From Nobody to Nobody With an Album (Part 2)

I was fairly surprised by the reaction the first part of this post received. I made a big drama about how “personal” it was, so that might have gotten some people interested because I’m such a tortured mystery and have large, rock-hard glutes [citation needed]. Still, there seemed to be some legit interest in this kind of thing, which has prompted me to write “part 2” sooner than I was planning to.

I'm actually just drinking water. Like a ROCKSTAR!
Last time, I went through the story from2005 to 2010, when I went from basically having no interest in singing to actually recording cover songs and publishing them on YouTube. That, I think, was the boring part of the story. I know some people could relate to my insecurities and pseudo-rockstar fantasies, but I think the real interesting stuff—for me—happened in early 2011, when I auditioned for Watercolor Butterfly.

February 2011
How Wikipedia made me a vocalist.

After several months in Los Angeles, I returned home to spend the holidays with my family, not entirely sure whether I would return to LA or not. Nothing to note except that during this holiday I showed some of my covers to people to see their reactions.

I had been toying with the idea of joining a band for about a year, but never too seriously. I was still anxious of the entire process, especially considering I was not, by any meaning of the word, a musician. I still didn’t know shit about theory, and had barely begun understand that “Oh so singing well means hitting the notes right—not just having range!”

My clearest memory of this sudden itch to join a band came one day at my brother’s gym where I was ‘working’ at the time. I was goofing off, reading Mikael Akerfeldt’s Wikipedia entry because that’s not creepy. It mentions that Mikael makes an appearance in Dream Theater’s video for “Wither”. I decided to check out the video. This is it:

I didn’t love Dream Theater back then, and I still don’t (LaBrie’s voice isn’t my thing), but I loved that song and I certainly liked that video. It made the musician’s lifestyle seem so cool and glamorous and fun.

Just like that, I impulsively wrote a quick “Looking for band” ad online and left it to simmer there. Goofing around some other local listings I noticed there was a band, at that point unnamed, that was looking for a vocalist with my profile (“My profile”, I thought, being someone who can more or less roar and more or less sing). It was an Opeth tribute band, which sounded like a great way to start. After all, if I just didn’t like it, I could just step down. In retrospect, this was a dick thing to do and think—it demonstrates a total lack of respect for the musicians I was about to contact.

I contacted the guy who was the lead guitarist to ask for information. It didn’t seem like an optimal thing for me, though; the rehearsals were way too far away, they had only mastered about 5 or 6 Opeth songs (none of which I then knew), and they still needed a bassist and drummer.

"We only need a vocalist, bro!"
Nah you know what, fuck that. I looked through other listings and nothing else seemed appealing because everyone sounded equally incomplete or unprepared, and the ones that included their demos or original art were either awful or not something I wanted to be part of. I realized that I couldn’t “get into a band” just because I decided to. Bands weren’t a pick-up game of football; they required commitment and talent. You couldn’t just call up a bunch of dudes and be ready.

Not much else happened after that because I convinced myself that I didn’t have the will or time or real interest to join a band, so I just put that idea behind me. Sometimes, while drunk, I would kinda joke around with a friend whom I knew played respectable guitar and liked death metal. I’d tell him it’d be awesome to start a band.

Dude, totally! [John Doe] could be the drummer and we could get a bassist pretty easily!

Heh. “We could get a [metal] bassist pretty easily.” Sweet summerchild.

You know how many times we actually considered this idea while not intoxicated? More or less never. So yeah, band? Nah. I could just keep doing the covers I enjoyed so much. I still felt like a narcissistic douche for liking to listen to them—terrible or not—because I was so proud that I actually had them. I wasn’t a narcissistic douche, though; I was just proud of myself.

Sometimes that’s okay.

April 2011
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Getting a comment on a cover video was always an exciting thing. First there was the uncertainty of “Is it going to be positive or negative?” (they were always positive; youtubers can be cool sometimes); secondly, sometimes you can make friends that way and make collaborations and commissions, as I later did twice with a death metal brony called Dethonator.

But a comment on my profile? Well that had to be interesting. This is a screenshot of the comment as I got it, translation following.

Dare you to find snazzier censorship.

“What’s up Diego. Man we just saw your ad. You have a great voice, and we’re looking for a vocalist. We’re Watercolor Butterfly, we play progressive metal. Original songs, no covers. Problem is that on your ad there is no e-mail address to contact you [Editor’s Note: Diego, you big fucking Neanderthal]. Please e-mail us at [REDACTED] with your info so we can arrange an audition.”

Oh for Fenrir’s mighty jaws, what? Turns out Rich, the band’s guitarist, had heard my “Cloud Connected” cover and really liked the way it sounded. Again, this was a band that was looking for a somewhat specific voice, and mine—with its Jekyll/Hyde duality—matched their needs.

First thought: Nah. Wait . . . nah.
Second thought: No, hold on. Maybe. They said they’re looking for a vocalist, no covers. This band seems pretty well on their way.
Third thought: What the f*ck does he mean “Audition?”

So I e-mail the band telling them I got their message and it seemed like an interesting idea to me. At this point I was doing a great job at sounding confident and sure about my abilities, even if I wasn’t. Rich answers, tells me he’ll arrange an audition at his home, where the band then rehearsed. I’d have to sing three or four songs in front of the band (people I would meet at that moment and would be actively judging my singing), including one of their originals.


The Audition

Rich sent me a demo of “Pvt. Pyle’s Greatest Hour”, a song that would later be called “Sacrifice My Name” and would make it to the final mix of “The God Particle” which you can totally buy in iTunes. In this demo, it was Rich singing the melody so I could learn it. I thought there was no fucking way I could learn melody and lyrics in four days, so I asked him to send an instrumental file so I could record it myself, at home—that would be the best way to learn it.

We agreed I would sing “Pvt. Pyle’s Greatest Hour”, “Wither”, and “Cloud Connected”—the latter two as karaoke, whereas the first I would play with the band to test chemistry or some shit.

I knew “Cloud Connected” by heart so that wasn’t a big problem. However, “Wither” was a song I had heard only a couple of times, and I certainly wasn’t ready to sing the original song. I did what I could to prepare.

The night before the audition, it was my sister’s birthday party at my house. I was so terrified of messing up my voice in any way, I barely made an appearance. Instead I went upstairs and asked Reddit if they had any advice for the audition—they didn’t, not really.

Next day I woke up, drank some water, pinched the nervous loaf, printed out the lyrics for the songs I’d sing and got in my car. I sang the entire way there in what might or might have not been a mistake—what if I fucked my voice practicing? It’d be like a linebacker tearing his ACL in training camp.

Pictorial representation of what it feels like to audition for a band.
I parked outside Rich’s house—which was pretty far away from mine—and met the guy. Regular dude. Nothing to be scared of here. Inside the house, Keys and Bass (Bass #1, mind you, as we have a new and improved bassist in the band now) were waiting. Apparently Drums was a bit behind and I’d have to wait. Meanwhile we shot the shit about music. Nice guys. No pressure.

I did need to make it clear to everyone—I had already mentioned this to Rich—that I had never had vocal training or any kind of music lessons in my life. This might be a problem in a band whose greatest influences include Dream Theater and Opeth. They assured me it wasn’t a problem; they wanted to hear my voice and I could learn the rest later. I wasn’t so sure.

I was invited upstairs to the room where the band practiced. There were like 17,000 guitars and basses, a drumset, a computer, keyboards, etc. crammed into a small room that was way too hot. Waiting for Drums, I sat down to listen to some of the other songs they were writing which were in very early stages of composition (these two eventually took the shape of “Lightless Firefly” and “The Cathedral” in the album).

Drums got there and we were ready. Again I was fronting confidence and security because no no you can’t read my poker face, but I was pretty nervous. The first song I did was “Wither”, which didn’t go well at all. I was out of tune, kept fucking up the times (I asked Drums to give me the cues), etc. It was pretty embarrassing.

Next up was “Pvt. Pyle’s Greatest Hour”. Here’s a problem I had with that song: with just half a week of preparation, there was no fucking way to memorize the bizarre-ass rhythmic in one of the growling parts (if you have the album, where the song is called “Sacrifice My Name”, it’s the bit that starts at 1:25). The entire song has a shitload of different time signatures that are impossible to follow, but at least made sense in my ear. This one just didn’t—and still doesn’t; I just straight up memorized the patterns.

"Channel this dude channel this dude channel this dude."
They agreed it was a difficult bit even for them so they cut me some slack and let me just growl like an animal instead of following them, but only that part. This song now, I remember, went pretty okay. I had memorized it really well, sounded confident and really liked the feeling of playing with the band, as it was the first time I was ever part of an instrumentation, which meant that my voice wasn't the most important thing, and I had more room to fuck up; this was a comforting thought.

Next up, they asked me to sing “One” by Metallica (surprise, motherfucker!), which I was sure I could sing. I did, but only with a guitar and drums (Bass didn’t know the bassline and there’s no keyboards in the song). That one went really well too, especially since it was more of a jam than a performance.

Finally, I plugged my iPod to sing “Cloud Connected”, which was for me the turning point. I was fully confident, comfortable, knew the song, and my voice was more than warmed up. This was the only song I actually performed and not just sang—which is just Fancy to say “I kinda headbanged sorta”.

When I was done, Keys basically blurted out “So hey, if you want in you’re in.” Rich didn’t agree and wanted to be more dramatic, so the band left me in the steaming room from hell while they convened downstairs. After about 20 minutes (which I’m almost completely sure were prolonged for added drama), they came back to tell me they wanted me in the band. But under one condition:

“Learn some goddamn music theory. We’ll teach you.”

No shit. Perfect. Why not? Music theory was something I wanted to learn, band or no band, so having that opportunity here was great. We shook hands and I was done. I left, went home, and pretended like it wasn’t a big deal—even though it fucking was.

The Damn Beast
Writes for Watercolor Butterfly

From that point on, I met with the band regularly. Weekends for practice, and some weekdays for music theory lessons, which were very helpful. You see, most of the days we were rehearsing, it was for composition. Have you ever heard classically trained musicians discuss composition ideas while you have only a very basic understanding of music theory? They might have very well been speaking Klingon.

Me, circa 2011.
So yeah, I couldn’t yet pretend to give a whole lot of ideas in terms of composition. I suggested a few things that made it to the final songs (the intro and outro to “Lightless Firefly”, for instance, which I certainly didn’t compose but helped put together) but not much. The cool thing here was that they would let me write lyrics.

Oh, I could write the shit out of the lyrics! My first attempt was the lyrics for “Devil’s Dance”, which I changed to “Dance of the Beast” (if you’re wondering where my name/term of endearment—“Beast”—came from, now you know). These lyrics were a variation of a werewolf-themed poem I had written way before I got into the band;  it came naturally to turn them into lyrics.

These were the completely unaltered lyrics for “Dance of the Beast”, exactly as the band read them.

With the glow of eye and wood
Halcyon susurrus its sigh
As a sigil of careless cosmos
The echoing animal lullabies

This fugue, henceforth forgotten
Escapes the mind through the haze
Neath embrace of tree and shadow
The dance of the beast begins

Beast, wrung with a hateful whimper
Be strong, wolven, monstrous thing
Beast, rung at the doors of earthly hell

Eroded, withered by the caress of time
A house of autumn, this temple of flesh
Amorphous silhouette on the mirror lakes
The new life, untaught and fresh

The skin bore an invisible epigraph
Potent gravity drew onto the grass
Pain, a spectacle of powerful madness
The dance of the beast begins

And thus the eyes affix to the amber
The hunger a gruesome affair
No longer human, yet through pain
A beautiful humanity is proven.

How’s that? Pretentious enough for you? “Phonoaesthetics” were something that was incredibly important for me (at this point Opeth was my biggest influence and “Still Life”—a lyrical masterpiece—was playing continuously in my iPod).

"Channel this dude channel this dude channel this dude."
If you’ve heard the actual song, “Dance of the Beast”, you’ll notice only the homophonic chorus lines and “eyes affix to amber” made it to the final song; not because the band didn’t like them (quite the contrary: they decided I’d write all the lyrics from that point on), but because this stupidly long epic didn’t fit in “Devil’s Dance”, a song that was almost finished, musically speaking. I had to re-write them later, when Keys and I figured the final vocal melody.

I wrote the lyrics for “Lightless Firefly” inspired by a story Bass came up with about a girl trying to recover from rape and a suicide attempt (cheery song). Although the theme was handed to me, I did the best I could with the lyrics, and I still like them. That was all I had to do as far as lyrics were concerned—with four songs finished, we were almost ready to record the demo.

Which I will tell you about in the next post. I know, I said there would only be two parts to this, and now I really feel like a fantasy writer (“Oh, sorry did I say the series would be three books? Well it’s gonna be twelve, bro.”), but I have some faith that the following parts—recording and playing live—are interesting. Kinda you’ll tell me.

Until next time!
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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