So Stories Told had its first eight-song set bar-gig yesterday, and it was…not horrible. Which is to say, it was pretty good, considering it had the makings of a potential mini-disaster that would not be of Hindenburg proportions in the slightest but, let’s face it, for a girl who has a hard time getting over things, would have come pretty close. I won’t dwell heavy on the multiple layers of the whys–because a lot of those should remain behind metaphorical tour bus doors–but suffice it to say, there were four reasons why last night should not have gone as well as it did:
- My twin vampire-brother, Dan, suddenly couldn’t make it.
- Our “replacement” bassist, Kyle (of in-your-face-punk band Crowd Control and occasional acoustic collaboration Lost in Thought), had a grand total of four hours to learn eight songs, including three originals (two of which we actually performed).
- Our set included The Calling‘s Wherever You Will Go which, while an aggressively popular song, was one I did not know all the lyrics to.
- I was so nervous. And anyone who knows Frankie Torres knows that nothing good can happen when Frankie freaks out.
In spite of all those reasons–and maybe because of them, I don’t know?–last night at Café Huh was okay. Well, okay, I was okay. The band was–always is (in my opinion), really, despite the last-minute bassist substitution–great, as bands can be when they’re not counting mistakes and trying to chug past them with rock-and-roll bravado, in the face of neuroses developed after years of solo performing and dreading belt notes and sweat-through-my-shirt musical auditions (sudden mental flash of my quavery rendition of On My Own for my heartbreaking Éponine tryout). Because–one more thing you need to know–things tend to go horribly wrong when I want something very badly.
And, to be absolutely naked with you all (metaphorically), I really want this.
Stories Told is a bolt-from-the-blue lucky strike for me, because as I mentioned in my last post I am not a rock singer–I’ve only always wanted to be one since I was thirteen. I’ve been the frontwoman for imaginary rock band after imaginary rock band, performing in the arenas of my room, my mum’s room, or my bathroom (great for reviewing my best arch-your-back, scream-like-you-mean-it moments), but vocally speaking I’m a pop kid. Maybe blue-eyed-soul, on a good day (though I’ll never have blue eyes). The songs in heavy rotation on my iPod skew to acoustic-rock, acoustic-pop, or else the EDM-infused pop-rock everyone listens to these days. I’m no hipster; I’m aggressively chart, with some indie thrown in. And nine times out of ten when Jian or Jedd mentions a band that’s supposed to be rock “legends,” I know nothing about them except the name (par exemple, “Rage Against The Machine”).
At twenty-one, I am the awkward, redheaded stepchild of rock-and-roll turned awkward, redheaded frontwoman of a technically-amazing band, wherein I am forced to face the fact that, despite probably having more years (aggregated) in training for my instrument (that is, voice) than any of my musical “brothers,” I am the least prepared for this life…and my stupid ego, which remembers all those aggregated years under esteemed teachers (Celia Yu-Ong, Jai Sabas-Aracama, Kitchy Molina…to name just a few), won’t let me drive that reality into my thick skull.
The thing is, I have the most fun, and learn the most, and maybe–maybe, I wouldn’t know–perform the best when I can admit I’m a bloody idiot and just have a go at things. Case in point: my university life, Repertory Summer Workshop, my intern life, my thesis. I can be incredible when I admit I am incredibly stupid. Only I’m a little bit afraid of doing that when Stories Told is concerned because I have a little demon whispering in the back of my head going “Are you sure you can afford to be stupid right here, right now?”
The sudden bassist metacrisis of last Saturday drove home that really, none of my manic orchestra is expendable. No one sounds quite like Dan (which is not to say Kyle isn’t freaking amazing in his own right–eight songs in four hours, people! Including three songs with Jian’s mad scientist bass arrangements!), and to be very honest getting someone to step in for him was very nearly a lost cause. When Jian got sick before what was supposed to be our first major gig, *poof!*, major gig opportunity disappeared (though, TBH, I was more concerned with my boss and friend getting out alive than anything else). Likewise if Jedd was suddenly incapacitated–not only would we lose the legions of fangirls who would be drawn to our show by his youthful good looks (if you’re reading this, Jedd, no I am not hitting on you; I am old enough to be your mother), but we would lose an amazing drummer and musical arranger.
In short, if Dan, or Jian, or Jedd disappear for good, Stories Told essentially reaches “The End,” or, at least, an extended, Mettalica-esque hiatus. But if their lead singer stops being up to snuff…
…well, how many contestants did “The Voice of The Philippines” have again?
These days I’m flip-flopping between reckless euphoria (I’m in a rock band!) and sheer terror, which is a crazy place to be for a lead singer and an even crazier place to be for a female lead singer in an otherwise all-male band (Who will rub my back and give me chocolates while I cry?). Jian, as the band’s de facto manager, has done his best on numerous occasions (Jian, you’re a hero.) to calm his shuddering, stuttering, emotionally shaky wildcard pick (and, I am loath to admit, occasional diva), but there are only so many times the “musical theater demon seesaw ride” (see this link for the reference) can be referenced before it gets eye-rollingly cliché, and I personally think I reached that limit five rehearsals ago.
I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m not even on-stage anymore but I’m still exhausted (too exhausted to think BAP, really) by the residue of stage fright (which, in all my years as an actress, I can honestly say I have never experienced).
(I’m also cringing a little bit, because there is now a video of me singing “You Wanted More” out there and I will be very, very honest: that was not my best singing ever.)
About the only thing that makes sense at this point–12:50am on May 5th when I should be decking my BAP presentation–is listening to the three tracks I’ve bought off of Save Rock and Roll, the amazing comeback album that catapulted the one-time Kings of Emo-Rock, Fall Out Boy, back into the public eye as the band-who-lived. The story of these unlikely emo-kids/punk-rockers from Illinois is one that I both can’t relate to and can, especially the nervous stutter-start of their once-pudgy, now crushworthily-svelte frontman, Patrick Stump. When Jian gave me the assignment to watch other frontmen “come alive” onstage, so I could learn to, I ended up watching the Live in London video of Patrick joyfully sing-howling the opening to “Young Volcanoes” to the madding crowd, marveling all the while at how happy one band could look.
(There is no other word I can use to describe these long-ago guyliner advocates as they tear through “We are wild! We are like young volcanoes!” Happy just about fits the bill.)
Not that I’m out to remake myself as a Fall Out Boy-clone versus the more popular Paramore one (because I’m not, though I borrow heavily from Save Rock and Roll’s vocal marriage of RnB and hard rock for one of our more foot-stomping originals), but there’s something about the honesty of Patrick Stump, in those half-light, half-dark years between Folie à Deux and Save Rock and Roll, the years of “We liked you better fat!” (Don’t listen, Patrick–I like you better now.) and the grossly-underappreciated Soul Punk, that makes me want to crawl into the blog posts and Rolling Stone articles and Wikipedia pages and endless, reckless, beautiful cry of “We are like young volcanoes!” and live there until 19 East on May 11. Because by rights, Patrick Stump should be more neurotic than I–he was (nearly) a has-been at 27, whereas I am a (maybe) wannabe at 21–riding on the too-good-to-be-true-but-really-it-is-because-your-album-is-that-good success of Save Rock and Roll while simultaneously being faced with the digital paper-trail of Soul Punk and Folie à Deux‘s “failures” and the gut-wrenching tell-all blog left in its wake (deleted by Stump, but preserved here). And maybe he is, because what happens behind Fall Out Boy’s (literal versus metaphorical) tour bus doors is a mystery, but onstage, in the floodlights, when he sings about being the lions free from the Coliseum (a lyric that will make you root for the Lannisters from the sheer beauty of the melody behind it), you can’t tell because he looks so happy.
So very, very, very happy.
I would give anything to be that happy, really. And I think what keeps me from it is that, unlike Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz–who have very publicly admitted to Folie à Deux‘s “wreckage” and the band hiatus that came after it being results of their inflating egos–I’ve still got the ego, and I don’t think they do, anymore. No one can have that much fun onstage and still have an ego. That’s raw giving out there, without self-consciousness, and that only comes after years and years and years of getting your pride ground into a fine powder until all that’s left is confidence and a desire to give, even if it comes back to you as a tomato thrown at your face.
In my bathroom mirror, lip-syncing Young Volcanoes, my Lannister-gold nails throwing the horns up while another hand clutches an invisible (versus hairbrush) mic, I feel like I’m nearly there, that I am stupid and young and in poisoned places, we’re antivenom and nothing matters but the adventure, the experience, the joy of the music. But in reality the microphone cord’s wound too tightly around the microphone (is that why pro artists use wireless?) and I can’t work the stand and each time I hit a wrong note I flinch.
I want so desperately to be worth the wild-card, but there are many times when my horrible, masochistic imagination cooks up visions, while I am mid-song, of record execs or club owners or simply indie-rock fans going “This band would be so good…if not for the lead singer.”
(Some may argue I might just be too sober. Those who do need to understand that I can’t not be sober.)
I guess this really long ramble boils down to this: I wish I was as brave as Fall Out Boy–as Patrick Stump–to take the risk, to dive in and believe and commit to the songs, the stories, and maybe not not care but at least bother to care after all the work is done. But I’m guilty of killing my darlings before I’ve started, of asking and asking and asking Am I good enough for this? And no matter how many people answer that question with “good job,” I can’t find it in myself to believe them yet.
Ironically, I figure the moment I will believe is when I have that moment of pure bliss onstage when I’m not thinking of how bad a frontwoman I am but simply being a bad (pardon the self-deprecation and blame my BAP-drained, emotional state) frontwoman, unapologetically, and enjoying it. The thing that stands in my way is because I haven’t had it yet, but to have it I have to get rid of of the thing (the doubt) that stands in my way.
The doubt and one more thing, really: that I want this band so badly. That it’s my thirteen-year-old dreams come to life, with the possibility of them becoming more than true…and that terrifies me. This dream gets bigger by the day, and for a girl who hates getting her hopes up, I’ve gotten my hopes up to the point that I’m afraid I can’t live up to them.
Is there a solution to all of this? Sleep, maybe, after I crank out enough BAP slides to not feel guilty about having some. But really, I think this whole spiel must come to an anticlimactic denouement: “This is what goes on in the mind of a music super-fangirl turned musician”–the madness of false humility mixed with insecurity mixed with an ego the size of China mixed with a desire to get rid of all that, get out of my own head, and just do.
I can’t just do, so I’ll have to do the next best thing (sorry, Master Yoda)–I’ll try. In the meantime, I’ll have Young Volcanoes on loop, mouthing it alone in my laptop-lit half-dark, imagining the floodlights and the joy.