The recording room, on the other side of a two-way mirror from the studio, was a dark and cluttered place. Paul had spent many hours here with Colt, doing all he could to help organise the mass of equipment that currently claimed the vast majority of the room. The unknown machinery, coupled with the remaining empty boxes and random pieces of polystyrene, only served to remind him of his times in Matthew Cooper's recording rooms. It was almost impossible to navigate as the only lights, other than those that shone through the window from the studio, were small table lamps that were illuminating the more sensitive equipment. Colt was sitting, alone but for his glass of whisky, maintaining the volumes at the mixing deck before the window. Paul hastened through the cramped little room to sit beside him.
Through the window were Adam, Jace and Ed: the rest of Disbelief. Adam, upon Paul's encouragement, had taken up both the bass guitar and the louder microphone. Ed, his nimble fingers working hard, was leading them through a simple rendition of Dream Theater's 'Constant Motion'. Their playing was fast, smooth and practised.
Sitting beside Colt, Paul had a rare opportunity to see Disbelief in action. When the band had first been formed, he had examined the style and technique of each member closely to see how well they would fit within the band itself. Now, watching from the outside, he could see the improvements that each one had made. Adam's confidence, under the tutelage of the other members, had skyrocketed as his talents had begun to earn him their gratitude. The reputation that came with it also served to enhance his typically low self-esteem. His will to improvise, previously nonexistent, had increased, while his ability to sing while playing had blossomed from virtually nothing.
Jace had already been both experienced and capable when they had formed Disbelief together. Though not much had changed in terms of technique, his style had altered itself radically recently. As a drummer, he had always been part of the background - constantly changing and adapting to best fit the talents of the band he was with. Disbelief, though no exception, had always tried to give Jace a platform from which he could showcase his own abilities. Thus far, the style of their drummer had shown a worthwhile development. Then again, Jace had always worked well with anything that Paul did. Adaptation was a gift of Jace's.
The exception, as per usual, was Ed. He was yet to show anything that could even remotely be construed as a weakness, not had he unveiled something that Paul could claim required improvement. Even now, the tips of his fingers dancing across his fretboard, Ed's skills were without parallel. Even Paul's brother Ronnie had not been able to show the same raw ability that Ed displayed whenever a guitar was in his hands. For a moment, Paul wondered how he would match up against the rest of his band.
"I expected more from you guys," Colt announced, bringing Paul out of his reverie. Obviously, he felt that he could talk openly now that the rest of the band were in another room - unable to hear them. "Adam's already gone through four different amplifiers before he settled on the Marshall. Jace ripped apart the drum kit I spent ages putting together and Ed's even worse. I've tried to make an effort, but every time I try to talk to him he's completely ignored me. He just gives me that damned smile."
For a moment, the urge to laugh strained against Paul's conscience. Thankfully, he managed to keep his laughter contained. "Ed doesn't talk to anybody," he explained as calmly as he could manage. "I probably should have told you that. Most people have never even heard him say a single word. He doesn't mean any harm by it, it's just Ed. For the rest of us; we're just doing what you told us to. If we're going to be using this equipment then we need to make sure we can get what we want out of it. If you want us to advertise your company then it's no good if we don't sound like us, is it?"
"I suppose so," Colt responded. He seemed more than a little defeated by the last hour or so. "It'll save me time and effort transporting all of those drums at least. They were really expensive, you know? By the look of it they won't even be used."
"Surely there's going to be more than just us?" Paul asked, quite surprised by the possibility. The shake of Colt's head answered the question.
"Matty wouldn't let me contact anybody currently signed under Fire Brand," Colt continued. "Besides, anybody who isn't signed doesn't really provide much advertising does it? At least the Taylor name is a proven good one, we could get something extra from it, or at least draw in some extra attention."
"And we're back to my brother again," said Paul. He paused to sigh, looking over the activities of his band mates. "So you just grabbed Disbelief because of my brother really? We're not signed, so we won't be advertising too much, you realise that right? It's not going to be as simple as a step-by-step build up of your company. Besides, we need to look more closely into how exactly we're going to be doing this. I don't want to be contractually obligated to stand in front of people who have paid to hear us play and tell them about the wonderful new gear offers you guys are presenting. None of us want to do that, so none of us are going to do that."
"You won't be, you won't be," Colt stammered, cutting Paul off. "I know there's going to be a lot to it, but we haven't had that much time to really think it through. We're just starting out here, give us a break. It's not like we can just pick up any band that wanders by. I didn't just want you guys because of your brother. Look at these guys," he directed Paul's attention, through a wave of his hand, to the three men currently in the studio, working hard. "When's the last time you saw this sort of dedication? It's even better when you're in there. I really didn't expect it. Even when one of you goes off for a piss the other three find something musical to work on. There's never a moment when you're not working towards something, even if it's just shared improvement. It's rare. Most of your usual unsigned bands, especially around your campus, spend all of their practice sessions drinking beer and playing video games."
"Well you don't have any beer, that's why we've all got whisky in there," Paul put in light-heartedly. "We've all gotten a little bored of games really, but if you want we can break out a game of Rock Band or something. After all of the time we've spent playing real instruments we're bound to be decent with plastic ones, surely."
"That's not what I meant," Colt replied, though he smiled nonetheless. "Maybe this is why nobody seems to be happy with me around. You're not used to it are you?"
"Not even a little bit," said Paul. "There's never been anybody sharing our practice room before. Not even Veronica or Ally. Speaking of which, Adam's a bit out of shape, so it's best if you don't mention any of the stuff we were talking about. They can't hear me right now, right?"
"They can't hear shit from here," came the response. "I'll keep my mouth shut. We needed something to talk about, you obviously needed to talk to somebody about it anyway. I'm glad if I could help."
"I didn't really expect much help anyway, there's only so much that you can say if you have no idea who either of them are," though this reply seemed somewhat childish, Paul thought it quite satisfactory, so he left it there. Regardless of this, Colt stayed on the subject.
"Actually," he began nervously, "Matty introduced me to this Ally girl you've been talking about two days ago. If it's the same person that is. Short hair, slim build, wears coloured lenses?"
"Can't be," Paul answered easily. "Ally has long hair, she has had for years. Dark, with a bit of purple in it."
"No, no purple, and it was definitely short," said a confused Colt. He shrugged to himself, took another drink from the glass that he had left three quarters full atop his mixing deck, then continued. "Well there's more than one person in the world called Ally anyway. What's it short for?"
"She's an Alice," Paul told him, her image clear in his mind. Some part of his mind found it quite likely that this could be the same person, but the other side rejected the idea fiercely. He had always loved her long hair, as had she. Surely she wouldn't cut it for any reason in the world. Colt had offered him other methods by which to identify her, but he hadn't truly heard anything after the mention of her hair. His mind had latched onto that as a reason that it couldn't be Ally and that was that. "Alice Rebecca Steadman. She hates her name though, so it's best not to even mention it around her, even if it is to make sure."
"I didn't have time, she was just leaving," Colt continued. "That's if it is the same person, which we're quite sure it isn't."
"Quite sure," Paul said quickly, determined that he was correct. "I've known her a long time, and she knows that I know Cooper. If she was going to go there she'd have let me know at least. I've known her for years. We grew up together. Jace has known her for a while too, but mostly through me. They get on well.
Despite his own wishes, his mind was entering a thoughtful patch. It was busily considering all of the different reasons that Ally could possibly have for going to see Matthew Cooper without him. She knew that he had worked with Cooper, so surely she would have let him know. He had long ago promised to look after her wherever she went. When she went somewhere new she would habitually take him with her. It was strange. Then again, they still hadn't talked to each other since he had failed to sleep with her once again.
"Jace is a weird one too isn't he?" Cooper queried, completely oblivious to the thoughts that were currently spiralling through Paul's mind, and rightly so. "Very confrontational too. He creeps me out a bit and not in a scary way. It's like he could be planning your murder and you wouldn't even know about it."
"No," Paul answered casually - glad of the distraction. "Ed's the one you want to watch out for there. People seem to think he would just randomly kill you. It's because you never really know what he's thinking. Plus, you know, everybody thinks that it's the quiet ones that will eventually get them." He turned to face Colt and laughed almost instantly at the expression that had come over the Irishman's face. Evidently, Colt had harboured those same thoughts that Paul had just been discussing. "I'm kidding man. Ed's fine. So's Jace, he's just on edge a little, that's all. Why do you think he turned up with a bottle of vodka. He hasn't been drinking much has he? It's a new place, it's new equipment and it's new company; he wants to be alert and ready as much as possible in case something goes wrong. Besides, you're new and the two of us get along well. Maybe he's worried that he might lose his best man position."
"You can't be serious?" Colt asked in complete bewilderment.
"Well, no, I'm not really," Paul confessed. "Jace is one of those irreplaceable ones who you'll never give up on no matter what because they never give up on you. He was in another band when we started Disbelief, and he dropped everything to be my drummer. The band he quit are signed now. I won't tell you who with, you wouldn't believe me, but it's not local. It's big. I feel like I've cheated him out of it really."
"Well, you shouldn't," responded Colt. They both paused for a moment, looking over the rest of the band as, instead of wondering where Paul might have wandered off to, they began to play 'New Born' by Muse. "Don't worry so much about things. We have a show coming up, don't we?"
"I have another show coming up first actually," Paul announced with a sense and tone of regret. "Cooper roped me into performing as an act opener so that I could scout the headliner. Ally's supposed to be coming as my date, but I haven't really talked to her about it anytime recently."
"You should have told me," Cooper said quickly. "I can get some gear ready for you. When is it?"
"No need," Paul told him. "We'd rather play our own gear one last time, if that's alright. It's a goodbye more than anything really. And, you know, if somebody's watching from Cooper's end we don't want to announce that the two of us are going to be working together do we? Especially when we've put together a recording studio and everything for you. He might consider it competition."
"Well, it is, isn't it?" asked Colt with a smirk.
"Yeah, but we won't tell him that just yet, nor the rest of the guys in case it falls through," replied Paul with an answering smile. "But still, if Matthew Cooper doesn't want to sign Disbelief then f--k Fire Brand Records. With this deal and a few festivals, we'll do it ourselves."