On a cold morning in late February of last year, the singer-songwriter Tensas is driving out to Victor for a photo shoot. In the backseat, his 11-year-old daughter clutches a plague doctor mask, the kind worn by physicians while treating infected patients back in the 17th century.
“We’d ordered the plague mask from Amazon for like $10,” recalls the musician, “back when there was some word of a virus somewhere in the world, but not in the U.S.”
All that had changed by the time the family was heading up to the small mining town where Tensas’ wife — who’s taken many of her husband’s publicity photos — had come up with the idea for a photo shoot on an old steam train.
“My wife had this other girl who was going to wear the mask in the photos,” says Tensas, “but she backed out. So my daughter said, ‘I’ll wear it!’ My daughter was born on Halloween, so she’s all into the fun, creepy stuff.”
It was on the way to the shoot that Tensas’ daughter told her dad that he should write a song about the virus, and on the train that she said he should call it “The Sickness.”
The musician sat down that night to write what would become the title track of his EP, with its opening lines “Just let me be, to walk around / Walk around, without a sound / Foolish sinners, they chase me down / All them demons, they fly around / Oh sickness, don’t hold me down / Sickness, don’t take me now.”
Weeks later, the family would return to the mining town to shoot the song’s video, in which Tensas gets off the train and walks, guitar in hand, to the cemetery, the plague doctor trailing him the whole way.
For Tensas, it may have been easier to write about the sickness than to talk about it. “I got a kid who’s 11, and I had to explain to her what’s about to happen,” he says. “She asked me to write a song about it, so I did.”