We'd made our minds up to take the recording job as seriously as possible. After all, we were making a significant investment, and not just in cash. We'd agreed to play seven gigs at Jake's Restaurant in exchange for the manager of the bar, Keith, fronting us the money to record. We didn't want to give away seven gigs and have a poor effort to show for it.
I don't know why, but going out there I assumed the place would be a real dump, and I wasn't too far off. Radio City Recordings was housed in a re-purposed auto shop. The building had been renovated and divided up into studios, but still maintained an unfinished veneer, as though they'd stopped renovating the moment it looked like you could record music inside. There was no attempt to make the space attractive or stylish. The lobby room where we met Giles, our sound engineer, was empty. It's walls were covered in bare drywall. The only furnishing or decoration was a calender, and a variety of tacked-up posters advertising different pieces of musical equipment.
Nick, Conrad, Jed, Ryan and I hauled the instruments to room B. The place was divided into two separate recording studios. Ours was ugly. There was a small booth divided from the main room by a pane of plexiglass, with a soundboard and a computer. We moved through the booth into the recording room.
It was a gloomy, windowless room. The lighting was adequate, but the walls were brick and concrete draped with chunks of old carpet for sound-dampening. There was a worn-out couch on one wall and a few old chairs. At one end of the room, however, was a monstrous pair of amplifier cabinets.
"Are we going to plug in through those?" Ryan asked as we lugged the stuff to the end of the room. "That would be amazing. Do you have any idea how loud we could be? I've always wondered what we'd sound like with huge, proper equipment. Like, stadium gear. Could you imagine us just absolutely going off with huge stadium speakers. That would be amazing. I wouldn't even care if anyone was there to listen. I would do it just to hear the sound."
"I have a feeling you'll be deaf one day," Jed said as he dug patch cords out of his backpack.
I focused on setting up my gear. I wanted to tie myself up with an activity so I wouldn't start talking. I didn't want to let on to the guys how excited and nervous I was.
Although I'd enjoyed all the goofy things we'd done as a band, like playing live at the student film festival, the basement party, the first show with The Pop Rocks, all those shows at Jake's, even the two song performance Ryan and I did in the hallway at the university...they were all fun when they happened, in an anxiously excited way. I'd appreciated them at the time. They were fun experiences, but they were gone.
This, actually recording some songs in a proper studio, would stay. It wouldn't be gone as soon as we were done playing. It would be the permanent record of what we achieved as a group, and perhaps the longest lasting memento of what had been, unquestionably, an important turning point in my life.
In fact, when we were planning to record, looking for a place, and even when we were driving out to Walsh River to come to the studio, I'd been quietly fantasizing about a stirring speech I would give to the guys, saying how the money we were spending didn't matter, because one day, and it might be sooner or it might be later, but one day this would all be gone. We might all be in different places and some of us might not even play music anymore, but all of us would have THIS (and I would hold up a blank CD) to remember this moment in your life. You would always be able to say, "Listen to this, this is what my band sounded like." THIS, I would say, again holding the blank CD, will last forever.
I imagined that if a film was made about our experiences together, that stirring speech of mine would be a major turning point in the narrative. Too bad I didn't get a chance to actually use the speech in real life. The guys were all more than happy to come.
But beyond all that, the recording also served a practical purpose. We needed the recording to act as a demo for an event promoter, so we could play The Market on the Garrison Valley University campus, opening for The Pop Rocks a second time. And down the road we could use the demo to secure other gigs. It lent legitimacy to the whole affair. After all, I wasn't working, or in school. The only thing I was really doing was playing in a band.
Giles came in. He was a paunchy guy with sleepy eyes and scruffy hair. "You guys decided what you're going to record?"
"Yeah, we've got a list," said Nick. "Four songs. We should be able to do a song an hour, right?"
Giles shrugged. "That will depend on you guys. If the songs aren't too complicated and you guys are able to nail everything in a couple takes, then yeah, we might be able to do four songs."
"Right," Ryan said. "Don't make any mistakes, anyone. We don't have time for mistakes."
I felt glad that we'd decided to keep the whole night alcohol and drug free. We might be able to bullshit ourselves into believing that a bunch of beer might help to fight off nerves, or help us loosen up to perform and act like wild-men in front of a big group of people, but there was no way we could justify drinking here. We needed to play our best.
"Okay," I said as I finished tuning my bass. "What should we do first?"
"Let's do yours," Ryan said. "We're tight on it, so we should be able to do it quickly and move on."
I took the comment as a slight, although Ryan had made it come out like a compliment, that we were so good at the song I wrote. What he also meant was that I'd written a simple song.
I waited while Conrad and Jed got the drums all set up. We'd decided on a simple four song set list, and without really discussing the fact that we were doing it, we included one song written by each of Jed, Ryan and me. The fourth song was a cover.
We were all aware of our different song-writing techniques. My songs tended to be very structured: intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus, and that type of thing. They were good songs and they were fun to play, but they weren't very ground-breaking.
Ryan's songs tended to be more riff-oriented. They were usually longer, more repetitive, but also less predictable. Our co-written songs shared the best of both worlds. Jed's songs were groovier. Conrad? Conrad hadn't really participated in the song writing process at that point.
We had chosen "Revolution Baby," for my song, and we took two takes to get a track of the full band playing it. Neither take was perfect, but the second one was good enough to use as a track to follow while recording the individual parts.
Conrad went first, and listening to our all-band track on headphones, he battered his way through the song, supplementing his simple boom-tat rhythm with some quick fills. It took him three tries to get a solid track. The rest of us sat on the ratty couch with its broken springs, watching and silently judging him.
Conrad sat behind the kit, mopping sweat from his face, while Giles sat in the booth listening to the playback. "That wasn't perfect either," Ryan said, leaning to whisper softly. "It could take forever for all of us to get perfect takes."
"It's just a demo," Nick said, also leaning in so Conrad wouldn't hear. "It doesn't have to be perfect. Just good."
Jed went next with the keyboards, then my bass, and then Ryan's guitar. We each needed a couple takes to get things right. By the time we were ready to record my vocals, we'd been working on "Revolution Baby" for almost two hours.
"No 'Rebel Rebel,' I guess, huh?" Conrad said. We'd chosen the old Bowie song as our cover, but there was no way we'd get to it now.
We took a couple of takes of me singing, and each one sounded worse than the last to me. I felt tone deaf, as though I had no idea what notes to sing without playing along on the bass. I mucked through a few times. Ryan said the fourth take was good, but I had the feeling he was just getting impatient.
Next we moved on to Jed's song, called "Easy Targets." We played it, then kept the same procedure: drums, keys, bass, guitar, and then Jed screaming into a mike with the distortion channel turned on.
And then, with about forty minutes of studio time left, we got to work on Ryan's newest song. It was one we hadn't been playing for long, but it was a cool song, and we'd worked hard getting it into shape to record. It was called "Taking The Long Way Around," and I thought it was a great song. It was full of old cliches about doing things the hard way. Musically it was something pretty good that Ryan had come up with, and the lyrics were clever. Although I didn't spend a lot of time kissing his ass, I thought Ryan had written a good song.
But when the time came to record it, we just couldn't pull the trigger. Maybe we were getting nervous because time was getting short, but it took us six tries to get a half-decent recording off the floor. From there we were so short of time we just let Ryan put a guitar track over it, and then do a take on vocals.
"That one should still be okay," Giles said. "I'll see what I can do with it in the mix."
"When do we get the mix?" I asked.
"I'll probably need a few days," he said. "We're booked pretty hard. I'll need some time. I'll give you a call on Tuesday"
It was nearly four in the morning when new had the van loaded. We were all cranky and worn out, but there was a feeling of accomplishment, too. We were quiet during the ride back in to town.
At five in the morning I tip-toed downstairs, entered the bedroom, and after slipping off my clothes, I slipped into bed with Lise.
"Mmph," she groaned as the bed shifted. "How didit go?"
"Great," I said in a deep, sleepy voice. "We did three songs. I think they'll turn out pretty well."
She rolled over and gave me a kiss on the lips. "I'm glad for you," she said. "I know how much you've been looking forward to this."
"Yeah. I'm completely exhausted. Do you mind if I go to sleep? Or did you want to talk?"
"No, let's go back to sleep." We snuggled into the blankets and got warm and comfortable. I felt her hands on me, and I responded. I was ready to drop right off, but I couldn't resist her, and in the dark we found each other.
2010, Nolan Whyte