A tiny thrill, akin to an electrical impulse, shot through his body as he plugged his guitar into the rented Fender amplifier. This feeling, like adrenaline, rushed to fill every pore of his being with the same youthful exuberance that holding the white Stratocaster always supplied. When he held her, it felt good. When he held her, it felt real. All the possibilities of expression were open to Edgar Finn now. They were laid bare before him, ready to come alive at his very will. All that the young guitarist had to do was move his fingers. The subtle hum of the amplifier provided a soothing backdrop to these musings. The knowledge that, at any moment, even the smallest movement would make the equipment come alive filled him with a tense and nervous excitement. This was not the best way to make a living, but this was the life. For Edgar Finn, at least, this sound was heaven. This feeling was euphoric. This instrument was the only thing that had ever loved him and, as such, it was the only thing that he had ever loved.
"Alright," began the Irishman who had joined them in his practise room. "If you lads are going to be gigging to advertise our company then you need to be familiar with the equipment that you'll be using. I just want you guys to play a few songs and make some noise. Just let me know if there's anything that you want changing and I'll adapt. Alright lads, off you go."
Finding his way to the little studio that Paul had described had proven quite a challenge for Jace. Despite having three different public transportation companies running through the city, there didn't seem to be a single bus that came out this far. Even those buses that were known for travelling everywhere under the sun didn't know that this place existed. Instead, Jace had taken the bus that came closest, then walked for forty minutes, stopping only to buy a bottle of vodka along the way. It eased his aching feet to have alcohol sliding down his throat.
The rest of Disbelief were there when he arrived, gathered in the studio with glasses of whisky in hand. It was as though they had all fallen off of the map and the only way to feel better about it was to begin drinking heavily. The introduction to Colt had been brief to the point of impoliteness, and, before he knew it, Jace had found himself being seated behind a truly catastrophic drum kit. Thankfully, Colt's introductory speech had given Jace the opportunity to complain about it.
"How many drums are here?" he asked, without looking over at Colt. He was too busy surveying the vast multitude of toms, snares, pedals and cymbals before him.
"Enough to get the job done," came the proud reply. "We took our lead from a picture of Mike Portnoy's drum kit. You've pretty much got every drum you could need for any situation."
"There are far too many, I'm going to get rid of some," Jace announced. He didn't bother asking for permission. It was either he could change them or Colt could change them, and Jace was fully aware that Colt's attention would be needed elsewhere very shortly. He rose from his seat and moved around to the other side of the kit, the cymbals his first port of call.
Colt opened his mouth, but whether to protest or the offer his help, Jace never discovered. The Irishman's attention was immediately diverted by Paul's hand on his shoulder. "Hey Colt, can you help me out over here?" the bassist inquired. "These amps are all wrong. We need to order them so that we can hear ourselves playing rather than so that anybody else can hear. Besides, Ed and Adam are too close together, when they're both playing the same thing they're not going to be able to hear if one of them's doing it wrong."
The next twenty minutes of studio time was spent making absolutely no music whatsoever. While Jace continued to rip the kit apart piece by piece, Paul, Adam, Ed and Colt shifted speakers, microphones, amplifiers and wires from one part of the room to another. Colt was not a musician, but he did seem to have decent upper body strength, so he followed Paul's directions as and when he was instructed. He actually spent a lot of the time just watching what was happening, with Jace keeping an eye on him at the same time. This Colt person was quite mysterious. Paul had given them no clue as to how they knew each other and, despite owning quite a substantial collection of musical equipment, he was obviously not a musician. Thus far, his real talents had not come to light.
It was at least half an hour before they were actually ready to start playing music. Each of the four members of Disbelief were situated at one side of the room, all facing each other. Paul's bass amplifier was closer to Jace than anybody else so that Jace could take his lead from Paul. Ed and Adam were near each other, but not so close that their sounds muddled into one. Adam had switched amplifier, choosing, instead of the one that Colt had given him, an amplifier built to offer a lot more effects. Ed had decided to stay with the equipment he had started with, though he always used the Fender brand. Perhaps Paul had already informed Colt of this. There were four speakers linked directly to the PA system. These had been placed in the corners of the room so that, when either Paul or Adam spoke into their microphone, the entire room was filled with the sound.
Something that Jace had not expected to see were the small microphones that were situated near the amplifiers, as well as in certain places around his drum kit. As he altered his layout, he moved them with it, ensuring that they would capture the best possible sound that they could, but Jace had not expected to be recorded. He was rather confused, though he simply accepted it as best he could. He would ask Paul as they left what had been happening. Still, Jace felt that he knew the answer already.
"Right," Paul began to the room in general. Colt had already shrunk back behind Paul to sit on a chair behind Paul's laptop. The unused toms, snares and cymbals had all been moved unceremoniously into the corridor outside. They weren't Jace's drums. He had been careful with them, but he had no plans to protect them like they were his own. "So we're just going to play a few Disbelief tracks to see how the new stuff measures up. If we get on well with the equipment then we'll be playing a few gigs with it. It'll have a sticker on the side saying where we got it from and a website or a phone number, maybe. So yeah, we get a couple of decent gigs out of it, as well as headlining a festival if it all comes out well, and we get to play with all of this stuff whenever we play one of them. Sound good?"
There was a general murmur of consent, to which Jace added his own voice. All in all, it did sound like a tremendous deal, with both sides getting quite a lot of benefit from it. Nevertheless, Jace remained suspicious as to how this deal came about. Everything seemed a little too perfect not to have somebody orchestrating it.
"So what does everybody want to play?" Paul inquired, looking from person to person around the room. This was about Disbelief now, anybody else was completely irrelevant, so Jace was the first one to offer up his opinion.
"How about we do Thrillseeking?" he offered to the group. "That one hasn't seen any action in a while, and we haven't done any re-writes for it. It could do with the attention."
Agreement came readily from the rest of the group, so their guitarists set to work preparing their amps for the aggressive sound of one of their foremost originals. Ed led them in, as usual. Using the clean channel of the amplifier to its full potential, he played through the simple progression that led them into the piece. However, when Adam came in, using the harsh overdrive and heavy chorus that the song required, everything quite suddenly sounded very wrong, so they quickly came to a halt.
Turning to Colt with a questioning gaze, Paul asked a simple question: "Where's the pain?"
"Erm...amplifiers don't feel pain," came the somewhat perplexed response. It was quite obvious that it was the last thing Colt had expected to hear coming out of Paul's mouth at that point. Near silently, Jace laughed to himself. This engineer of theirs was in way over his head. He was a little more surprised when he saw Adam doing the exact same thing - laughing at the new kid who didn't know about the pain of an amplifier.
"Correct," Paul said, slowly and bravely. "Amplifiers do not feel pain. A guitarist feels pain though, and sometimes they put that into the sound of their music. Thrillseeking needs to sound as though it's being ripped through hell itself before it gets to the listener's ears. We need to hear pain coming out of that amplifier."
"We need to take out some resistors," Adam said, mostly to himself. "We'll piss about a bit and see what sort of overdrive we end up with. Colt, we need a screwdriver and some spare resistors. It could well just need a little different set up."
"Wait, wait," answered Colt, seeming genuinely scared now. "I haven't ever done that before. Besides, I don't know of any guitarist who does that. Maybe we could just change the amp and see if any others have this pain you guys want."
"Well that seems completely out of the way, I want this one," came Adam's retort. Jace was fully aware of the time and effort that they had put into the amplifiers that Disbelief played with. Nothing was ordinary and nothing was right. All of the time that they had spent and all of the changes that they had made had brought them to a comfort zone that they adored. The drums still weren't set up perfectly, but Jace was confident that, once Colt had felt the mental strains of fixing this issue, he would be ready to receive the extra that Jace had prepared. "Besides," Adam continued, "Ritchie Blackmore sent people absolutely crazy swapping over the resistors in his amplifiers. He's Ed's favourite guitarist, so we know what we're talking about. So where are the screwdrivers?"
Silently, with a look of exasperation upon his face, Colt walked towards the door. Apparently the screwdrivers were in another room. Seeing his chance, Jace raised his voice to make his addition. "Can you grab me a low tom as well? I need a wrong tom."
"A what?" Colt said with a raised eyebrow.
"A wrong tom," Jace replied. "It's a tom that's ever so slightly out of tune. You hit it when you want to draw attention to the drums rather than anything else. It sounds wrong, so people focus on the drums for a minute."
"Does Ritchie Blackmore do that too?" Colt asked in obvious disbelief.
"No," Jace responded, looking Colt squarely in the eyes. "Jace Manning does that."
There was a brief pause and a moment when Colt's eyes showed clear indecision, but it didn't last. He left quickly afterwards, looking distressed and annoyed. After he had left and the door had pulled itself shut, Jace began to laugh. There was no pause there - the rest of Disbelief joined the revelry quickly. Suddenly, all of their choices and mannerisms seemed strange, even to each individual member, but they would never let them go. Disbelief was Disbelief, and it would do as it had always wanted to do.