December 27, 2015
It’s weird when you start to appreciate the warm stale breeze of an arriving L train. I put my headphones in and listened to School Boy Q’s new album. The train is the usual mix of old school New Yorkers, fresh-faced hipsters and rich white folk. I go to text my brother about a recent trade the Net’s had made, then abandon it I realize that there is obviously no reception under the East River.
I put on one of the rough edits of last night’s tracks, turning the volume up on the headphones, I wondered if it was cool to take the tracks outside the studio, it probably wasn’t, but not like this was some secret Kanye West beat or anything. Listening to each one for a minute or so, skipping between them, I was feeling ok about them. I considered how much easier I found it working with other people’s tunes, remixing or editing rough beats rather then starting out from scratch, I guess that must be common in all sorts of art forms.
Back in the studio the girl on reception lets me know there is breakfast in the kitchen again. I nodded to thank her, trying to look like I always have breakfast put on for me, there is a nice shine to her lip gloss. I wondered if it made her lips stick together. Andre is on the couch with his feet up on a chair, displaying Jordans that looked fresh out of the box. He puts his laptop down, pulls his headphones down to his neck and asks me how the tracks are going, if I have any first thoughts. I tell him that I have a couple of angles on them, that they were still pretty rough but we could have a listen. He said I should take a little bit to settle in, he was going to finish something and then come down. In the studio I google him on my phone, trying to find out what other artists he has worked with but only get a bunch of shots of him at events and give up, not wanting him to walk in and see me sitting in the dark huddling over a phone with pictures of him on it.
He comes in, sits on the couch behind me.”Let’s do this dude” he says. I tell him that they are still rough. “I can clean them up today, but I’m just keen to get some thoughts.” I add.
“All good man, I’m all about collaboration.” he says, like he has said it a hundred times and I should shut up and just play them.
I tell him that I’ve done a round of mixes that are different but not too far away from the originals, and then a version that pushed them a bit further as the first track comes on. He gets up and sits next to me. Even though they are plenty loud enough, I turn the volume up slightly and then grab my phone from my bag, mostly to have something to do with my hands, perhaps to take some notes.
He’s watching the screen and nodding his head. He says, “It’s cool man, definitely fresher, takes it to a new place.” We listen to the rest and he asks to hear the next round. I throw on the first one, it starts with a kind of rolling crunch. He smiles with a sort of open mouth that you would expect noise to be coming out of, and starts nodding his head which is a universally good sign.
“Dude, this is dope.” he says, and stands up. “It sounds nothing like them, it’s a new angle for sure. I love it. Bringing some of that LA flavor.”
We listen to some more while he fires off a few emails. We agree that I’ll mainly focus on finishing up the more abstract set but to get the others ready for Vince to check them out. It was all a touch anti-climactic, but what did I really expect. It was a good result. He leaves and I find him on Twitter, dude has a massive network.
* * *
About two hours later Andre comes back in with Vince. They both suck on iced coffee which I can taste and smell just by looking at it. Chunky sugar crystals roll around the bottom of Vince’s cup. He wears a Givinvhy t shirt and leather pants and brown swade boots.
“So what we got here?” He asks, “This is those young guys from Jersey right? They got anything new?”
“Yeah. We got a few angles,” Andre replies, “I had Mason here do a bit of an exploratory.”
“So I kind of flipped the four tracks two different ways,” I say. I tell them about the different directions I took and where I felt we could go with them.
I played through the first tunes, he seemed to be nodding along, then he asked to skip to the next one, had a quick listen to that, then we skipped to the last one.
“What’s your name again?”
“Mason”, That’s right, “I feel this style, kind of rough and ready, not afraid to bring a crunchy beat without turning completely from music to robot wars. I think this is where it’s going. What do you think of these guys – as an act – the vocals – seen them live?”
This was one of those questions where there was no right answer, only pitfalls. I wasn’t a huge fan of them, but ragging them out my seem like a dick move. But I wasn’t above to vouch for them and go against what this guy thought.
“They have some good stuff in here, I think.” My middle road answer.
Andre jumped in to cover, “Look. I reckon we have a great improvement, we could run these passed them and see what other directions they might have.”
I imagined how happy these dudes would be to learn I had messed with their work, they might like it.
“I just don’t know.” Shrugged Vince, “Maybe.” He took out his phone, “Listen, I have to make a call. Mason, thank you.”
* * *
The studio has a bar area and we drink with a bunch of people as Vince chats to Darnell, an on-the-rise MC from Queens, he has what I guess you would call a Mos Def meets Drake style flow, often singing but not afraid to throw down heavy rhymes even over faster beats. I sip on a Heineken and chat to Andre about what he thinks are the next steps but he kind of lets it slide, asks me where I grew up and a bunch of stuff about who I have played with. I give him the basics with a few New York and LA names dropped in, he asks about the Beyoncé thing and the Youtube channel, if I make any money from it, which I find a little chumpish. I guess that was his way of putting me in my place, letting me know that this is the real business right here.
Darnell chats to the cute girl from the rooftop, she seemed comfortable, not afraid to take up her space in the world. Some people seemed to question their right to breathe. I wondered if I should go up and introduce myself to them, or if that would be overstepping the mark – just getting one track with that dude would be epic. She took her glasses off as she spoke, held them for a while and then put them back on. It drew his attention to her eyes. I wondered if that was her intention. Andre thanked me again for coming in, mentioning that they always have work popping up and that they will keep me in mind. I ask again about the tunes and he said they haven’t actually signed the artist yet, that Vince is still feeling them out but that he’ll ‘keep in touch’.
“Hey, what’s up?” She smiles. “I think we have met before right?”
“Yeah. I thought the same thing.” I was going to leave it to her to mention the rooftop, we hadn’t spoken so I didn’t want to appear that I had perved on her from afar. I hadn’t. Well I did check her out.
“You work with Redbull right? she asked, my eyes went to the necklace that hung down over her singlet as she shifted. The pendant bounced off the fabric pulled tight between her breasts.
“Yeah. I shoot a bunch of their music stuff last year.” She said we met at the Music Academy gig two years ago, she was organizing the showcase. I was hoping her name would appear but all I got was tumbleweeds rolling around the back of my head, that sensation when you dig deep for a name or an answer to something.
“That was a fun night right?” I said, “Back at Dan’s place afterwards, everyone in the pool.” Watching her take her glasses off again, her eyes moving up slightly as she recalled the night.
“Yeah, oh my god. I just remember him skimming his poor records off the water. He would have been crying over those the next day.” She says, “That place we had the showcase has actually been redone, I’ve heard it’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, it’s been open for a while now.”
“Oh, you mean, you went there when it was still cool?” she jabs, tilting her head slightly and ribbing me for being a hipster.
“Something like that, so what do you do here?” I say, then regret it based on my mantra to never be the one that takes a conversation to someone’s work so quickly.
“A whole bunch of stuff really, events, promotion, media, the whole industry is changing, I do whatever needs doing.” It sounds like the type of response that she has said many times to people she meets, parents, friends, etc. We have one of those moments where we both consider if our eye contact is awkward or normal then someone calls out to her and my eyes take in her hips after she looks away. She twists, raising one of her heels and crossing at the ankles. I take out my phone, still getting mad Twitter notifications from the Beyoncé remixes. Plenty of fans, plenty of haters.
She turns back and asks what I was working on with Andre, how she would love to hear the tracks.
“It’s Mason right?”