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Arts & Culture

Adjusting to the office can be hard — especially if your office is the stage

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Masks, social distancing, changed routines - many workplaces have adapted to a new pandemic normal. But what if your office is a rock 'n' roll stage inside of a crowded venue? Reporter Stephanie O'Neill spoke with members of the British band The Fixx, now on its first U.S. tour since the pandemic began.

STEPHANIE O'NEILL, BYLINE: You don't need to be a child of the '80s to recognize this billboard chart topper by the British band The Fixx.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER")

THE FIXX: (Singing) Why don't they do what they say, say what you mean...

O'NEILL: "One Thing Leads To Another," a timeless ode to dishonest politicians, remains among the best-known hits by the band that spent nearly every one of the last 40 years touring the U.S. until, of course, the pandemic. And like the rest of us, these all-original bandmates found themselves stuck at home in a very different world, one that Fixx's keyboardist Rupert Greenall found especially challenging.

RUPERT GREENALL: I went through a very tough period where I couldn't actually play.

O'NEILL: Greenall suspects he had undiagnosed COVID early in the pandemic, his physical and emotional energy sapped for months. Then lockdown further stymied his creativity, he said in September, during a break in the band's first rehearsal since the pandemic.

GREENALL: I was terrified. And it's only come back in recent months. But I'll tell you what, getting in this room with these chaps was like the sun came out. It really did.

JAMIE WEST-ORAM: I think we'll probably felt that way.

O'NEILL: That's lead guitarist Jamie West-Oram. The weeklong rehearsal at a London studio marked the first time the band played together in two years, which he says was both challenging and energizing.

WEST-ORAM: The whole band together standing up for six hours, seven hours playing - it's physical work, actually. I'm finding the fourth or fifth day, I'm going, ah, that's what it's like to play.

O'NEILL: Lead singer Cy Curnin agrees.

CY CURNIN: For me as a singer at home, it's like, you can never reach the kind of volumes that you do when everyone's playing really loud around me. I'm, like, singing at 10 times the volume.

O'NEILL: Touring the U.S. is an important moneymaker for The Fixx. And now, after two pandemic delays in 2020, they're back at it. This current tour is taking them through more than a dozen states, including Texas and Florida, where the governors balk at masks and vaccines. Curnin says while the band and crew are all fully vaccinated, the virus nevertheless remains a concern.

CURNIN: If one person in the touring party comes down with it, we then have to suspend shows. And if that happens, that's like a side missile...

WEST-ORAM: Yeah.

CURNIN: ...And sinks the budget beyond repair.

O'NEILL: Working to prevent that from happening, tour manager Al Judd. At venues that don't require masking or proof of vaccination, there's no backstage green room. Judd says band members instead sequester themselves on the tour bus with no visitors allowed.

AL JUDD: No guests, no family members, no nothing. We're going to keep everybody in a very tight bubble. And, obviously, masks - we'll randomly test people, you know, every few days.

O'NEILL: Keeping the virus at bay also means keeping fans at a distance.

JUDD: Fans will come out to the bars and take pictures and sign autographs and that sort of thing. And we have to shut that down. And a lot of bands that I've spoken with have been, you know, much the same way.

O'NEILL: And for good reason. Positive virus tests among performers are grabbing headlines these days. In recent weeks, members of big-name rock bands Genesis and KISS and the metal band Korn have tested positive, forcing costly show postponements and cancellations. And in early October, The English Beat, scheduled to tour with The Fixx, pulled the plug on its involvement because of the virus. Still, Al Judd says, touring today is a risk many bands are deciding to take.

JUDD: We've been sitting at home for a year and a half. At some point, you just have to take whatever precautions you can and get out and and get back to it, you know? I mean, this is what we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVED BY ZERO")

THE FIXX: (Singing) Saved by zero.

O'NEILL: Assuming they and their crew remain virus-free, The Fixx will perform this hit and many of its others through its final concert on November 20 in Tucson, Ariz. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie O'Neill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.