“You don’t seem to have your head in the game, Carissa. What the fuck?” Standing inside the recording studio, I was having trouble recording the last song to my second album. I just couldn’t feel it. It wasn’t my song. None of them were. All my songs were written by various ghostwriters and I hated it. I hated how there wasn’t one song that had my thoughts, my sentiments, my own emotions in it.
“JJ, can I take a break?”
He didn’t look happy but nodded his consent. “Come up to the control room.”
Taking off my headphones I placed them on the stool trying to figure out what to do about the song. I sang a whole album’s worth of other people’s stuff on my first record without letting it bother me, but that was before I realized how important the music was to me. At the time I only wanted the album released as soon as possible so I let people tell me which songs to sing. I craved the release music gave me. It was my departure from acting and helped me get out from underneath the thumb of my mother and her horrible husband. Music equaled my freedom and provided a way I could sing and forget my issues. I could lose myself in it. I just wished it was my own stuff.
It wasn’t like I didn’t have anything of my own written already. I spent the last year writing lyrics about my life. About my dreams as well as my fears. I thought I had some pretty good stuff down, but I was afraid. Singing wasn’t my first career choice and now that I reinvented myself as a musician, I knew I couldn’t go back.
It wasn’t like I wanted to act again but I did burn bridges a couple of years ago when I posed for a porn site. Since being a family favorite on a sitcom for a tween channel the studio didn’t take kindly to having me bare it all but I needed to make a clean break. Acting was forced upon me by my mother and her husband and it made me bitter. I hated their involvement in my life and what it did to me. They didn’t want me to go into the music business, and only relented when I turned eighteen and I insisted on leaving. It still took me a year to find a record company to produce it. I had gotten a bad reputation for being a bitch to work with because I was so unhappy, a product of my environment, and no one wanted to take a chance on me until I met JJ. He didn’t want to take a chance on me either but when I fanned my money from my trust fund in the face of his boss, they gave in.
It wasn’t as if I sucked at singing. I had taken acting and singing lessons from little on and was told I had a great voice. It paid off with all those tween movies but to be taken seriously I had to lose the squeaky-clean image, a feat I was glad to do since I was never that person anyway.
My biological father left before I came into the world. My mother worked as a waitress always waiting for her big break and then got knocked up by some guy who promised her the world. Some guy who said he could get her into the business and only dumped her when it was too late to abort me. That golden story of my youth, the one where I should be grateful I was even alive, how she ruined her life by having me, was a common bedtime story when she came home drunk. Glad to be an only child I knew she would never make mother-of-the-year.
My mother would cling on to any loser who would give her the attention she thought she deserved. Her beauty only lasted so long, and when she realized her non-existent career was over, she forced her ambition onto me, dragging me to every audition imaginable. It only got worse when she met Martin. He took one look at me and saw dollar signs. Really, I could handle one person in my life pushing me to be a star but two were impossible and I started to resent them. That and the fact Martin was a creep.
When I got to the control room, I noticed the crew had left. I sunk back in the chair and knew I should just suck it up, but I was tired of the whole process. JJ wasn’t one to take pity on me but I threw myself at his mercy. “JJ, I don’t think I have it in me today to keep up. Could I please come back tomorrow?”
He had a modem of concern on his face, “How are you feeling?”
I smiled and thought that maybe he did care about me at least a little. “Fine. Not tired in that way.” He didn’t seem to believe me, so I went on, “I have been eating fine. No hiccups in that area it is just these songs...”
Not sure how to exactly get my feelings out I was relieved when he finished it for me, “They are not yours.” Maybe he did understand me.
“Yeah. I thought by now I would be able to use my own songs. You know, be the musician and not just the singer with the pretty face.”
“Did you bring me any of your work?”
I sighed, “I don’t know, it all seems great one day and then like crap the other. I know what you are thinking, why complain when I can’t put out, but I really am not feeling these songs and I will be the one who needs to sing them over and over again when I go out on tour.”
He looked at me concerned, “If you go out on tour at all.” It hurt when he said it. My last tour ended abruptly when I collapsed on stage.
He noticed how his words affected me as he slumped down in his chair. “Look, I shouldn’t have said that but I know you have a lot of shit going on right now. Do you think it is a good idea to add the stress of a tour on top of it?”
I nodded, “Yes. You know as well as I do how much I need to do this. The last tour being cut short, this is the one I need to prove myself with. I need to do well on this tour or I will never make it as a musician whether I am singing my songs or someone else’s. I need to build my fan base back up.”
JJ interjected, “Your songs did well on the radio without going on tour last time.”
“But that was due to all the surrounding hype.” I tried hard to get rid of the innocent tween girl-next-door image and started a feud with the parent’s association when I posed nude. It gave me PR and the songs went to the top of the charts but it did nothing to prove my worth as a singer. “I want to be taken seriously as a rock musician. Not the next step up of a tween sensation.” He should be sick of all the whining I did lately, but he didn’t call me on it. He knew I fucked up with those pictures. Hell, he even tried to stop me. I made an ass out of myself in front of him more than once, and he still never gave up on me. Both he and Nina helped me so much over the last year and I appreciated all they have done for me already.
“Listen, you need to sing the song or come up with another one worthy of the album. So far, we have fourteen songs. They are stronger than the other album. We went heavier this time. It doesn’t really sound the same. It is deeper and it provides a lot more to the musical composition. We could cap it at that and still get you out, but I am afraid the album is missing something. Something to lighten it up.”
I looked at him dumbfounded, “Lighten it up? Why would we need to lighten it up? I like the darker riffs and instrumentals on this. No, I don’t think we need to lighten it up.”
He shook his head, “This is a departure of sorts from the other album. This album needs a transition song for people to listen to it since it is a heavier song base or you will lose the fans you already have. They still look at you as the lollipop princes and it may be harder than you think to cross over without a song to guide you there.” He was right, but he was always right when it came to music.
JJ played in a successful band for the last twenty years. Several of their records won awards and brought him to a pinnacle of fame. Their tours went all over the united states and Europe. The band suffered through some rough years shortly after and he found himself on the other side of the recording studio. Not that he would change it now. He even still tours on occasion with the band but now he chooses to stay in the area with his wife. He loved her so much it almost hurt to see them together.
Too nervous and too much of a chicken shit I couldn’t give him any of my half-ass compilations. Since getting rid of my mother and her asshole husband, JJ became a surrogate father to me of sorts. I would never tell him that, and he would never admit it either, but I was afraid of disappointing him. His opinion mattered too much to me.
“Well, is there another song? I really am not feeling this one,” I couldn’t help but be hopeful.
Letting out a big sigh he drummed his fingers on the soundboard in front of him. “There is this one song.”
With my interest piqued I knew if JJ mentioned it he would make it happen for me. When JJ touched an album, he made it golden. “Really? Why didn’t you suggest it when I complained earlier?”
“The song is good but is lacking something. I wanted to play around with it first to see if I could fix it up. The ghostwriter is new, and it is her first song. Besides, we are running out of time.”
“We have plenty of time. The tour dates aren’t set in stone,” My enthusiasm couldn’t be hindered.
“Yeah, but I need to kick out the next Kapp Stone record. They are done touring as an opening act and the next album is important. I met with them, and they have most of the songs ready to go but I need to push it through. Nina took off work for a vacation and I never thought the day would come. There’s no way in hell I’m not going to a private island with her for a weekend.” I laughed at his intensity of being alone with his wife.
“Could I at least take a look at the song?”
Hesitating only slightly he shuffled through his briefcase and pulled out a manila envelope, tossing it to me. “Here. Take it home for the night and tell me what you think. We’ll work on it tomorrow if you like it.”
I squealed and threw my arms around him, “JJ you are the best.”
He stiffened and pulled away from my embrace and I felt bad for his reaction. I wondered if he would ever forgive me for throwing myself at him years ago but really, he wanted to make sure we remained professional. Nina would never believe he would cheat on her, but he never wanted anyone else to think it either.
“Go. Get out of here. Kapp Stone is across the hall and I can just pull them in the studio and start with them now but come to work tomorrow with one song or the other. We need to get this album done.”
I smiled my best smile, “I will. No matter what I’ll record you a song and finish this album by tomorrow. You have my word.”
The song turned out to be my missing link. Although Second Chance was a ballad and not a heavy rock song, it could be changed to fit the genre of the album. There were three verses and a great bridge and chorus that talked about this woman who lost the love of her life. The first verse described a busy woman who never took time to listen, the second verse described her thoughts on an unrealistic expectation of a significant other, and the last verse was the lack of communication they had to make the relationship work. Both the chorus and the bridge hinted at a second chance. The song would cover several genres, and although similar songs were performed before, people could relate to it and take a chance on my other work. JJ was a genius.
When I hit the studio the next day, I was ready to record it and begged JJ to let me do it. “Hold on. Wait a minute. It is still lacking something.”
I looked at him confused, “JJ, I told you I would record it if I liked it and it is great. This is the song I need to bridge my fans to my new sound.”
He shook his head, “It is a good song but it is missing something.”
Taking it from my hand, he motioned to the doorway, “Look, come with me into the conference room, and we’ll work on it for a while. I’ll get Noah to start some preliminary stuff with Kapp Stone so we can work on it together.”
Kapp Stone shuffled into the room and didn’t like the way I was ‘monopolizing’ JJ, but they were just starting their record. Mine was almost completed and really, I think the lead singer just liked to listen to himself complain. I met him once at last year’s award show, and he was the same cocky rockstar pretty boy to flood the industry. He had a woman under each arm and the attitude that his shit didn’t stink. All that showmanship from him and really, they were still just an opening act. What a portentous ass.
Bands like Kapp Stone were a dime a dozen. They all held the same arrogant and sexy lead singer surrounded by good-looking guys who could play instruments. They landed a spot on tour with Diversion, one of the hottest bands in the business. Diversion had been around for years and it was rumored that JJ helped to get them on tour as a favor to him. It made sense as none of their first album’s songs broke through the top ten.
Kapp Stone’s lead singer noticed JJ leaving with me and started his bitching, “Hey, where are you going?” Emory Kapp, the lead singer, stopped JJ in the hallway outside the door. He threw a look of indifference my way and I rolled my eyes.
“Noah will get you cued up. I got some shit to work on.”
“What? Queen B needs more of your time?” My eyes narrowed at him with the use of the nickname labeled me by the paparazzi. Queen B stood for Queen Bitch and I didn’t necessarily disagree with it. In a world filled with male-dominated rock stars, you had to assert yourself or get crushed. I wanted this too much to sit down and make nice.
“I won’t take up too much of his time there Orrie. I know how much help you need.” I motioned back to the sound room.
He leaned down in my face. He was a tall fucker. “The name is Emory and as a matter of fact, this album could make itself. The hard part will be figuring out which songs to put out first.”
“Stop the shit, both of you. I’m not a fucking daycare teacher and I don’t have time for your pissing match. Emory, go and get your throat warmed up and set the instruments the way you like them. I won’t be long.” JJ turned back to me, “I think I know what the song needs.” I nodded my head and followed him to the conference room.
Placing the paper with the lyrics and sheet music down on the table, I looked up at him expectantly, “So? What were you thinking?”
As he sat down, he started to strum the table with his fingers almost as if he was sorting through that brilliant head of his for the right way to phrase it, and it drove me mad. “The song is good the way it is but it could be better. Look at the verses.” He pointed out each verse as he continued, “The song is set up for the singer to sing it about a lost love but really it is not a one-sided event. No relationship is. It takes the work of two people.”
I looked up at him and smiled. “That is pretty deep. Nina has quite the influence on you.”
He chuckled, “Yeah, well, Nina is a fucking saint to put up with me but even she would agree with this.” He took a pencil out from the holder on the conference table and started to make notes on the border. “What if the first verse was kept the same but the second verse was tweaked for the male perspective?”
I frowned, “And how am I going to convey the male perspective? Do you not see that I am female?”
JJ gave me one of his famous stoic looks, “A guy in a coma would be able to tell you are a female. No, I meant you could sing it with a guy.”
He could tell I didn’t like the idea of sharing my song by the way I bristled. Regardless if I wrote it or not, I still considered it mine. “JJ, I don’t--”
“Shut up and listen to me for a minute. The first verse is the woman, the second verse is the man, the third verse we can tweak for both to sing, and we can harmonize the chorus and the bridge.” I hated to admit it would sound great but I still didn’t want to give up my song to another person.
“And how would I sing it on tour?”
He flicked his hand back at me, “Not an issue. Either we find a band member who can sing in the background or you could sing it the original way it was intended. I’ve seen it before. It doesn’t sound the same but it appeases the audience.”
“But my band members come and go.”
He nodded, “Then maybe you sing it by yourself. Hell, I don’t give a shit if you sing it with a fucking chicken but this is how I see the song working for you.”
I could sing it by myself. It would be hard to sing it with a band member as I never kept the same ones from one tour to the next. Hell, I didn’t even know half of them since I relied on the record company to supply them. As long as they did their job I couldn’t care less. They were just there for the background anyway. I sure as hell didn’t want them to ruin my fucking song either. And I trusted JJ. If he felt this was what my album needed. then I knew it would turn into a fucking hit.
“Come. Let’s try it out.”
We made it back into the control room as Kapp Stone finished a jam session loosening up. JJ leaned into the intercom, “How fast can you guys learn a new song?”
My eyes lit up. “Oh, hell no!”
JJ turned to me, “Calm your crotch. They are already warmed up and I need a strong male voice to sing this with you so I can get a feel for it. I need to hear what it’ll sound like before I make the rest of the band come in to record it.”
“Why can’t you do it? You can sing.” The last person I wanted to sing with was Emory.
He shook his head, “But I can’t sing and listen objectively at the same time. Just play nice for a little while so I can figure out what else I need for the song, now will you?”
I mashed my teeth together. The hell if I wanted Emory singing with me or his band used for my song but I knew JJ was on a time crunch, and bringing in other musicians and singers for the song would waylay the album further.
“What song are you talking about? We already have all the songs we need for the album,” Emory’s irritated voice came over the intercom.
“Not for you. I need to finish recording Carissa’s album.”
The live room exploded in a ruckus with Emory being the most boisterous, “Seriously JJ? This is our time. We are ready not unlike Queen B here. She had you for the last several weeks. The hell if my band wants to be associated with her bubblegum music anyway. The combination is ridiculous.” He was met with an agreed-upon murmur.
JJ endured their wrath but Kapp Stone didn’t have a leg to stand on. “Carissa and I have one more song to record before I can start on yours. You can all suck it up and help or I can take the time to call in all of my guys to finish it. It may take a while...”
It didn’t stop Emory from trying to talk him out of it. “What the fuck JJ? We don’t even play the same music.”
I leaned into the microphone not willing to take any shit from the likes of him, “How the hell do you know what I play? This new album is so much better than anything you put out. Besides, I really didn’t want your second rate band to record it either.” I was starting to get pissed. Kapp Stone should feel lucky I let them work with me. They were just a shitty opening band where I at least started as a headliner.
Emory looked up at me pointedly, “Second rate? Who the hell are you to come in here and ask for my help and then call my band second rate!”
“Will you both CALM THE FUCK DOWN!” JJ’s face turned a nasty shade of red. “Both of you are acting like a bunch of fucktards. I’m not expecting you two to record it but I need to listen to it as I need to get this shit done. I will be taking my beautiful fucking wife on this vacation coming up and I don’t care if either of your albums finish before I leave if you are intent on using up all my time arguing.” We both clammed up and sulked realizing both of our albums were on the line.
“Fine.” I conceded first.
“Fine. But it is just because I want this over with,” Emory shot daggers at me as he spit it out.
The band worked through the melody a couple of times while Emory and myself went to different isolation booths. I tried a different range each time as I wanted to find out what would work for the song but I didn’t know what it would sound like when it came to the parts where we harmonized. I heard Emory in the sound booth practicing with his band before and knew he could belt out a tune but I wouldn’t let it make me nervous. He had a deeper voice and I only hoped it wouldn’t make our singing together harsher than it should be.
Kapp Stone’s music was edgier and uncultivated. It wasn’t as if I didn’t like it but I think in a weird way I was jealous of it. Where the media tried to pigeonhole me into being another female pop singer, I craved the darker and more grunge-alternative style of music their band had produced. I wanted to show the critics I could rock just as well as any chick and not settle into a softer sound just because I had a pair of tits.
When it came time to sing with the band, I took a stool front in center. Emory looked down at me from where he stood obviously not happy where I situated myself, but then he should have gotten here first. Instead, he grabbed another stool and put it down by my side. The band played the melody through the first time and I chose to hum along with the song. It needed some inflections at pivotal points, and I was learning just where those were.
JJ signaled the band to start and sang the first verse to the best of my ability. Lost in the sounds of the instruments behind me and the words of broken love, I closed my eyes and let myself go. When I finished the first verse and Emory’s deep voice rang next to me it sent chills down my spine. I looked over at him and saw him just as engulfed in the music and appreciated how he was taking the song seriously, whether for me or as a favor to JJ.
Emory was taller than me but sitting down we weren’t much different in height. His black hair touched his shoulders in a shaggy way. Sleek and dark it shone with the light when he moved. His dark eyes, now closed, made me wonder if they were dark brown or actually black. With his scruff of a beard, I understood why the groupies threw themselves at him. He kept his skin tanned, possibly due to ethnic reasons or just hanging out in the California sun. Either way, it leant to his sex appeal.
The unequivocal frontman played up the image of him being full of himself. As he breathed in I watched his chest expanding and I couldn’t help but think he wasn’t singing from his diaphragm and would certainly wear himself out needlessly. He must not be trained but a self-taught singer. It would be harder on his vocal cords and lungs to vocalize that way but, then again, why should I care?
His verse ended, and we sang the chorus learning each other’s sound as we rose with the building riffs. The third and final verse complemented each of our voices. My mezzo-soprano voice mingled with his baritone one. Emory had a sound similar to JJ’s and blended with mine rather well. I didn’t look at him but instead closed my eyes and let myself feel his voice to see how to enhance the song. It was all about the song. To make the song better, not to showcase me in any way as I really wanted to convey the sentiment of the words. By the bridge and the last chorus, we were singing seamlessly and somehow made our voices merge as one.
After the crescendo that led to the ending of the song, the room fell silent. I opened my eyes to JJ above me in the control room. Along with him stood Vic, the owner of the record company and head big shot. I waited as I tried to read their faces. In my periphery, I could see Emory with his chest heaving, but he fell silent too.JJ leaned forward and hit the button for the intercom. “Well fuck.”