On Tuesday morning Jay gets up early. It's been a week since he went with Rich and Tyson to Lady Endorphin's house to record a track, and although they still haven't gone back to finish it, Jay has another priority for the day. He dresses and goes to the kitchen where he turns on the coffee maker. As it begins to percolate, he puts on his shoes and jacket and walks a few blocks to a nearby gas station, buys a copy of the Millenburgh Star-Journal, and heads straight back home.
When Jay walks in the door, he finds Danny in the kitchen pouring himself a cup of the freshly-made coffee. "Morning,
says to his older brother. "Where'd you go so early?
"To get a paper," Jay says. He pours himself a cup and sits down at the table, opening the paper to the classified section. "Don't you have to leave for school?" he asks.
"The bus comes in twenty minutes," Danny says, slumping into a chair. "I'm burned out. I was up half the night on the phone with Benny. By the way, she still wants to know when you're getting her that song. Is it finished, or what?"
"No," Jay says, scanning his eyes up and down the newspaper columns. "I couldn't get Peter and Steve to come out this weekend. Steve says he's too busy with school projects and Peter says he's too busy with work. I think these guys are starting to lose their shit."
Danny winces as he sips the black coffee. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know. It's hard to explain. Even though we're working to put this benefit together, it's like those guys are starting to forget they're in a band. I think it's because they don't have their own gear right now. It’s hard to feel like you're in a band when you don’t have an instrument, you know? At least I've got that Sears piece of shit to jam on with you every night. Those guys have to use someone else's gear once a week. That's no way to stay focused."
"Hey," continues Jay, "Are you and this Benny chick going out, or what?"
"I'm not sure," Danny says. "She talks about her ex-boyfriend an awful lot. I'm still figuring it out."
"Do you want to go out with her?"
"Yeah, I guess," Danny says. "She's pretty cool. And she's cute."
"Yeah, she's cute," Jay smiles. "She's got that cutesy-sexy nerd-punk thing going on. You know, with the pink streaks in her hair and the thrift store clothes. Nice little body on her. Anyway, I was just wondering because Kathy was asking about you this weekend."
"Kathy? Where did you see her?"
"She and Julie went with Tyson and me to put up posters for the show. She asked how you're doing, that's all. I still get the feeling she likes you, but I don’t know if she actually wants to go out with you or anything. She might. You never know with chicks."
"Yeah, tell me about it." Danny looks at the clock on the stove. "Okay, I'm out. Have fun reading the paper."
"I'm trying to find us an apartment."
"Well, good luck. No shit-holes, okay?"
"Yeah, thanks for the advice."
Danny leaves and Jay sits at the table looking over the paper, still thinking about how to get Peter and Steve to go record their parts of 'What You Call Living.' Tonight is the Tuesday night grind, their weekly practice session, and both guys had committed to showing up at Julie's to rehearse. Maybe they could cancel the practice and record instead...
No, he didn't want to do that, because this would likely be their only chance all week to play, and they would have to play everything in their set to keep fresh for the show. They would have to find time to record later in the week.
Shit, he thinks. This is no way to get anything done. He focuses on the paper and scans through the apartment listings. Two bedrooms, unfurnished, $900 a month. $925 a month. $940. Shit. That sounds like a lot.
Okay, new tactic. One bedroom. Danny could have the room and Jay could use the living room, right? Maybe they could trade every two months or something. One bedroom, $650. $695. $705.
Jay sips his coffee. When he and Danny had said they were staying in Millenburgh and would find an apartment together, their parents had committed five hundred dollars a month to pay for Danny's share of the rent and groceries. As for Jay, the message was clear: time to cut the bullshit and get a job. The five hundred was looking smaller and smaller.
After some more time looking over the apartments, Jay flips the page to the "help wanted" listings and starts looking for potential job. He had already printed off his resume and dropped a few of them off around town, but so far he hadn't had any replies. All the jobs sounded shitty: line cook, hotel cleaner, dishwasher, etcetera. Unless you had a specialized trade, you could only find work cleaning up after other people. Or making their lunch. Whoops, nope. The line cook ad specifies that experience is necessary. How much experience do you need to fry an egg?
Fucking shitty economy.
He reads up and down the columns again and again, circles a few ads in ballpoint pen, and eventually closes the paper. He wishes he had a cigarette, but the money in his bank account is almost gone, so he hadn't bought a new pack in a few days. Instead, he heads downstairs and picks up his guitar.
After playing guitar for an hour, Jay returns to the paper and makes phone calls to a few places advertising for part-time staff. Nothing seems terribly encouraging, and after reading over the apartments for rent again, he settles on the couch and quickly falls asleep. The ringing telephone wakes him.
"Hello, Jay? It's Casey."
"Oh, hey," he says, rubbing his eyes.
"I was wondering if you guys were coming back to finish the song."
"Um, I'm not sure. I'm going to meet the band tonight. Hopefully I can get them to agree on a time."
"Okay. So listen, I had my band over on the weekend and we were fooling around a bit. I had my drummer put down a track over the stuff you and Tyler did. I put some keyboards down for a bass and made a rough mix, if you want to hear it."
"His name is Tyson. Wow, um, I'm not sure what the other guys will think of that. I don't think they'd like it too much."
"Okay," she says, "but you guys started advertising the benefit show, right?"
"Yeah, we put posters up all over town on Saturday. Downtown, on the campus, the record stores, skate shops, everywhere we could think of."
"And you have your MySpace address on the poster, right? You need to put at least one song on your page. People aren’t going to take you seriously unless there's something there. Maybe you should just listen to what I did with this track. We can always replace it with another version after your guys come in and play."
He agrees to go to her house, and after confirming the address, he heads out to the bus stop, locking the door behind him as he leaves.
It takes Jay an hour on public transit to get to the little house in Millenburgh's far west end. He doesn't bother taking his guitar, assuming that he'll have lots of time to head home and have dinner before going to Julie's for practice with the rest of Hellakill. After all, Casey barely speaks, and will probably just want him to take a CD of the song and leave. He'll probably be in and out in ten minutes.
When he rings the bell, he experiences the same long wait that he, Rich, and Tyson did the week before. Thankfully, Casey answers the door without Jay having to go looking for a payphone. She lets him in out the cold, inviting him into the equipment-crowded living room. Just like before, her eyes are shielded behind reflective aviator sunglasses.
He sits on the Marshall amp while she sits down at the computer and brings up the audio file. "This isn't the best work I've done," she warns him. "Don't be afraid to tell me what you think."
She clicks the mouse and through the stereo speakers Jay hears a barreling rapid-fire drum roll leading into the distortion-heavy drive of his rhythm guitar. After a few seconds comes a spiraling run on the clean lead guitar, followed by the central lead riff. Tyson begins to sing, his voice clean and strong. The bottom end is filled out by a rumbling bass sound provided by the keyboards. The mix is tight, fast, and much heavier than Jay expected, like The Rolling Stones being covered by Anthrax.
Of course, the drumming is completely different than the way Peter plays the song, and Steve's bass is absent. Is it still Hellakill? It's Tyson singing, and it's definitely Jay playing the guitars. An outsider might not be able to tell the difference. But Peter and Steve will.
Jay listens as they come to the solo. Casey took the different versions he'd played and mixed them together, overlapping them into an insane guitar duel of Jay against Jay. The effect is very, very cool, and he wonders if he could listen to it a few times and learn how to play it that way live.
Casey is emotionless when the song comes to an end. Jay is almost giddy, excited by how powerful the recording sounds. Hellakill had never been properly recorded. All they'd done was some garbage with a borrowed four-track, and a few different live recordings full of hissing and crowd noise. But this sounds indistinguishable from a professional recording, and what's more, it captures the heaviness that he always wanted from the band.
The only problem is that half the band will hate it because it isn't them playing.
"So?" Casey asks in an emotionless voice. "What do you think?"
Jay sees her cigarette pack on the desk. "Could I have one of your cigarettes?" he asks. She tosses him one and lights it. He takes a drag and smiles. "I fucking love it," he says, blowing out the smoke. "Let's hear it again."
She plays it back for him a few more times and explains how and why she made some of the decisions she made during the mixing. They talk, discussing different bands and their studio sounds, while Jay listens to the track over and over again.
At last the song comes to an end and Jay does not click the mouse to start it again. There is a pause in their conversation, and the moment grows awkward. Jay looks toward the door at the far end of the room.
"Can I ask you something?" he says.
She gives a small shrug. "Sure."
"What's down in the basement?"
She finally smiles and looks over the top of the aviator shades with brown eyes. "What do you think is down there?" she asks.
"I don't know," he says. "You kept going down there last time. We started to wonder."
"Guess," she says. "Maybe a BDSM dungeon? Or a meth lab?"
"I don't know," he laughs.
"Do you want to see?" She gets up and leads him to the door. She opens the door and flicks on a light, leading him down the steps. The basement is mostly unfinished. The walls are covered in plain drywall, although there are several old music posters tacked up: Kill'em All, Women in Uniform, Pretty Vacant, Wish, A Drug Against War. Ill-fitting pieces of old shag carpet cover the cement floor. There is a battered couch, and a big television with two different game consoles on the floor in front of it. There is a coffee table heaped with game discs, a bong, and other trash.
The television is on, and a video game is paused on the screen. Casey flops down on the couch and picks up a game controller. "Mystery solved?" she asks, offering the second controller to Jay.
"More or less," he says, taking the controller and sitting down next to her.
2008 © Nolan Whyte