From Elton John to Taylor Swift: artists who recorded albums in isolation

These creatives used their time off stage to capture the mood of this extraordinary time through music

From left: Elton John, of The Black Eyed Peas and Taylor Swift have all created new music while isolating during the pandemic. EPA; AFP
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Just when we thought Elton John was winding up his six-decade career with a final world tour, he is back with a new album. The celebrated British singer-songwriter said his next release will be timely in terms of its context and collaborators.

Out on October 22, The Lockdown Sessions features bevy of guest artists including Dua Lipa, Stevie Wonder, Lil Nas X and Nicki Minaj.

True to its title, the songs were either recorded remotely or with social distancing measures in place.

“Some of the recording sessions had to be done remotely, via Zoom, which I’d obviously never done before. Some of the sessions were recorded under very stringent safety regulations: working with another artist, but separated by glass screens,” said John.

“But all the tracks I worked on were really interesting and diverse, stuff that was completely different to anything I’m known for, stuff that took me out of my comfort zone into completely new territory.”

John is not the only pop star who made creative use of his time off the road, the pandemic has gifted us a number of inspiring albums that channel the intimacy and uncertainty of the period.

Let’s take a look at five other artists who recorded albums in isolation:

1. ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ by Taylor Swift (2020)

The pandemic was no match for the pop star’s restless muse.

Swift used time away from the stage to release two albums perfectly capturing the dislocation and emotional inertia caused by an extended stay indoors.

Teaming up with co-producer Aaron Dessner, who produced the album remotely, the first release Folklore in July 2020 is a rustic folk collection of narrative-driven songs influenced by family fables and parables.

The follow up Evermore, released months later in December, continues in the same vein sonically and sees Swift taking on a more playful lyrical tone on songs such as Coney Island, which has elements of the waltz.

Folklore won the Album of the Year at this year’s Grammy Awards.

2. ‘How I'm Feeling Now’ by Charli XCX (2020)

The English electro-pop singer took her fans deep into her creative process with this fourth album. In April, 2020 she hopped on an open Zoom call with fans to announce she will begin work on the new album while at home in isolation.

"The nature of this album is going to be very indicative of the times just because I'm only going to be able to use the tools I have at my fingertips to create all music, artwork, videos everything," she said.

The album was recorded in a space of six weeks with Charli XCX keeping abreast of her process over zoom calls where she shared ideas, song demos and proposed artworks.

The collaborative approach worked wonders with the adventurous and futuristic sounding How I'm Feeling Now receiving some of the best reviews of her career.

3. ‘Translation’ by Black Eyed Peas (2021)

The mammoth outdoor concert by Black Eyed Peas at Egypt's Giza pyramids next month should feel extra special considering they recorded the new album Translation in an unusual manner.

"I’ve been able to socially distance at the studio with Apl [] and Will []," said member Taboo in an interview with website Wonderland.

“During the pandemic when it all went down, fortunately Will was in the studio, making sure that everything sonically went together, and transitioned from one song to another. He stayed focused on the project while everybody had to be isolated, and the studio was his home.

“It was a labour of love and time and effort to put together this whole project.”

Despite the disparate nature of the recording, Translation turned out to be another selection of club-ready bangers led by the reggaeton-inspired hit Feel the Beat, featuring Latin pop sensation Maluma.

4. ‘Pressure Machine’ by The Killers (2021)

The seclusion that comes with home quarantine inspired this new album by The Killers.

In this latest collection, the band eschews their bombastic synth pop sounds for a rootsy Americana approach that was influenced by singer-songwriter Brendan Flowers reminiscing about his childhood growing up in a small town in the American south-west

“I was in a town and felt isolated, like I did in lockdown. I started thinking about the people who were misfits and outliers in that town," he told The Sun newspaper.

“Having lived a moral life with more experience, I now have a renewed understanding of those characters I would’ve painted with a mean brush or been quick to judge.

“I have more empathy for them now so I went back into my memory and tried to work them out through songs.”

That approach also worked for the band, with Pressure Machine achieving rave reviews.

5. ‘Flowers for Vases’ by Hayley Williams (2021)

Home isolation would have felt especially galling for Williams, considering she is used to singing her lungs out in packed stadiums as part of rockers Paramore.

However, she managed to channel all that pent-up energy in her solo album Flowers for Vases.

Self-produced, it’s a stark collection of brooding and wistful songs that finds Williams working through some complicated memories in Over those Hills and the search for true love in Trigger.

Updated: September 03, 2021, 6:16 AM