Working at MTV News certainly has its perks, especially if you’re a tremendous music fan. There are the free CDs that arrive in your mailbox months before they hit store shelves, the concerts and, of course, meeting some of today’s biggest — and smallest — artists to talk (what else?) music.
On Tuesday, I was invited out to producer David Bendeth’s House of Loud studios in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, to meet with Floridian Christian metalcore act Underoath, and hear some tracks from their as-yet-untitled sixth LP, which will be in stores sometime this fall. It was the first time the band was playing any of the songs for anyone outside of the band, and while that may sound really awesome, it was rather uncomfortable.
Imagine you’re the first person to hear the music a band’s been working on for two years. You’re in a studio — just you and the band — and there they are, letting down their guard, allowing you first access to material they’ve been toiling away on and pouring their hearts into. It’s sort of a big deal, but still an uncomfortable experience.
When I walked into the band’s studio, I was on their turf. As I entered the room, I noticed several chairs, situated just in front of the mixing board, with a number of other chairs placed at the back of the studio against the wall. The band wanted me to sit right in front of the console because, they told me, that was “where it’ll sound the best.” Given mine is a desk job, requiring me to sit for most of the day, I thanked them for the suggestion and offered to stand. But they were insistent, and eventually I caved, taking my seat at the base of the console.
Where did the band sit while the music was playing? Right freakin’ behind me — watching, judging, examining my body language and waiting for any indication as to what I thought of the new tunes, because, really, it’s going to be the only feedback they’ve gotten. And the songs sounded good. The production was tight, the guitars shredded, the drumming was bombastic, and frontman Spencer Chamberlain’s vocals were emotive and fierce. But it was still uncomfortable.
As each song played, I could feel their eyes boring into the back of my skull. I bobbed my head back and forth, in tandem with the song’s rhythm, and tapped my feet against the legs of my chair. It was subdued, but I was doing my best to “rock out” to the songs. And when each one ended, there was silence — the band anxiously awaited my reaction. And what could you possibly say, right? Underoath was right there, so, of course, you had to say something positive, even when certain songs didn’t grab you right away.
But you can’t overdue it, you think, or it’ll seem disingenuous. So you say things like “Wow, man” and “Damn, that song was crazy.” All the while, you’re thinking, “What do I say?” and “Was that the last song?” It’s nothing against the band; it’s just an uncomfortable spot to be put in — sort of like when you get a gift from someone, and you’re empty-handed, and they insist you open it now, in front of them.
I guess it just comes with the territory when you’re a music journalist. And while I could be working some other gig, perhaps doing the kinds of things people hate about their jobs, it’s still an uncomfortable position to be in. What this all means is, no matter what your profession, no matter how cool or appealing mine may sound, there are always going to be aspects of the job you’d rather do without.