Previous Chapter: “Thinking”
Writing this chapter, I recall, was a lot of fun. I wanted to really try and get throughout this story how it feels to do something you love with people you like.
He was disturbed from this line of thought by the sound of a bass guitar, a muddy, distorted tone heard faintly through the ceiling. While Show was still catatonic on the sofa, the remainder of the band had begun to practice again without him. The music stopped abruptly, and recommenced a few moments later with the bass now higher, more distorted. The same chords. Again, the music stopped after the same riff, and the sound was modified again. A filter had been added, each note dying slowly away into an electronic sound, and the already high notes were further pitch-shifted up. This time, it didn’t stop. The bass solo played on in downward arpeggios until it was joined by the stings of high notes on an electric piano. A woman’s voice, muffled by the intervening walls, began with a softly slow-moving vocal line until moments later the drums marked the start of the song proper, the intro over. At that point it stopped again to the sounds of swearing, and a girl appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Where’s Show? We need him.” She leant far over the banister, bracing her legs against the wall. “We’ve just got the bass sounding right, and we need his guitar.”
“He isn’t feeling well.”
“Show, I know the course of true love never did run straight and all that, but can you please get up off that sofa and play the guitar? I might even stop laughing about breakfast.”
“It’s a hangover, Sara, not lovesickness.” At that, she burst out laughing and skipped back up the stairs as Show eventually stirred. “Ah, you’re awake? The band want you. I think Sara’s going to start a solo career unless you sober up soon.” The mention of Sara’s name twice did a good job of waking the boy up, and he moved as fast as he could towards the stairs, stopping off momentarily to grab a bottle of pale orange fruit cordial from the fridge and pushing the marble in the neck into its recess.
Much of the upstairs space of the studio was given over to the recording suite, which was currently a picture of silent concentration. The girl, Sara, was slouched against the mixing desk, her bass guitar cradled safely in a stand, writing lyrics in a small notepad and chewing on a strand of hair. The drummer was miming his part, practicing the flourishes between sections with his eyes closed. Finally, the keyboard player, barely visible behind a bank of synths and a computer monitor, was busily clicking at sound banks to find the best sound.
“Glad you could make it, Romeo.” The drummer threw his sticks up and caught them one-handed. “Been hiding until we forget this morning?”
“Is this still about that-”
“No. It really isn’t.” Sara stood up. “It’s about these.” She opened the top drawer of the desk and pulled out a notebook. “Now I know why I write the lyrics around here, because to be frank your poetry’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever read. Oh, and I hear you threw up after a couple of beers. Red told me that.”
“Look, let’s just-”
Sara reached behind her to grab a magazine reader, and thumbed the touch pad until a bookmarked page came up. “I need a new pedal for my bass, and you’ve got more money than I have. I could be tempted to forget about these notebooks and not read any more aloud from them if one were to appear in the studio.” Show knew he was indeed in a better position to afford new equipment for his band than any of the others, thanks to a very well-paid part-time job at a music shop. He also knew Sara had him over a barrel, because if she read too far into those books she’d come to the unsent letters he’d addressed to her. That realisation had sobered him up pretty quickly.
“I’ll call in some favours at the shop. Anyone else need anything?” Turn the situation around, that’s what Estate magazine had said. Turn your embarrassment into profit.
Sara smiled at him. “Now you’re awake, shall we practice? You might have heard if you weren’t asleep that I’ve reworked the bass solo in Goodbye Fire, so shall be begin there?” Show picked up his guitar and plugged it into the amp, taking his place. Once again, the high, quivering bass played out, then the long, fading keyboard chords, and finally Sara singing. We danced and we sang like the sun wouldn’t rise but now, but now we see that Good-Bye Fire… At the word Fire, Show joined in alongside the drums and the tune swung forward from its lazy opening, the same piano chords now turned into fast downward sequences, the bass giving way to a more strident guitar sound with a far harsher distortion than the wistful pitch-shifting. Even now, though, it was the piano that led the way, hitting the stresses in the lyrics to complete the melody.
Don’t go, hold on, though the night is gone, let’s pretend we missed the Good-Bye Fire… Sara finished her second verse, and Show was given his chance to shine. Grandiose chords as the lyrics had built gave way to a languid, saccharine solo mimicking the ethereal bass intro, and then the refrain came back for one last time before the big finish.
“I think we nailed it.” The drummer slammed his sticks into their rest, removed his headphones and reached behind him for a thermos flask filled with black coffee. “That sounded pretty bloody brilliant over here.”
“You’re right, Miki. That did sound good.” Sara carefully rested her instrument against the speaker stack’s side, and walked back to the desk to play it back. “I mean, listen to this.” She played the intro back. “Doesn’t that sound better than what we had before? Sorry, Show, but the keyboard on its own didn’t sound right. Lin was right, we needed a guitar, and the bass wins it.”
“Good decision with that piano sound, Lin. It’s different to what we had before isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I detuned it a bit. Added a bit of autotune afterwards, it snaps it back and gives it that weird crystal-y sound, if you get me.” A lot of what Lin said didn’t make a lot of sense unless you were actually listening to what he was playing, but if you did hear it you knew exactly what he meant. The piano in Goodbye Fire did sound crystalline, a fragile, bell-like noise which when dragged out with a long decay was beautifully ethereal.
“So that’s going to be the track we use to promote ourselves, right?” Miki put his flask down and turned to Show. “It’s probably the best track we’ve got, I suppose, but is it the sound you want?”
“Yeah, about that.” Show sat on a clear part of the desk. “Was talking to Harp earlier today and he says our sound’s a bit busy, and I think he’s right. We need to make more of our tracks like Goodbye Fire, more cohesive, a bit tighter. Shall we have another look at Children of the Cosmos?”
“I like that one.” Lin brightened up and turned back to his computer. “And I’ve had an idea for what we can do with that intro spoken-word bit.”
“We should drop it, it doesn’t fit.” Show suddenly sounded decisive. “Or if we keep it we need to seriously rework it, the big epic synths and sound effects just aren’t our style. That’s what Harp meant. Listen to this.” He picked out a tune on his guitar, a simple rising sequence of syncopated pairs of notes that echoed the solo from the track. “Sara, if you add a sort of walking bass to that, let’s try it.”
She obliged, picking a swung rhythm of two short notes bookended by longer ones. “Good. Now, Miki, try the narration.”
When the skies are burdened with the tears of the jilted, the unconsoled and the just plain blue, the sweet clear sound of music answers immediately… It was overblown but hardly supposed to be taken seriously, and with the new, jaunty opening, sounded just right. Show began improvising an instrumental part to segue into the track proper, and Miki readily joined in.
It dived on in sawing guitars and Lin’s stabbing synth chords, mixing jazzy rhythms with futuristic electronic sounds in an exciting, dynamic tune that they were all throwing their all into. The lyrics wound back on themselves in clever plays on the refrain, with no true verses as such save those variations on a driving chorus. Children of the Cosmos, sons and daughters of the sun, lightbringers of the galaxy with the colour of their song. It ended on three repeated intervals played on all instruments and punctuated by distorted percussion, and after the exertion of the set the band’s guitarist collapsed down to lean against the walls and catch their breath. Show was aiming to end up sat next to Sara, and would have done so had she not in the final bars spun round, elegantly avoiding the amp cable, and struck an eyewatering pose in the middle of the room before kicking out of it and laying flat on her back, bass embraced in her arms like a lover.
“I think that works. Maybe. Write that break down, the one from the spoken bit into the tune itself, I really liked that. Sara, you lost your way on the bass a bit at the buildup to that drum solo but I think you recovered well. It’s a difficult tune, especially with those changes we made to it, but it’s definitely a sound.”