tried to "stock up" on medications that have been rumored to help by writing a prescription completely off label use for their brother, who did not have any symptoms or any reason to believe they were infected. We did not fill it.
The work itself is gratifying most of the time, people are grateful we're still at work, trying to ensure that people maintain access to their needed meds.
Many musicians rely on music as their only source of income. What advice do you have for artists who may be struggling right now over canceled tour dates and lack of sales?
Hang on tight buds. Reach out to your fans, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You can stream or video record yourself playing music, you can write and record music from home — do your best to continue to create. It certainly helps me take my mind off all this.
Is there anything else you’ve noticed or message you wanted to add?
Call or video chat the people you love, it's always a big morale boost to have a nice virtual hangout. If you're out to get supplies, show kindness toward anyone serving you or working to keep your shelves stocked — anyone that's working in public right now is taking a risk to help ensure shit stays running smooth. And if you're looking for some new metal in your life, our new album, Redneck Vikings From Hell, is out May 1 through Napalm Records. Keep your metal hands tiny /m
Aether Realm - "Slave to the Riff"
2020's Most Anticipated Rock + Metal Albums