For many musicians, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that resulted from it were both financially crushing and emotionally devastating. These performers had paid their bills for years by selling concert tickets and T-shirts; to lose that income meant finding new and unusual ways to break even, and often battling the depression and anxiety that comes with no longer having an artistic outlet, much less a job. For some, this meant taking on odd gigs that were necessary evils. But for others — for example, Killswitch Engage and Times of Grace frontman Jesse Leach — these unusual new moneymakers yielded fulfilling results.
“I’ve been doing Cameo, which is really hysterical to me,” Jesse told The Pit while discussing Times of Grace’s 2021 album Songs of Loss and Separation. “Saying ‘Happy birthday’ to people and ‘Happy anniversary’ became a means to get groceries and pay my bills during this whole thing! It’s very humbling, and a lot of the things I took for granted while on the bus and touring nonstop, I see differently now.”
While Cameo, the online service where celebrities are paid to send custom videos to fans, is usually reserved for lighthearted messages like birthdays or the birth of one’s child, Leach found that it could actually be used to make a connection during a dark time in someone’s life. That in turn taught him a thing or two about gratitude by showing him how lucky he is to be able to bring a little joy into the lives of those around him.
“I’ve had some pretty heavy ones – people on their deathbed with terminal cancer, people who have lost three of their loved ones in one week,” said Leach. “I would say the majority of what I’m doing on Cameo is ‘Happy birthday,’ but right next to that, second place, are people in need. And I spend a lot of time thinking about these people. Because when I do these Cameos, I’m not doing a thirty-second video. The shortest I’ve done is a minute and a half, and the longest I’ve done is a six-minute video, and I’m really trying to be present in the situation and talk to people. Having that as part of my daily routine – and at one point, I was doing five or six a day – it really made me sort of a therapist for people, but it turned into therapy for myself, and made me realize how good I have it.
“When you’re talking to somebody with cancer who’s going to die in a couple of months, and they want you to say something to them about life, those are profound moments,” continued the vocalist. “So as much as it’s a job and something I joke about — because I went from singing onstage in front of thousands of people to being the ‘Happy birthday’ guy — it was such a blessing. And in turn, the band lost a ton of money when we got sent home. My royalties aren’t a ton of money. So it helped me get by.
“I’m grateful for that every day, and I’m trying my best to pay it forward with the music that I make and the lyrics that I write and my reach on social media,” he adds. “Trying the best to be a beacon of light in a dark world.”
You can book Jesse Leach for a video tribute via Cameo’s website. Times of Grace’s Songs of Loss and Separation comes out July 16th via Wicked Good Records, and is available for preorder both digitally and in various vinyl formats.
Words by Chris Krovatin