Sticks And Strings. Part 3

A surprise audition for the guitarist position looks rather promising...but as the guys find out, appearances can often be deceiving.

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We were stunned. There were already so few girls in town who dug the whole rock and metal scene and a tinier fraction still that showed any musical aspirations, I knew right away this was going to be our most interesting audition yet. The minute she stepped into the garage, I knew something was different about her than most metal chicks; a term admittedly reeking of sexism if there ever was one, though not often causing much friction, apart from the occasional dirty look. Kayla Morton forewent the stereotypical black eyeliner and lipstick along with those clich knee-high leather boots familiar with most other girls and walked with an air of confidence, clutching her case like she'd been to a hundred auditions before and this was nothing new. Considering all prior applicantssave for Jasoneither shook like leaves while playing or failed to make any connection with us, her demeanor was a welcome change.

"Wow, a girl?"

I winced hearing the words tumble from Jason's mouth with about as much grace as an axe murder. Hardly the best first impression one could make. Kayla didn't seem to take offense, if anything she looked amused. "What? You think a girl can't rock out just as hard as a guy can?" she said. "I bet I could out-headbang you any day."

"Whoa hey now, I didn't say that." Jason put his hands out in front of him as though trying to physically push her accusation away. His face went straight and white. He looked almost terrified at the prospect of having offended her.

"Take it easy cowboy. I'm just playing with you." Jason looked sheepishly away, focusing on his row of tuning keys. This only made her laugh. Then her eyes met mine and she pointed right at me. "Nice one," she said. I assumed she meant the Slayer shirt I was wearing and not my old beat-up guitar. A small flash of silver popped out from behind her thin pink lips when she spoke. I was too far away to clearly make out the object, catching only the tiny shine before her lips pressed together again.

"Thanks," I said. "One of the best albums I've ever heard," referring to Reign in Blood.

"Hell yeah," she nodded and set her case down on the top step, her free hand undoing the buttons on her jacket. It fell away from her, revealing a familiar blood-dripping eagle crested t-shirt with cut-off sleeves that looked a size too big for her. "So what do you guys play?" she asked, kneeling by her case, flicking one of the latches up with a long finger. "You thrash based? Or are you into heavier stuff, like Venom or Death?"

Wow. This girl knew her stuff. I was impressed. "We don't have an official style per se," I explained. "We're still working on discovering that part of our identity, though we aren't so confined by the boundaries of genres." Kayla flashed the horns, keeping them close to her chest as I said that. She must have agreed with that philosophy. "I don't think there's a style of metal Adam or I haven't heard yet. Jason knows mostly blues and jazz inspired stuff. Why don't we play a little and see what comes together?"

"Right on, now we're talking," she said, taking a cherry-red guitar from the case, sliding the strap over her shoulder and brining the lid back down with her foot. "Is there an amp I can piggyback off of? Would've brought my own but I couldn't lug it from my rents place to here."

"Oh. That could be a problem. We've only my amp right here." I tried to think. Jason spoke up with an idea. "Well hold on Richard, you've wanted to try your hand at vocals again, yeah?"

"Uh-huh." "Well why don't we do that then? Let her use your amp and we can let you lay down some vocals?"

Everyone seemed receptive to the idea, though one thing troubled me about it. "We haven't any microphone. How are you guys going to hear me over your instruments?"

"Scream louder," Kayla said in a flat, well, duh' tone, like her solution was the bloody obvious. I laughed at this, though I'd no idea why, she didn't look like she was trying to be funny. I conceded she might have a point, and said I'd try my best. We decided to start things off with another Sepultura cover, Arise, after playing it once over on the ghetto blaster. Now an outside observer might pause to wonder why a green band auditioning for a guitarist would pick such a complex song. Well truth be told, we didn't. Kayla did. The minute she spied my copy lying on the table, it was a done deal. Watching Kayla tear through the power chords and hammer-ons, you'd almost be tempted to think the song was too easy for her. She did slip a couple times trying to nail the solo, but nobody seemed to care. The sheer enthusiasm alone was enough to impress me.

Laying down vocals without a microphone was a lot trickier than I anticipated; trying to out-scream a tandem of electric guitar and bass backed by a crashing drum set is not an easy task. Halfway through the second verse I could feel the back of my throat tingling as though I'd gotten a mouthful of pop rocks stuck in my larynx. The more we pressed on through the bridge; I began to see dark spots creep in from the corners of my eyes, slowly blacking out my vision like an eclipse, which panicked me. This had never happened whenever I'd tried vocals on my own. I quickly gave up trying to overpower their sound and dropped to a volume I was comfortable with. My vision returned to normal soon after we wrapped the song up. I fetched two bottles of water from the old fridge, downing both in record time.

When I turned back, I saw Adam's eyes rising up behind the two crash cymbals overshadowing his toms and focusing on me two little green laser points, but he didn't say anything. Nobody else paid any attention, which I was silently thankful for.

After finishing the cover, we tried our hand at the melody we'd been working onand making numerous changes toover the last few weeks. We played it for Kayla to show what we had so far while she listened, with me borrowing her guitar to play the main riffs. Once we finished, Adam asked what she thought of it. Her answerone none of us could have predicted was blunt. "That doesn't work."

It took all of us by surprise, though Adam seemed more dumbstruck than anyone.

"What do you mean it doesn't work? We've been trying to make it work for weeks." He sounded like he thought she was kidding.

"No offense dude, but trying ain't working. It sounds unbalanced," she said, putting to rest any lingering doubts of her seriousness.

"Well how so?"

I couldn't blame a normally calm and collected Adam for going on the defensive, this riff was like one of our children and here was this stranger telling us it was defective. Kayla must have sensed the uneasiness the rest of us were feeling, and she took a softer approach. "All I'm saying is that you've got two different sounds, the bass and the axe, battling for dominance. Nothing wrong with your beats, they're solid work." Adam seemed to lighten up hearing this; his perfectionist ego was spared a bruising. Jason however, didn't look as convinced.

"What do you mean, different sounds?'" asked Jason, fiddling with his bass's overdrive knob, twisting it back and forth like a combination lock.

"I'm not sure," she said. "Something's not working though. Can you guys play it again? Here Rich," she said, handing me her guitar again. My nerves rattled at the utterance of Rich; unlike the rose, I did not go by any other name than Richardoccasionally my full legal name was used, though often only by an irate fatherbut I knew better and let it go. Now wasn't the time to get too hung up on names. We played the melody once more and when we were done, Kayla looked at us like "a-ha!"

"Now I see where I'm hearing it. One of you's in different tuning, it's splitting the octave." She jerked her head towards Jason. "What tuning you in?"

I noticed Jason looking rather irked with the way Kayla motioned at him, being nodded at as if he were an inanimate object instead of a human. Instead of answering her, he plucked each of his four strings from lowest to highest, letting the note resonate for a few seconds. "A, D, G, C."

"Okay, now it makes sense," Kayla said. "I'm playing standard; it's creating two different harmonies."

"I really don't hear anything bad with that," Jason said. "Richard's played standard too and it's always worked for us."

"Yeah," I chimed in, hoping to find some middle ground. "I mean, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?"

"Well, if it ain't broke, yeah. But..."

"But nothing," Jason said. "We like this riff, it's got potential. We don't need to "fix" anything."

"I'm just saying..." Kayla muttered, rolling her eyes. Jason caught this and got angrier. Tipping his hat back, he put his hands on his hips, letting the bass hang from his shoulders.

"There's 'just saying' and then there's being insensitive. Making suggestions or offering feedback is one thing, dismissing it entirely out of hand is quite another, right Richard?"

At once, all eyes in the room turned to focus on me, a move that left me more than a little unnerved, it felt like I was an ant being watched under a magnifying glass. One wrong word and I was sure to be set ablaze. The question was who would be the one holding the glass? I looked at Adam as if to say "Help! What do I do?" He could only shrug his shoulders at me. Sorry buddy, you're on your own this time.

Thoughts raced across my mind like cars on the Daytona speedway. Time seemed to grind to a halt while scrambling to put any half-decent sentence together. "Well," I said when I finally found my tongue, "we did write these riffs, so of course we're going to be protective of it." I looked around at everyone. Three pairs of emotionless, unblinking eyes remained fixed on me, anticipating my next word.

Back out of it while you're still alive, whispered the little voice inside my head. You're going to make somebody mad regardless of what you say, better just shut up. Play another song instead.

No. I refuse to take the coward's way out, I thought. Out loud, I said, "However, we're so used to playing it over and over that it's possible we've become accustomed to any errorsif there are any errorspresent. It might be in our interest to hear her out. I mean, it's not like Sabbath got the riffs to Paranoid perfect in one try, right?"

Kayla smiled to herself. Part of me couldn't blame her, she'd just been validated, that would give anyone's confidenceor egoa real shot in the arm. Adam also looked pleased, flashing me a quick thumbs up, keeping it hidden in the small gap between cymbal and drum so only I could see it. Jason was the only one who didn't seem to agree with my reasoning, the anger in his eyes was evident despite his poker face. "Fine," he said with a hint of bitterness. He took hold of his bass again, repositioning the strap across his shoulders. "Let's play."

Jason didn't say another word to anyone for the rest of the afternoon, letting out just a few surly grunts and nods. He refused to look me in the eye and when Kayla suggested he try switching to standard tuning, just to see how it would work with the rest of the rhythm, he did so without a simple acknowledgement of her. In all fairness I had to admit it sound a little better from a technical standpoint, though deep down I still liked the off-beat groove that Jason's tuning added.

We played for another twenty minutes or so before Jason announced he had to cut the session short, saying something about a dentist appointment before packing up his gear and driving off, stopping long enough to thank Kayla for coming by and slap Adam a high-five but leave me hanging. At this point, even a dunce would have picked up that he was angry with me. I couldn't understand it, not like I told him his tuning sucked, why'd he have to take it so personally? The three of us decided to wrap up and head for our respective homes, Jason's abrupt departure was the pin prick in our balloon of excitement. Kayla and I left Adam's garage, taking separate paths home with no solid decision on whether or not she would not be considered for the position, just an awkward "we'll see you later." Instead of rushing along Clark Road, still buzzing with post-practice energy, the weight of the guitar felt heavier on my back, and the road back to the Demin homestead seemed longer.

***

I was alone in my room later that night, lounging on my bed, lost among my Walkman and countless collection of cassettes with a notebook spread across my lap, exposing a page covered in messy scribbles of lyrics and random doodlesnot that I was feeling artistically inspiredwhen there came a heavy knocking at my door.

"Richard?" a heavy voice boomed through the thin wood. "I know you're in there, I can hear that crap from behind the door, no sense pretending." I slipped the headphones down around my neck and hit the pause button, silently wondering what trouble I was in now. "Come in," I said, closing the notebook and turning the cover towards my lap, hiding the profane-laden cover. I was grateful that my dad at least possessed the courtesy to knock before barging in, unlike my brothers and sister. The door swung open, striking the rubber doorstep halfway. It made a scraping sound, bringing the door to a sudden stop. My dad sidestepped through the narrow gap and approached my bed with an air of having something important to say. Of course, Captain Bob' often thought everything he had to say was important, and I'd seen the same walk for eighteen years, so I didn't put much stock into it.

"What are you doing in here, boy?"

I bit my tongue to avoid saying "Nothing, Master," choosing the lesser offensive, "Just hanging."

"Hmm, hanging' eh? Is that what you kids call it these days?" He shook his head, typical of a man who considered any form of music produced after the 1960s as "garbage," a man who also disapproved of guys with long hair who screamed like they were being held over an open fire; well just about everything to do with me and my quote-unquote "lifestyle."

"It is. Did you want something?" I asked, not particularly glad he was in my room, my one sanctuary from the hectic, often-fighting dysfunction the rest of my house was when there were more than two people home.

"There's somebody on the phone for you," my dad said, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb, "someone by the name of Adam?" He sounded surprised that somebody might actually want to call me, since in his eyes I was the son who didn't have enough friends.

"Oh. Okay, thanks." I set the Walkman on my pillow and got to my feet.

"Who is he?"

"He's a friend of mine."

"A friend?"

"Yes, Dad, a friend; he's the drummer I told you about."

"Oh...that one." He didn't sound too impressed, which was no shock to me.

"Yeah, that one." We left my room and headed down the hall. I stopped by the hall table where the closest phone was kept while Dad passed by, presumably returning to the big leather recliner parked in front of the T.V. I picked up the receiver and held it to my ear. "Hey Adam, what's up?"

"Hey Richard, I got Jason on the line too."

"Oh. Hey, Jason."

"Hey there, Richard," Jason said. He sounded tired.

"So what's the word, guys?"

"Well, Jason and I have been talking," Adam said. "It's about our audition with Kayla this afternoon." Adam's notable lack of enthusiasm was not comforting.

"Oh? What are you guys thinking? She was pretty good, yeah? The best we've had so far."

"There's no denying her talent," Adam said. "But uh...well..."

"But what?"

"We don't want her in the band," Jason broke in. "She's not Systex material."

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