I spent last Friday night behind the drum kit and worked on the same section of a song for close to three hours. I was trying to lay it down in the hardwire of my brain, trying to heap cement among the steel. This new song is full of instrumental detail and I’m finicky. My manager (and boss) can hear me on the other side of the wall. He stresses that I get the dynamics right so we can really elicit feeling in an audience. I get all of my practice done at the rehearsal studio these days. The drum room at home is in a state of raw plaster, saw dust, glue, timber and screws. So whilst progress on a soundproofed, room-within-a-room drum room is steady, it is also slow, and I stay late after work on the kit and go over each track.
We recorded our First EP around a year ago. It has a compressed sound and relatively average song structures—we were never that happy with it. It’s finish was delayed unreasonably so and once it was, we were, as writers and players, done with it. It was the first effort, the first meek and mild step into the studio and it was, as first-time adventures go, average. It’s an awkward sounding thing.
I’ve taken to practicing with the lights off with only a lamp illuminating the chrome steel and brass. I have a favourite ambient track I like to play through the PA whilst I warm up and methodically work through my exercises. It’s something without much beat. It has to be consistent, strong in tones but subtle too. For practice is, to me these days, a kind of meditation. That’s what the darkness is about—isolation. Me and drums, the drums and me. My latin grooves are slowly improving, the triple push-pull strokes are gathering speed, my linear and quintuplet patterns are sneaking their way into any freestyle moments that come to me. I’ve read somewhere that drummers are apparently more in tune ‘naturally’ with rhythm, that they can tap into the innate rhythm of the environment and themselves. It sounds empirically dubious but my intuition tells me otherwise—I can feel it, like blood in the veins and light in my eyes.
It is tiresome, going over the same section, the same movement again and again. I get nerves on stage (based on my limited experience) so I want to know every bar, every stroke so that it’s one long muscle memory, so that I don’t have to think, panic stricken, about every section, so that I don’t feel that pukey feeling, so that my hands and neck don’t sweat cold.
We’re hoping to have all the tracking done by the end of April and to have a finished product soon after. We can’t wait. We adore these songs, much more so than we ever did those on the first EP. We feel confident, but who knows? Maybe it’s all shit. Maybe we’ve looked in the mirror long enough and said it enough times for it to be so: ‘This will be great! This will be great!’ We rebound off each other a lot, echoing the sentiment. But we disagree at times, we discuss. We flesh out songs, we deliberate (shall we turn a 2:30 intro into a 7:19 monster track? Yes, of course). This is what gives me some hope—work, difficulties, progress. And I often think how much of a dream it really is to me, as I stand bare foot on the grass in the backyard, how surreal the thought is, to imagine a moment, maybe on a stage somewhere in some distant country, when you might think ‘this is it.’ How much like a dream it would be then to think back to now—ordinary things. How this wishful thinking isn’t setting me up for trouble, I don’t know…
When I take a break and sit in the empty foyer, in a cavernous space with with two vending machines for company, I can sometimes hear the building breathe, groaning and shifting, as if to ask, what are you still doing here? I look around the place, its green walls and exposed brick, the red doors and white floor; I look at the trolleys, the bins, the old stacks and amps, drumkits and sticks; I look into my cheap instant coffee and think, is this the dawn before the day, the way the light looks before it gives it all some shape? Maybe. You’ve got to believe, says my manager. If you don’t believe, if you don’t think something is doable, that you’re not capable, then you will fail. But if you do, if you really think it’s possible, you might just succeed.
I walk back to my drumkit waiting in the shadows, poised for me.
This is work.