The hills are the green-blue they ought to be and it’s my favourite season, Autumn. The drive is beautiful. Greg lives in Christmas Hills, close to the Yarra Glen township. He’s going to be our sound engineer, recommended to us by our manager. The road up to his property is steep and vertiginous, casting a lovely view on the surrounds. His home and studio, two seperate buildings, have a rustic, homely feel, a lot of it built by Greg himself. Greg is tall, mild mannered, and looks like a mix of Daniel Day Lewis and Peter Capaldi. He likes to listen intently, sprinkling his attention with lots of nods and hums as he concurs.
There’s a lot depending on this new EP, titled Teddy Bear. I’m either making the mistake or wise decision of banking big on the whole drumming thing. It’s hard, requires some dumb luck, but I think it’s possible. When we start tracking I have trouble on the first track, ‘Save Yourself’. I’ve practiced these songs to death, both with Olivia and on my own, but I’m rushing the triple kick strokes at 100bpm—not good enough. I manage to calm my giddy right calf after a few takes and get it done. We lose half the day trying to sort out backing tracks and Logic projects so we only have time for one more song, ‘Wake Up’. I do three good takes and I’m finished, the last of them being the best. It’s my favourite song, over seven minutes long and, not to boast but I am rather proud, I designed it’s finally-decided-on structure. At the end of the day Greg shows me some rough EQs and plugins on the drums and they’re sounding good already.
I drive up with Liv a day later for the next three tracks. ‘Broken’ doesn’t give me much trouble, neither does ‘Distance’, all of them done in a few takes with a couple of small parts redone for clarity. We swap out my Spaun 14×6.5″ steel snare for a Ludwig Black Beauty for the last track, ‘Where I’d Rather Be’ (I prefer it’s original name along with all its warm and friendly associations, ‘Beach House’). At a lower tuning it has a fatter sound that fits the vibe. With Liv working on the guitars and synth at home and with drums finished, vocals are next.
We’re playing our next show on July 1st as a kind of retrospective launch for our First EP. We have to admit, ‘Finally’ still sounds good to our ears and to lesser extent ‘Flare’ too (I still love the long outro in ‘Funky’, but the rest of the song feels a little careless). That said, we’re over it. Anyone in attendance will hear the earlier material but also the new stuff, still being mixed as I write. I like the idea of Liv not even mentioning that a song about to be played will appear on the next EP, that she might only say ‘this is new’ before we step off and into the water that the music often feels like.
Liv knocks the vocals out in one day, despite the big room we recorded in being too cold that day for comfort. Greg takes some footage of Liv singing. He did the same for me when I tracked the drums. We might put something together one day, using this footage and much more. I like the idea of many different clips playing in small cuts, all mixed up: Liv and I playing, hanging out, laughing, our friends, the sky, the woods, the clouds, night lights, parties. Moments and times, glimpses and flashes, of where you’d rather be.
I’m in my 25th year and I haven’t much to show for myself. Thus the hopes pinned to this endeavour—will I finally be proud of something? I guess the odds are that I’ll feel as I do now when our investments and strains are met with a vacuum—deflated and blue. I keep thinking that I’m the only sane one around, that for anyone else to think that anything less than all of my energy and time being dedicated to the thing I love is childish or ill-wrought are those merely despondent and forlorn in their own long-ago-abandoned ideal; that anyone closer who doubts me can only see time enough to only flirt with the ideal. Where are my fellow martyrs to the cause? Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps I am too keen. I suppose the odds are that I’ll be one more leaf floating down the draft without anything much happening at all along the way. What are the odds? Where is my Numbers Man? Punch in the data, give me an answer and I’ll act accordingly—wouldn’t I?
I sometimes wonder if drums on their own can produce narrative. If, on their own, they can deliver real emotional cues in some order. I think it’s possible. Drums are what you first hear when the Fellowship realises Pippin’s mistake, signalling the coming forth of some grisly menace from the depths. Drums are what you first hear in Whiplash, twisting and snapping in a solitary space—loneliness. There is something in particular rhythms, along with their architecture—their tones, echoes, pitches— that denote emotion, perhaps because it echoes the natural rhythms of our world. I can think of the first there ever has been—your heart: Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump; da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. There’s more. The sound in your step as you descend the stair, the rumbling of engines on the highway. And does not the feel of jazz resemble the flutter of speech, the feel of ambient deep thinking? Are there not rhythms that feel like actual thoughts, following the same internal highs and lows, crescendos, accents. The crash of the cymbals sounds like waves breaking and bass drum is always the heart.
I think it’s possible. I’d like to try.
I’m obsessed with greatness—what it takes, what it is, who it is. If it is anything, it must be pure and utter devotion. There is time only for that one thing, that one pursuit or craft that you’ve chosen, or whatever has seemingly chosen you. It must also be terrible. Nature calls to the senses scenes so huge, so overwhelming and awe-inspiring that it is, and cannot otherwise be without, terror. The twisting storms, the fire, the tallest mountains, the smashing of stars, the distance between worlds, the majesty of the sky. Likewise, greatness.
I hope this doesn’t appear as a measure of conceit. I am only interested, I like thinking about it. Know that I hold my own life in small regard. I’ve done nothing so far. I am, on the kit and elsewhere, painfully average. My Numbers Man: you cannot escape the laws of means and averages, not easily.
Teddy Bear is in the mixing stage right now—a lot of back and forth, lots of waiting. Meanwhile we’re preparing for a show on July 1st. I’ve been worrying intensely about there being just the two of us: are there too many layers in the backing tracks? Will we look like a real band? Will it sound any good? My worries are settled by our manager, who can only use other peoples’ comments as measurement. We sound good, apparently. And it’s not the 90’s anymore, not nearly so many people look down on using backing track material in a live setting. Besides, the drums are on stage, he says. It looks good, sounds dynamic. And at this stage in the band’s life—in our fledgling nature—it’s passable.
It’s with all this in the back of my mind that I operate, doing ordinary things, trying crawl into some corner of progress. Time rolls on and everyone I know is moving forward in some way. Jobs, property, money. I feel often like a child, thinking idly about music, greatness, looking at the clouds from behind the car window, only I’m driving now.
In truth, I feel as if I don’t know what I’m doing, that I don’t know anything at all.
Something changes in the air once Summer passes and Autumn falls. There’s a cool clarity in the way the sun shines through ambers and reds, the pale clouds. Something seems to change enough for my mind to wander about, floating through thoughts and ideas. Dreams. Falling through my hands. Watery.
I wish to take take more walks under pines and oaks. I take kindly to the cool afternoons and cold evenings.