by Gabe Durham
Two of the lesser members of BackSpace (Vincent Rain, bass and Donald Shutt, 2nd guitar) were laying down backing vocals on “See You Again,” the single from their forthcoming Hope to See You Again. The vocal part was a crescendo of “ba-Ba-BAAAAA” and it took place on the second, third and fourth choruses. Earlier, producer Zip Darren had patiently explained to the band that while backing vocals sound “very nice to listeners’ ears when the listeners put the disc on in an effort to have a wonderful time,” the vocals would have a punchier dramatic effect if, instead of being applied every chorus, they were omitted from the first chorus. That way, “The listener is all, ‘Here comes that chorus again, that chorus I love,’ and then they’re all, ‘Whoa! This chorus is even better!’”
Zip Darren had impressed BackSpace. “That’s why he’s the producer,” said drummer and lesser member of BackSpace Ty Rudd.
“That’s why he’s God,” said lead singer Jonathan Persons, the visionary, the rock.
Thanks to studio magic, the band only needed one good take of the backing vocals and they would apply that good take to all three of the choruses. They had been at it for two hours and Donald Shutt had ruined every take thus far. “Why can’t Jonathan just sing it?” he said after every three takes. Jonathan pushed a button that allowed him to speak to Donald in the studio.
“I can’t very well do it when we’re on tour, can I?” No one answered. The question seemed rhetorical, but Jonathan was waiting for an answer. “Can I?”
“No,” Donald said. “No, you can’t.”
A short, skinny man with a thick curly brown beard and very short haircut opened the studio door. He wore black jeans and a gray blazer over a black t-shirt. He turned his back to everyone in the room, lost in thought. He removed a digital voice recorder from his pocket and spoke softly into it, “Sound of a crocodile grabbing a monkey out of a tree. Loop it.” He turned and faced the band.
Zip Darren stood. “This is Richard Devonshire, the British producer.”
“Bullocks,” Richard said, proving his heritage and credibility. He shook Joanthan’s hand. “Lead man. I like your stuff. I listened to it to wean myself off Prozac.” He waved to the non-lead singers. Vincent and Donald removed their headphones and joined the party.
Jonathan Persons, “What’s he produced?”
Zip Darren said, “Remember that Sonic Meltdown album I played in my truck one time?”
Jonathan Persons, “The one that made me shivery and uncomfortable?”
Richard Devonshire, “It’s been described as ‘Roger Daltry bonks Radiohead inside an old Word War II bunker.’”
Zip Darren, “He also produced Franny and the Bathroom Wall Erasers.”
Richard Devonshire, “NME called it the mutant lovechild of Bob Dylan and Animal Collective shoved—against its will—into blender and set on puree.”
Zip Darren, “And of course, you’d know Robot Island’s first album.”
Donald Shutt, “Population: No Survivors?”
Jonathan Persons, “That album, to me, is like the Koran. If that album told me to blow myself up in a crowded mall, I would do it. That’s how good that album is.”
Richard Devonshire, “Of course, on the exterior, that album is commercial drivel. You know, Paul McCartney has a sexual tryst with Journey on top of a rainbow one afternoon, but on the interior, the album is very dark. At critical moments, I’d add a second bass line that is half a step above the pitch of the first but otherwise spot on. Or I’d leave in a backing vocal where the guitar player sings the wrong words. Or I’d add some wild instrument nobody has ever used before, like a sitar. So that the little details corrupt the album, and slowly you realize that Paul McCartney and Journey aren’t sucking each other off on a rainbow but in a gas station men’s room, complete with feces, mold and disillusionment.”
Vincent Rain, “Did a reviewer say that, or are you saying that?”
Richard Devonshire, “I’m saying that.”
Zip Darren cleared his throat. “I brought Rich here today to help make the album a little more daring. This is in response to the reviews of the last album. What did that one reviewer call it? The Pitchfork guy?”
Richard Devonshire “Third Eye Blind holds an orgy with Vertical Horizon and allows Scott Stapp to watch.”
Donald Shutt, “Is that a good review?”
Richard Devonshire, “It’s a very bad review.”
Donald Shutt, “Dude. Reviewers are pervs. They just review so they can describe musicians boning.”
Jonathan Persons, “They didn’t understand what we were trying to do.”
Richard Devonshire then asked to hear a cut of the new single. Zip Darren played the track loud. The band got really into, nodding their heads, singing along.
Zip Darren smiled and tapped his foot. This was a good song. The bridge was soaring. He really had to fight with Jonathan to get him to write a bridge. Jonathan had had a tough time coming up with chord progressions as it was, and he didn’t see the point in writing a chord progression that he would only play through one time. But the way it flowed into the final two choruses was smooth, like two musicians having sex with each other. Zip Darren wasn’t sure which musicians or in what exotic location.
Richard Devonshire sat very still. “What’s it called?”
“See You Again,” Jonathan Persons told him.
“Who is that on the BGV’s?” Richard Devonshire said.
“That’s Donald, we’re working on it,” Zip Darren said.
“No.” Richard Devonshire winked at Donald Shutt. “Leave it. It’s bleeding brill. So, if I may sort this out, the song’s protagonist is a young man. He is in some sort of musical ensemble, likely not classical, as classical musicians would not say, ‘saw her at my show.’”
“It’s a rock and roll concert,” Jonathan Persons explained.
“Very good. So. He has noticed her at this concert. She knows the words to his songs. She has attractive eyes, blonde hair, perhaps busty, a trim figure no doubt. After the show, the musician and his admirer exchange words and a kiss—and at this moment he realizes a tragic dichotomy: he is happy because he is with her and yet he is sad because he realizes that he will probably not see her again. And yet, the chorus reminds us repeatedly, he has held on to hope that somehow they shall meet. Yes. Brilliant. The bridge has to go.” Zip Darren’s face dropped. “In the current bridge, the musician is reunited with his love at a show the very next night in a different state. This is a romantic twist, to be certain, but totally unrealistic. Not only that, it destroys the song’s tension and renders the final choruses of ‘Hope to see you again’ sterile, useless.”
Vincent Rain, “We could replace the bridge vocals with a solo. Like a bass solo.”
Richard Devonshire, “So you’re suggesting we drop out the music and instead feature the sounds of a real life military base—the base in Iraq. Thus drawing a parallel between the soldier leaving his bird to fight in war and the musician who must soldier on to the next town. I rather like that, but the public may find it a bit heavy-handed. Especially since your ensemble’s name seems to be a political statement in itself—perhaps you are wishing that America could delete a few pages of history—backspace, as it were, to a better time. No, I don’t think that the military base solo is what we need. Perhaps something subtler, a little more universal.”
Richard Devonshire opened the door and called out into the hallway: “Louise!” A frail woman, 80ish, entered the room. A couple of inches taller than Richard Devonshire, she wore black and made no eye contact with the men in the room. “Louise, this is producer Zip Darren and the band BackSpace. Terribly sorry for making you wait in the hall. Could you come into this sound room, please? Stand here in front of the microphone.”
“What do you want me to do?” she said.
Richard Devonshire shook his head impatiently. “It’s not something I want you to do. I’m just going to record your natural sadness. You don’t have to cry or anything unless you feel compelled to do so.” She nodded, resigned.
Jonathan Persons said, “Where did you dig her up?”
“Funny you should put it that way,” Richard Devonshire said. “Filched her from the cemetery. Was mourning her husband. I told her I would drive her home if she would only permit me one quick stop. I’m chuffed to bits about her. Darren—You’re recording this?”
Zip Darren pressed record. “Yes.”
“Gentlemen,” Richard Devonshire said, “This will be your new bridge. An old lady’s sorrow.”
Through the glass, the band and the producers watched Louise. She was partially turned away from them, softly whimpering near the microphone. They could hear her; she couldn’t hear them.
“It’s the first time I’ve looked at an old lady in years,” Ty Rudd said. “One of the perks of the job, really.”
Louise was getting chilly, having left her shawl in the car. Normally fiery-tempered, Louise seldom let people push her around like this. But today was not a day to fight. She wanted to get through it and go home. Maybe her husband would be waiting with tea. No… he wouldn’t. She couldn’t remember why at this moment.
“She’s so sad,” Jonathan Persons said.
“Just like you were feeling when you wrote ‘See You Again,’” Richard Devonshire said.
“That’s true,” Jonathan Persons said.