I got up early (well, studio early) that day—a real achievement for me back then, akin to running a marathon in a suit of armor—made my bed, a theoretically civilising act which was a sure sign that something was wrong, dressed poorly, then wandered, as soundlessly as a heavy-hearted man can, out of the dorm room and into the living area.
Nobody was about (“afoot,” I would have said, if I had been thinking those thoughts at the time of the Suez crisis) so I walked over to the billiards table, idly tapped the cue ball around its finely maintained cushions (no pockets man, what a swizz billiards is) then took my spectacularly preoccupied arse over to the fine selection of VHS tapes that bracketed the television set, most of which I’d seen and was trying my absolute best to forget.
Final day of recording. As if. Nothing was recorded, at least, nothing worth the fucking name. It was a disaster and, frankly, I needed to tell somebody. I needed to make a call.
Maybe I can just send an email? My internal monologue there, in italics for the reader’s ease of reference. The two things contain exactly the same information, right? Sure thing, buddy. An email, as any fool knows, is also the coward’s way out, something an italicised past and typing-like-a-normal-person present both take to be fact, and cowards (like libertarians) are little use to anyone unless a village square needs to be cleared of mines. Nah. I need to call, I thought, and damn right I needed to call, to make things clear (if not quite right). Sighing—and hey, who doesn’t love a good fucking sigh, even in the midst of the most personally affecting of crises—I shuffled on past the dorm rooms, careful not to wake any semi-musicians, and took the stairs down to the studio.
Do it. Delay only ever makes things worse, as any serial giver of bad news can attest to. Have you ever sacked somebody? My advice: Do it quick, allowing no interruption, then run home and cry to yourself for an hour or two (or until the lasagne is ready). I sat myself down on the (I’m assuming) leather-effect sofa, picked up the studio phone—a landline, which is something you should probably ask your grandparents about—and dialled the number (which I can still recall to this day but won’t share for several reasons, the main one being data-protection protocols).
Ring Ring. Y’know, the usual telephone sounds (and it turns out that italics aren’t exclusively reserved for my internal monologue, so there’s that). Ring Ring. Nothing. No-one. Fuck. I got the answerphone, hung up quickly—this wasn’t an answerphone gig, no fucking way. I checked the clock (never been a watch-wearer, don’t trust ‘em), 11 AM. A quick and relatively painless act of addition told me that this meant it was 5 PM in Britain and well within classic office hours, even in the music industry, but hey, sometimes people just don’t answer their telephones. I could send a text. Yeah, right, an even more disembodied email, that would fuck the cake directly in the eye-socket¹. I’d have to wait, get through the day first, then make the call later. It was the only way, after all—my time machine was in the shop.
Matt, who played drums in the sense that he was the one who sometimes sat behind the drum kit, was down first in his tracksuit, eating something that smelled of lint. He smiled, but not with his eyes. He looked at me, still holding onto the phone, the success of the transatlantic phone call limited by the vagaries of time and distance.
“You still smoking?” he said, either observant or passive-aggressive, because I was in fact smoking.
“I suppose I am.” Because of you, I might have said, but didn’t, because Matt wouldn’t have cared, and also because it wasn’t entirely true.
“Hmmmm.” Matt coughed in that way people do. “It’s a bad habit.”
Absofuckly. “No mate, menthol cigarettes are a bad habit.” This was funny—to me at least—because the last time we’d been here, to this wonderful studio in Chicago, Matt had promised to hit me back for all the cigarettes he’d bummed over the years, and promptly bought 10 packs of Menthol Marlboro Lights in duty free².
The control room was still empty. Like most places in Electrical Audio, it smelled of coffee and young men who hero-worship The Jesus Lizard. We sat there for a moment in silence, getting on better than we had for several months.
“Do you need me today?” asked Matt, eventually. He was a handsome man when he wasn’t thinking about it, which meant that he was rarely handsome.
“Er, drumming things?”
Matt considered this for a moment, nodded, then left the room. I would not see him again until the following morning.
Time passed, as I’m assured it does. I stared at the telephone and wished that it would pass faster.
Jon, who played bass and, when not playing bass, maintained a pretty exacting schedule of cataloguing his film collection, was down an hour or so later, quickly followed by Steve, the engineer.
“Any songs today?” asked Jon, a question you’d think was a bit fucking presumptuous unless you were currently sat in a recording studio in Chicago, a situation we’d spent our entire lives until that point trying to bring about.
I shrugged, which was something I was getting a lot of practice at. “Well, I spoke to Matt earlier…”
“I just saw him,” said Steve, in the same way that he might report a sighting of Bigfoot. “I think he was going to bed.”
“Makes sense.” I nodded, resisted another shrug. “It is nearly 11 o’clock in the morning, after all.” We sat around for a bit, in my case thinking about death. “You could do some vocals,” said Jon, but that sounded like a bad idea, because the drums had been played so half-heartedly that even Coldplay would have launched an internal investigation³.
Then everyone went and had lunch.
Ring the fuck Ring. Lunch had turned into post-lunch, rolling (no pun intended) into a wall of cigarette smoke and good-natured conversations about politics and comedy, all undercut with the essential sadness of men (of people) who are getting nothing done. Matt slept on upstairs, presumably, or did some more sit-ups, whatever got him through the afternoon. At some stage guitars were played, but so sadly that they may as well have been strummed by field mice. Ring Ring Ring. I found myself alone in the studio once again, imagining the monitors had faces, that the tape machine was an air-conditioning unit. Ring and indeed fucking Ring. Where was everyone else? It hardly mattered. They could be out buttering goats for all I cared (as long as, y’know, both the goats and the butter were consenting). I read a book on medieval warfare because I’m a spod like that. A cat cat’d by. I petted it. I looked up. It was 4 AM Chicago time 10 in London town, city of frowns and delays, and on the fourth ring the phone was not so much answered as snatched up, pulled from its cradle like a winning lottery ticket.
“Hey,” said an excited voice, who fully believed it had good reason to be exactly that. Let’s call the holder of the voice Jason, because that was (and I suspect, still is) his name. “How is…”
“We don’t have an album,” I said, as plainly as all that, getting it out there as quickly and clearly as I could without screaming. The words hurt coming out—they almost burned my throat, which was a melodramatic thought, sure, but true nonetheless.
There was a stirring in the background, the scraping of a chair against a hard floor. “You don’t have an album, then.” It sounded like a death sentence. “What happened?”
“You don’t want to know.”
A pause. “Oh, I do, we do, I assure you. This has cost us ten grand so far.”
Ten thousand dollars, or ten thousand pounds? Shit, there’s no real difference between two fuck-loads of money when you’ve got nothing to compare either to. “Okay,” I said, and pulled myself together, or at least imagined what together might sound like. “It didn’t work, that’s all.”
“It didn’t work.” At times like this—like that—it doesn’t necessarily help when people simply repeat what you’ve just said right back at you. Still, Jason had more than basic repetition to call on, which, as an employee of the record company who had financed this doomed enterprise, was his right. He had one more word. “Why?”
I began by telling him the story—as an example—of the working day, if those seven or eight hours spent sitting around and staring into the abyss could ever be called that. “Oh,” he said, on several occasions, which worked as both punctuation and an honest expression of despair. When I finished he sighed for a whole minute—at one stage, when the lower frequencies kicked in, it was almost indistinguishable from a yawn. “But last time…”
As previously hinted at, we’d been there/here only two years before and in eight short days (which got longer towards the end, as we rushed to finish then mix the eight million songs I always insist on recording) had the time of our lives. Yeah, last time, and the record company had botched the release of that record so badly that it had sold zero copies in the US in the first month (“missed the distribution deadline” was the only explanation I was ever offered, which stunk even at the time) but even that, beyond a certain point, failed to matter when all I wanted to do—all I had ever wanted —was to feel like I was in the best band in the world, an ambition which may well sound as dumb-as-shit if it hasn’t ever been yours. Last time I had slept, properly and securely, for the first time since I was a kid, blacking out the second my head hit the pillow, pissed, stoned, sober, it didn’t matter. I was alive, doing what I was supposed to do (or at least what I’d convinced myself I was supposed to do) and freed, if only temporarily, from the mind-numbing data entry of my day job. At the age of 21 I’d vowed I wouldn’t travel until I toured and had not taken one day of holiday in the intervening six years which wasn’t for the band. (Sick days were reserved for recording, usually, I just went into work when I was actually sick.)
I had given everything to it, to this, and now, well, now I was making a call which started, once I’d come to terms with the fucking time difference, with the words “We don’t have an album,” Matt having not so much fucked up the process as tuned out of it altogether. We had four songs, if we were lucky, and we weren’t, so in fact we had none. “We don’t have an album.” Code, yeah? A stand-in for “we’re fucked.” An intro to “it’s over.” I mean, what kind of band doesn’t have an album? A shit one. A former one. A band, certainly, that nobody would be spending ten thousand of anything on.
“So what do we do now?” I can’t remember who asked the question, but I do recall that neither of us answered it.
Does the story have a happy ending? Depends. If you hate our/my music then no, because we soldiered on, album-less, straight onto a nightmarish East Coast US tour (that would be far too libelous and difficult to write about) then back home to the UK and around the houses with my favorite you’ve-never-fucking-heard-of-them band, Jarcrew, who didn’t sound anything like their name would suggest⁴. Then I sacked Matt (no names have been changed to protect the innocent) at which stage he nodded then offered to help us find his replacement.
I said “naaaaaaaaaahhhhh,” and meant every single letter.
We re-recorded (or rather, recorded) the album that Christmas, six months later, with our new drummer, Jack, in tow. I’m glad to say that despite that band—mclusky, if the name is important to the story—ending pretty soon afterwards that Jack and I are still making music together, and he never goes to bed at 11 AM unless it’s really fucking funny.
The takeaway? We all need one of those, I suppose, otherwise this is just an overwritten list of things which happened to a prick. Mine, aside from the realisation that someone’s burgeoning mental illness does not necessarily prevent them from being an arsehole, is that art⁵ is forever and can survive all of the distractions—all of the destructions—that life chooses to throw at it, even when those distractions involve more money than I make in a year, still, despite the deeply sexy way I can take a nap at will. Fucking life man, what a wank-priest⁶.
“We don’t have an album.” I still think about that call, oh, I don’t know, every single time I wait for someone to answer the telephone, fat ear pressed cold and tight against the receiver. Yessiree Bob, and it remains the worst day of my life which didn’t involve death, the prospect of death, or Newcastle United.
¹ He would stand by this image, even today.
² All right-thinking people will consider this a human rights violation.
³ A cheap shot, sure enough, but please but see ¹.
⁴ The singer of Jarcrew would join our next, similarly ill-fated but fun-as-fuck band.
⁵ Or whatever rock music is considered to be these days.
⁶ Some people hate this format of the swears, I know—this example is included specifically to enrage them.