“Hey, can you come over sometime tonight? I have a new song I want you to listen to.”
A notebook filled with chicken scratch. A piano and a guitar. He plays the piano part, asks what I think. I can’t say without hearing how it pairs with other pieces. So he sings the song. It’s terribly depressing, but the melody is catchy. Once through, and he’s like, “Okay, your turn.” “No way! I don’t know it yet! You have to sing with me.” So we sing the first verse over and over and over again until I mostly have it.
Then, motives are revealed. I’m not just here to learn a song. I’m hear to learn how to be indie. He asks me to sing with more attitude. To accent certain words. To forget about proper phrasing. “You should sound desperate. And despairing.” He plays a few clips of other songs, voices he likes. And I realize that he wants me to sound rough. And ragged.
Maybe I should start smoking.
“I’ve spent a lot of time un-training proper choir singers.” I spend a lot of time laughing at what he’s asking me to do. Every time my voice cracks, I start giggling. One week after admiring his ability to sing even when his voice cracks, and to make that sound awesome, I’m being asked to do the same.
So we start coming up with a back story. I can’t just put on a sad voice. That doesn’t work. “Pretend you’re in a musical, and you’ve just put your child to sleep, and you’re expressing all of your fears, perhaps about the child, and even though you aren’t singing a lullaby to the child anymore, and you don’t want to wake the child, you’re still singing, because it’s a musical.” “So…I’m stage whispering?” “Maybe.”
“Okay, that’s good. But now sing louder. Not stronger, but louder.”
Then, I’m trying to exhale, fully, on every single word. By the end of the song, I feel like I’m going to pass out. After a few more attempts, I’m exhausted. The effort required to sing so differently, and so counter-intuitively, has me furrowing my brow and hunching over. I look totally belabored. Which, I’m beginning to suspect, is part of the plan. If I don’t look sad and defeated naturally, we have to trick me into looking that way.
“Could you sing with less vibrato?” “I’m not sure I can really control that.” “You know, I always used to think that people sang vibrato because they couldn’t find the right note, so they would just warble back and forth between the two best options.” (withering glare) “…not that I think that anymore! You sound lovely!”