Monthly Archives: January 2017

What I did in 2016

I’ve had the third Senseless album written since the start of 2015. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered by April 2016. For the three or four of you paying attention, you’ll notice that this album has not been released. I feel that this requires an explanation. In fact, the entire wretched year requires an explanation.

Lets start back in 2015. I was working in Adelaide, South Australia as a mainframe computer operator. We were migrating massive amounts of work from expensive-as-fuck Sydney down to cheap-as-chips Adelaide, and saving huge amounts for our company on labour costs. I was salivating at the idea of what my bonus would be like or indeed being paid any bonus at all. At the very least a pay rise would be coming our way. Among all this corporate goal-kicking I managed to take two weeks out during August to go to the Gold Coast to record my new Senseless album. The plan was to stay with Luke from Berzerker, crash in his flat, mix the album in four days or so, master it in another day, and go visit my parents who live only three hours drive away.

It was a good plan. Naturally, things didn’t work out. I had recorded everything except the vocals and demoed everything up before I arrived. There was one factor I hadn’t accounted for though: Luke was totally over music.He had no interest in it at all. In fact, his experiences with Berzerker were so traumatic that trying to force him to sit in front of his computer to get even the arrangements in place was like trying to put a cat in a bath. He just had too many bad associations with recording music and his body treated the producer chair like the electric chair. After a full week, only three or four songs were mixed.

I went to visit my parents, and cut that short to return to the Gold Coast and try and finish things off. Same problems happened though and when I left the album still wasn’t mixed. Even worse, some mysterious random things had happened to the existing tracks and fucked up their arrangements. I left five pages of mixing notes and headed back to Adelaide.

Come the start of 2016, there was still no album and I let Luke go as a producer. Soon after that, work notified us that there to be no pay rises or bonuses that year. I was like, fuck everything. I had no idea who to use as a mixer for my album or what to do about work. This was the fourth year in a row that pay rises and bonuses had been either minimal or cancelled. Additionally because of the new workload we had brought onboard, taking holidays was banned indefinitely. I decided to right at least one wrong and return to my parents to give them a proper visit. I figured that if someone got pissed about me taking a holiday, I could at least fly back in a few hours or so. I also arranged to end my trip in Melbourne, catching up with my old friends and going to White Night, an all-nighter citywide event of arts and festivity.

Things kind of came together pretty quick in February. I spoke to Leon from Mithras to see if he was interested in doing the album mixing (he did The Floating World, the second Senseless release). He couldn’t, but he recommended an excellent producer who could: an unknown dude called Adam who plays for a Swedish band called Murdryck. I contacted him and he mixed a track to perfection almost overnight. Without any further ado, I hired him and he got straight to work. Around that time, I was also contacted by an Italian metalhead who had just moved to Melbourne and wanted to buy a Berzerker hoodie. I didn’t have a hoodie for sale, but offered to take her to White Night with me and my friends. She accepted.

I went to White Night, had a great time, and got along well with my new Italian friend. I was woken up at 10am the next day by a phone call from another mate who wanted me to go party with him. I jokingly upbraided him for waking me up and demanded he make amends. “Uhhhhhhhh…..want a job?” he replied. He ran an IT support company that was requiring someone to come in, shore up the helpdesk, and help refine procedures. Starting pay would be $5k more than what I was currently earning, to be increased another $10k after 6 months. I totally agreed. In the next few days I went and interviewed formally for the job, then went on a few dates with the Italian girl. When I returned to Adelaide I gave my notice at work, and prepared to move to Melbourne in a month’s time for a new job, new house, and new girlfriend.

The month prep leading up to the move was complicated by one thing: I had to re-record all my vocals for the Senseless album. I ended up doing the majority of them in one whopper seven hour session in a tape room out the back of a data centre, which was the only place I could scream my head off without people calling the police or knocking on the door. My ‘vocal booth’ was as MacGuyvered as it gets: recording on a Shure SM57 mic into a POD XT then a laptop balanced on some cardboard boxes. The mic was wedged into a tape rack and held into place with bubble wrap. By the end of the session I had all the vocals I needed but had traded them for my ability to speak. All the files were sent to Adam in Sweden who started mixing them into the songs.

I arrived on March 31st, moved straight into my flat, started work on April 1st, and had the girlfriend stay that evening. Damn right I was making up for lost time. I discovered that the flat required a bit of work. Despite sending people around to check it out for me at inspection, they had missed bedroom lights and internet sockets not working, shower handles not attached, and the toilet flush broken. I complained to the agency and in true Melbourne Real Estate Agent style, they shrugged and went “good luck fixing it”. In the meantime, Adam started sending me back album mixes which I would download at work, listen to at home, then provide notes on the next day.

The job turned out to be rather crazy. The company was a small outfit that serviced a bunch of customers but also had one great big gorilla of a corporate customer, who paid just over half the revenue but demanded all of our time. It became apparent I had parachuted into a total bushfire. I set to work trying to help out wherever I could. It didn’t take long for work time to start leaking into evenings and a bit of weekends. I worked hard, kept providing my mixing notes for the album, and moved the Italian girlfriend in with me.

A few months into the job and I was getting pretty exhausted. I had transitioned from a relatively easy career with lots of time off to an all-hands-on-deck IT company. Melbourne car traffic had increased exponentially since I had last lived in the town and my commute could sometimes take up to two hours. I became pretty sick a few times including a spectacular occasion where I got an abscess on my ribs. I also was having trouble talking: I had damaged my voice in the seven hour vocal session in March and developed vocal nodules. I saw a throat specialist and after performing an endoscopy he commented “it has been a long time since I’ve seen anything like this”. He recommended speech therapy with the possibility of surgery in the future.

My friend at the company who had hired me was pretty erratic, battling some significant inner demons with KFC and vodka as his sword and shield, and every day it was a dice-roll whether he’d turn up. Additionally, his younger brother who was the company manager was requiring some holiday time. With some preparation, the brother went off on holidays for two weeks. Customers decided to spring their most fiendish requests on us during that absence and it was a fortnight of total shitfighting. We managed to pull through though and against the odds, the company was still standing when the younger brother returned.

Then we had a week that I am going to remember for a long, long time:

On the Monday, I pulled the plug on a data retrieval job gone wrong and put us on the hook for a few thousand dollars.

On the Wednesday, we lost our biggest customer.

On the Friday, my friend – the one who had hired me for the company – died of heart failure.

There is so much more detail to all this – calling absent company workers to let them know what had happened, the heartbreaking grief of the brother, sending everyone home and manning the phones until close of business, watching my mate get buried and crying so hard I could barely drive – but it’s just too much of a bummer. The next month was a process of trying to help keep the company running with my friend gone and his brother grieving. And somewhere in misty centre, the new album was mixed and mastered. I was proud of it, it sounded great, but it wasn’t the time to release a bunch of death metal.

Two months later, there was a company meeting where it was revealed that the money was about to run out. I gave my notice and resigned later that week, right near the end of August. I had plenty of savings, and was looking forward to getting some sleep and finally putting the album out. I put some job feelers out into the marketplace to give it a bit of a tickle – thinking that it would take me at least a month to find work – and astonished myself by landing a job immediately.

Three days later, I was starting work at a cloud computing company. They needed a little bit of documentation done for a new helpdesk they were launching. I was looking forward to some relaxing typing and research but it turned out they had different plans. Within two days of starting I was notified that I was actually the project manager. I was required to create technical service exclusion documents for everything the helpdesk did within two weeks, including crazy shit like Office 365 and Sharepoint migrations, write up all the how-to documents so even simpletons could understand how to do the work, and then create the helpdesk from scratch to go live within a month. In brief, this was a ridiculous amount of work.

I did it, but not without some cost. After a week of working and researching around the clock, I started getting anxious. REALLY anxious. I didn’t have a desk at this place and would bring my own laptop to work on and would try and find a spare surface to sit at, and start the day by nearly blacking out with anxiety. I’d have to focus on breathing for about five minutes just to get started. I’d usually sit in the area of an existing helpdesk where people would have loud arguments each day and occasionally shed a tear. I had been assigned technical assistance for the work but that was a contractor who I had doubts about having done migrations before, and he only stuck around for a few days. The anxiety also had an existential aspect to it. I was realizing that my long-awaited return to Melbourne had happened five years too late. The cost of property and living had risen astronomically, and all I had to look forward to the rest of my life was living in small tiny dogbox apartments, saving scraps. After another week the panic was so bad that I hit up a doctor and got some medication for it.

The goalposts seemed to shift outwards almost on a daily basis. I went from documenting, to project management, to creating a helpdesk, to then getting a bollocking because it hadn’t been fully automated upon inception. The final straw to me was when I asked how soon could we start interviewing people for the helpdesk especially as it ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company was like, we’re not hiring anyone yet – we want to see how many people actually require this helpdesk first. I was like, well who’s going to take the calls for it then? And they were like, you.

That’s all I needed to hear. I gave my notice, handed them the completed project, integrated it with their existing helpdesk, and left. By then my nodules were so bad I could barely talk. I went to a Halloween party and after twenty minutes of talking in a crowd, no sound would come out of my mouth no matter what. Vocal therapy wasn’t working. Doctors were saying that I’d require surgery to fix the nodules and that I wouldn’t be able to sing again. I forgot about trying to find work and booked some weeks off in Tasmania. I traveled there with the girlfriend. We hired a rental car at Hobart Airport from a dude who used to be part of the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene back in the day. He told us a funny story about getting interviewed by the police long-distance on the phone after Euronymous’ death. We drove to remote places and got caught in blizzards and played Incantation nonstop on the car stereo. I returned to Melbourne and did some contracting work then headed to Europe for December.

I ate pork in Spain. I stayed with my girlfriend’s family in Rome, where they attempted to kill me with love and good food. I stayed in medieval mountaintop towns in Tuscany. I saw Gojira blow everyone off the stage in Bologna. I became sick with flu, traveled to friends in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, and drove through amazing mountain passes. Now I am back in Australia in my dingy little rundown flat. My girlfriend is still in Italy until February. I have no fulltime job. My voice is slowly returning. I have been able to speak again over the last few weeks. And now, finally, it seems like a good time to release the album.

‘The Buried Life’ release date will be March 1st 2017.

*postscript: It’s funny what perspective does to you. This could so easily have been the story instead: I get various friends to do me favours. Then I move back to the city I’ve been moaning about wanting to return to after scoring a nice leaving package from my job. I easily get an apartment in a city where spare rentals are tight, meet a girl worthy of a full article all on her own, then get showered with job opportunities, before spending the last three months of the year holidaying. My family is alive and healthy and well, and I’ve even had a new niece arrive. 

If this year reads like a tragedy, then that tragedy is that I lost the ability to appreciate all of this.

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