There was a feeling of release and catharsis after leaving the apartment; he'd wanted to fix things, or start anyway, but Cal seemed to sense that if Claire and Mark managed to talk things out, his position would be diminished. Did he ever pick the best possible time to break it up; both of them, for a moment, were defenses down and trying to talk when Cal managed to bust in and blow the whole process up.
He almost, almost, wanted to go back, knock Cal out and try to have that conversation they were having, as hard as the conversation was and painful as the topics it covered would have been, but it was useless. He'd already cussed out Cal and even went so far as to cut Claire loose. It was hard for him to do anything about Claire when Cal was on the prowl; he was about to give into Claire, agree with her when the sonofabitch barged in, and it just snapped in his head; he didn't have to eat that shit from Calvin, he had options. That was what Jen said and she was right. While packing up his car with everything that he could think of as important, he'd texted her the news and her response was;
"No problem, baby, u need a place to stay? <3"
But something, instinct and subconscious, held him back and kept him on the path back to the house he'd grown up at. The thing was that it'd be hard to conceal what was going on from Helen Pierce, because she'd know the car parked there was Mark's, and it wasn't entirely often that he would stay the night at Anna's -- it never happened -- which meant that it would be a sign that things were skidding off the rails. But Mark was beyond the point where he could keep up appearances, though he'd given his damndest try with Claire and tried to stay a close friend. Now, it was an open question whether or not they'd be friends at all. At this point in time, he wasn't sure he cared.
He was unpacking in his old bedroom when his mother came in to check on him; he didn't so much unpack as just bring himself and his laptop with him; the guitars, the amp, the equipment in general and most of his stuff that he'd taken along, including a few changes of clothes, stayed in the car. This was a layover, nothing more, though the room was pretty familiar -- there were the posters, the stuff from his childhood; he'd spent a lot of it skateboarding or even screwing around with finger-paints and other things before he'd really gotten into the guitar; there was even a season of baseball he played in Junior high, though he'd kind of sucked for lack of motivation. There were also a lot of boxes packed full of spare stuff that Anna put in; she hadn't expected him to really need that room at all after years of keeping it ready when he moved out; he'd done well by the standards of LA, he'd kept his head above water when he didn't have a raft. He hadn't moved back in, but he found a way forward.
"So where to after this, Mark?" was Anna's question of her son, "You're welcome to stay, but..."
"No, totally not necessary Ma," he kissed her on the cheek with a grin, "you know me, I kind of want to go it alone. I just need a place to crash. I just couldn't stay there the way things were going. She's making me nuts. I mean, more nuts than usual." He never told the truth of the car crash or the other things he'd covered for with Claire, including that period when she decided to discover sex in high school; Mark held the line for a lot of shady dates with shitty guys that Helen and Bruce had no idea about.
His mother looked at him with a sad, knowing sort of expression, "That's the problem Mark, you're the kind of guy that wants to go it alone; you tend to think the world is against you, and now you think Claire's doing this out of a conscious decision, like she's thought this out and made her decision. But she's trying to find her way through just like everyone else, and she doesn't know what she's really buying into any more than you do. No more than I did, Helen did, Bruce did, Jamie did or anyone else you care to name."
But there was more to that; Anna covered herself well, but it seemed like there was more to her, "like I did" than simple regret; it sounded like there was a pertinent story there. Mark started to object, but was interrupted.
"I'm just saying, honey, don't cut everyone off just because they become difficult on your way up. You'll end up at the top with no one and the top is a terrible, lonely place to be. Just try to think about it. You might not need each other now; maybe you both have other people, but try not to burn your bridges."
"That's hard to do Mom; I almost had her talking sense rather than spitting fire--"
"She's Helen's daughter, don't be shocked at that." Anna, for her part, sounded rather amused at that; she and Helen were friends, but their values were radically different, even beyond their differing attitudes toward breast enhancement. But it was true; Anna, and Mark, the boy she raised, were both people that held shit in, and the Pierces were definitely more extroverted, though the extroversion was often a facade covering up bigger issues.
"--I'm not, but I mean, we were talking sense and trying to see each other's side when that bastard barged in."
"I know, he's a bastard and she's enthralled by him for some reason. You can't control her decision making, Mark. And he's a bad one, one of the worst kinds, the ones that take away everything from you because they are so insecure they'll never actually be able to hold their head high if they feel someone is better than them at anything. And that's why he was out for you. But Claire may need you sooner than you think, and you should make sure you're there for her when it happens." But rather than press the point, she just brushed those fingertips lovingly against his cheek and left the room so he could unpack for the night. He was left with a lot to think about the night before he had a lot of shit to do.
Johnny Reynolds came through with a bungalow, way out of the Valley, in the Hollywood Heights; it was part of a historic neighborhood, but it was a somewhat quiet sort of place without a lot of neighbors around -- there was space between him and the other people around there. Johnny said it was a temporary thing, the house was unoccupied by the current owner who had other bits of real estate-- they were sitting on it since the housing crash, waiting for the price to go back up to where they could sell at a profit. They were cool with the idea of a caretaker, someone to keep the place from getting robbed or vandalized...Mark got the feeling that Johnny might not have been entirely honest about what sort of person was moving in. Mark was responsible, but damage was bound to occur as part of the whole lifestyle of partying and bands.
That was fine by Mark; he wasn't about to ask questions of his luck. The biggest problem was a distinct lack of furnishing, but the place had open space aplenty; hardwood floors and a bathtub that actually had jets; that actually was the part that made him shiver a bit. If he only kept part of the house inhabited, it was still more space than he ever had, even at his mother's place. There was even a hot tub out in the back and hedges to allow for people to move around in the complete nude if they wanted. It had, to be blunt about it, enormous potential for a guy that wanted privacy and freedom. The price tag, though he didn't ask, had to be fairly enormous on the place, but Johnny made it sound like the owners pretty much neglected the place.
The first several days in the place with Jen were bliss; they spent the days combing around for furniture to put in the place; Jen was better at it than he was, in finding furniture and the such that he could add in. A call to Johnny confirmed that he could paint the place, so long as he didn't do anything fucked up. He used his mother's taste as his guideline in repainting walls and making the space his own, but made sure to do a good job of it -- he'd taken a summer job painting houses for three years in a row in high school to help pay the bills and get spending money for himself, he was, once he got past the rust, a damned good house painter. It felt a little too domestic, so by night it was the hot tub, the booze and the band members and whomever they wanted to bring -- small parties, but lots of money to go around; it was acknowledged that Mark's place was the best to hang, but no one wanted to be stuck with the bill for trashing it...trashing places was for someone else's parties, or at Cave's new place. Dalton moved in, finally free of his mother's house; thankfully, Jamie didn't show up for pregnancy sex on the sly -- that would have been awkward.
And they did; they blew off steam; they all quit their jobs and collected their last paychecks, those of them that had it, and they were playing gigs here and there to help market themselves to producers as they hunted for the right guy that would do their vision justice. And when they weren't doing that, they were practicing most of the day and then hanging out in seedy sorts of places and getting into trouble, particularly through Hack and Cave. Jen, her friend Lex, and a rotating array of different girls and guys they knew, dealers, hangers-on and the such, accompanied this, lured by the free ride of the advance money that largely got blown in this atmosphere. They weren't buying expensive stuff, but the drugs, booze and cheap food tended to pile up.
Even though that change would be considered massive, it wasn't the end of it; life was throwing it all on heavy and hard at this point. The band managed to locate a producer they liked a guy named Ray Mendoza, who had a stripped down attitude about his producing; he wanted to keep the band sounding natural, rather than make it too glossy and over-produced. The guy had a few small projects to his name, but little else and he seemed eager to take it to the next level; that was the sort of meeting of the minds that Mark appreciated, and why they took this Mendoza guy over industry veterans that had a lot of preconceived notions about what was a successful formula, rather than trying to work with the band they had rather than trying to make it into the band they wanted. The production, the sound mixing of the production, was what made or broke a record, and Mark wanted the absolute right sound for the music, he wanted that shit to roll out of the speakers. Playing may be distinct, but bad production gave you a well-played record with a tinny, awkward sound, as Metallica well knew from the production of "...and Justice For All."
The thing was, the agreement across the band was to trim down the party lifestyle, partially because the money was running out, and get serious about the album, and that was the word from the record and Johnny Reynolds as well; there was a sense of mission there to take things by storm, to put out a furious and awesome record; in order to concentrate, they had to put aside all the distractions. Mark even ended it with Jen around the time that Jen started to make demands and Stace called her "Yoko Ono" to her face. She took that as not merely racist, but also a nasty attempt to undermine the relationship and demanded an apology; when Mark tried to tell her that the point was that she needed to back off on her demands, she blew her shit...Claire would have probably enjoyed the way it ended, because the truth was that Jen was wearing off rather quickly once he left the apartment -- she seemed to turn her jealous impulses toward the Band, intent on playing games and she got shown the door; they had an argument about him stalling on having her move in, and finally Mark just told her it was over, rather than play games and try to make her go away or dump him first. Maybe it was guilt over Claire; in a way, he blamed Jen for that, even though he made the decisions and the fuckups were his. But Jen was baggage.
The truth was that Mark had been getting tired of it anyway; Jen spent a lot of her time talking shit about Claire, trying to get Mark to say something hateful rather than clearly regretting it, and that led to a few fights -- she wasn't content to just have him out of the apartment, she was showing signs of being a jealous mistress...and Mark couldn’t deal with that at his point in life, especially when he was trying to focus solely on the music. And after ditching Claire the way he did and uprooting his life so completely out of dedication to the music, he had no problem getting rid of Jen. In fact, it was anticlimax, like cleaning up the fallout of the Claire mess.
The whole thing was awkward, but it also wasn't in his face; he figured he could mend fences after the album was out, because he just felt the intense need to get it done, to pour what was in his head out to the rest of Reckless Life, make it into songs and put it on a record. Much of the stuff was already there, but some of it got written on the fly, or updated, as they came up with good ideas. They had thirty songs, but they needed to pick the twelve best and make them work with each other. It was a winnowing down process, basically, whilst they refined what they had once winnowed.
So there was nothing but the music and maybe a fling or two, and he seemed disinclined to start seriously with anyone else, even as he slowed down on the drinking and the drug use; mostly drinking, a little snort here and there of something or a pill that let him keep drinking.
A week earlier was when the date was scheduled for studio time, and that gave everyone a little time to slow down a bit and get it out of their system; with little else to do, having quit all their day jobs, it was hard not to try to do something, but Mark and Hack occupied the time by shopping for more instruments with the money they had left, just the right sounds with speakers and amps; Mark was happy with his blue Les Paul, but Hack was looking for a different bass, something with more of a roll to it. Even Stace was on board, showing up, surprisingly, with Jen's roommate Alexis, whom Mark had introduced to Stace during the relationship, to do the guitar shopping, though she was of little input on instruments -- much as the redhead might have an opinion on everything else, the intricacies of strings, frets, tuning, amps, speakers and effects were lost on her. Mark came out of it without really changing his instruments -- he'd worked at Manny's and had the employee discount access to good stuff from the get-go -- whereas Hack and Stace spent considerably more on new amps, speakers and a Fender Bass and a Paul Reed Smith with dual humbuckers; Mark had to admit, it sounded good, and had a deep enough growl for the sound they usually counted on in the rhythm. While he and Stace usually played intertwined on rhythm when Mark wasn't leading, they preferred a lower-powered amp that broke up the sound when cranked up on the settings, which gave it a menacing growl without distortion in the punk rock way. They differed on amps, but it still sounded good.
When the day finally happened that they got to a studio, one that Johnny Reynolds thought was nice and out of the way and one that Ray Mendoza approved of in terms of equipment, they pretty much all showed up relatively sober and eager; it was hard for Mark to sleep that night and he'd done it all alone. It was a swirling chaos of ideas, variations and expectations in his head, on how precisely to compose things and how to arrange it; as the lead songwriter, he was the one that collaborated in talks with Ray, which kept him out of a lot of the business of getting high and laid as much as some of the other guys, and they’d come to an understanding of what to expect.
The recording process was not like playing a concert; you played the same stuff over and over again, sometimes alone and sometimes with others while the equipment picked it up. Then the engineer took that individual recording and merged it with other recordings trying to form a proper song out of each individual segment; you didn't generally get up there and belt it out. But there was, at least, in the case of Reckless Life, a sense of community in that they stayed together and worked on this together; they'd play through the song and then refine it, getting things just so; the studio was made to be comfortable, and they were told ahead of time to bring shit to make themselves more comfortable; humidifiers and drinks for Cave's voice, seats, cushions. Mark didn't even bother with pants, he just threw on some shorts and a t-shirt, though, as a matter of course, they made sure they were wearing enough 'rock' attire in the form of chains, bracelets and the such to look photogenic, but there was still less effort given and more natural.
In Mark's case, it boiled down to the heat; shorts and a t-shirt, varying ones that said shit like, "To Avoid Pregnancy, Use Your Head” and other similar things. The studio got hot; it was summer in LA and the electric equipment ensured that the place was going to run a temp. Even with air conditioning, it was a bit of a losing battle in the scheme of things. But he still wore stuff on ball chains and leather string, including a peace symbol as a bit of irony; he'd gotten an extra tattoo or two on his arms during his little bender-binges, though he'd largely let the tattooist do whatever they wanted and was given a bit of a mural on his upper arm; an skull done by a talented apprentice tattooist named Anita Tora, a real west-coast Japanese girl that just did this beautiful scene on his entire upper arm; a very Garden of Eden sort of scene of flowers and the such...with a snake cunningly twined in through the plant life, lurking in the underbrush. Before, he'd only done the Medusa, but now he had a little more leeway for what he could do with the tattooing. She was Cave's girl of the moment, but Mark really liked her, enough to just let her turn his upper arm into a canvas scene for her work. He would have asked for more, but Cave seemed to be a little obsessed with the girl, at the moment; Cave was like that, possessive, territorial. But unlike Calvin, Cave and Mark knew the limits of each other, where the line was drawn, and respected it between each other.
And it was just as well he hadn't asked Anita to do his leg or thigh, or get him something on the torso; he was still slapping lotion on his arm and that didn't do much to stop the itching, but the studio distracted. It usually did; there was a feeling of unity in the room, even with the girlfriends sitting right there, all two of them, and actually just staying well out of the way; if either Alexis or Anita Tora had been intent on making trouble, it probably would have resulted in them being told to shut up and/or get the fuck out, but instead they seemed to like each other; Mark was surprised at that, since he had this misogynistic image in his head, not helped by Jen and Claire, that two women together were like cats in a bag. And, for a wonder, neither one tried to manipulate the boyfriend or play with their minds or the band the way Jen did. Mark would have thrown up huge roadblocks to it after the way Jen did shit, but apparently Stace had more spine about that shit than he expected or Alexis understood the dynamic of the band; she wasn't butting heads with Cave Wyatt, and that was amazing too. Somewhere down the line, he'd found out the story; Lex had moved out from the apartment she shared with Jen and moved in with Stace, so there was no problem in regards to Jen hearing stuff through Lex anymore. When Mark heard that, he was so visibly relieved that Lex laughed at him outright, but he laughed with her.
The whole thing, watching apparently healthy relationships with women made Mark wonder where he'd gone so seriously wrong with the whole thing. But it was an angst he ruthlessly tamped down and channeled into the music instead of letting it take him over.
There was that electricity in the air, though, he could just feel it; he couldn't really describe that cutting the first real album was not only an experience, but there seemed to be more to it than that; Ray had this look of intensity on his face that mirrored that of the band members, and when Johnny showed up to show the A&R guys from URG what was up, they had rapt looks on their faces too, as if they could feel it just building up in there.
The usual A&R refrain of "I don't hear a single here" was absent; they had songs, but the titles probably needed more professional work, guys going over the song lyrics and titling them to be less awkward, more cool. Mark didn't resent that; most of the material was about enjoying things but also seeing just how excessive and messed up things were; sleaze, prostitution, the unglamorous side of drug use. Mark wasn’t wealthy, the band wasn't wealthy, and they saw things from their perspective; cynicism about guys like Calvin, who didn't get a song, and cynicism about girls, who did get a few songs in, though nothing under their names so much as the unvarnished tales, rather than a fairytale about dancing in clubs and partying all night. Reckless life was about the drinking and the hangover; the drug high, the crash, the craving, the scoring. It was about what you did the morning after with the girl from the night before.
The recording industry was overrun with pop titles and even country was glossy and smooth these days. Rock had been emasculated to the point of even a number of 17-19 year olds listening to old stuff because it had more authenticity to it than the Nickelbacks or other butt rock type bands, glossy, overproduced, forced enthusiasm, crafted image...the same. On the other end of the spectrum, there was the lifeless, even pedestrian sort of bands that 20-30something collegiate hipsters liked, drawing on old psychedelic rock or other esoteric forms; that wasn't the direction this band headed either -- they weren't targeting an audience or trying to catch a trend, they were blasting it full speed ahead because they felt it. Reckless Life was on a label, but it seemed to have enough of a center and viewpoint to survive the commercial process, and enough identity and swagger of its own to hold up under the microscope of the A&R guys. Even Alex Blue, a friend of Johnny, came through and declared, "That is the Devil's Music," which was worded as a compliment and Mark took it as such.
For Mark, there was little outside of the booth; Alex Blue visited and that was a rocker that knew the industry and played some really awesome shit in his day complimenting them, but the other faces were anonymous; it was him and his guitar and an intense sort of focus; the days blended into each other where he just kept playing as many times as Ray needed it to be right, but it was very few times that he was too far off the mark; the others were about as pumped and playing right on their edge. They all crashed at Mark’s temporary place, which was the closest to the studio as well as the nicest, the easier to keep an eye on each other and to stay out of trouble, and it seemed they’d go back at night and start playing more music, writing more music and coming up with ideas off the top of their heads. There wasn't much room for the girlfriends as the group mind of the band asserted itself at this necessary time, as they got shit hammered out, but Anita and Lex, unlike Jen, seemed able to tolerate that they were not the center of the universe for the band members they were in a relationship with. It seemed like even when they left the studio, they didn't want to really leave the studio, and so they'd get instruments and paper and pens, pot and booze and keep going until exhaustion finally wore them thin for a night.
For Mark's part, instrumental guitar solos were done carefully; placed in parts of the song where they made sense, to accentuate the music, not to overwhelm it as some show-off guitar types might do. The great ‘guitar gods' played in songs that were more than the guitar playing alone, and that was Mark's orientation as well. He spent more time on the intro, the bridge and the coda parts, trying to craft those to be as excellent so that the entire songs would rule, as opposed to waiting overmuch for a solo and practically wanting to fast forward through the other parts.
The album wasn't going to just be good, it was going to be tremendous, that was the buzz they felt in them, as shit that sounded just right came off their lips or fingertips or things just got written down and then played quickly before they had a finished product; much of it was Mark's material to begin with, but the other guys added their voice, imprinted themselves on it; the heavy, aggressive roll of the bass, the throaty growl of the guitars as they occasionally broke out and started wailing and wah'ing, the paced power of the drums and the spectrum of Cave's voice, which moved from the cool and measured to the snarled, as opposed to some sort of deep-throated metal growl or an Eddie Vedder moan or a higher pitched sort of tone suitable for a softer album. The thing was that while Mark was at the center of the songwriting, he didn't protect his ideas from modification or being discarded. But, often enough, the stuff came through largely filtered through his own rock aesthetic, something informed by the hip-swinging, whiskey-soaked blues-bar aesthetic of the Rolling Stones, with more than a liberal dash of the iconoclasm and rebellion of punk rock and the cynicism of the grunge era, a mixture of influences. The lyrics bore a similar stamp, a realization of imperfection, but a determination to push forward. A celebration of the grit and a biting 'don't give a fuck' message.
Review: The Hollywood Music Report
Rock has sucked for a long time; it seems like it's been a long, hard road since the day Kurt Cobain killed himself. Grunge's punk rock simplicity, Hendrix-like distortion and howled angst has become played out; it's morphed into psychoanalytic post-grunge, stripped of any animating passion or skill...much less instrumental flair, or it's gone very light and cerebral, perhaps inspired a lot by the experimentation of Rush and other progressive bands, but this isn't about these attempts to create a broader type of rock or the efforts of metal guys to delve into complex arrangements. This is about old fashioned Rock n' Roll and the truth of rock n' roll these days is that you go to a club and you see three to five guys with sleeve tattoos, fedoras and beards playing three chords devoid of any sneer or snarl, apathetically moving through their music with the clinical attitude of an archaeologist, prodding the dead remains of a civilization; curious, but detached.Review: Christian Music Weekly
Then, enter Reckless Life, fronted by a crazy Texan named Cave Wyatt who spray-paints himself on stage and sneers his contempt and howls, rather than moans, his angst into the mic, strutting across the stage rather than using it as a therapy couch in some Woody Allen movie. A good singer can make their own career, but great singers generally need great bands; you don't have Steven Tyler without Joe Perry and you don't have Mick Jagger without Keith Richards...or Ozzy Osbourne without the dual geniuses of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. Reckless Life has a guitarist that brings back the guitar; loud, snarling and unapologetically inspired by those that came before, unashamed of his skill and not afraid to show off.
Reckless Life come with screwed up childhoods, alienated adulthoods and a contempt for the mainstream, but it's also a band that knows music; they seem to pull the right lessons out of rock n' roll history in their raw ferocity and punk rock attitude, combining it with professionalism in the musicianship; you can tell that lead guitarist Mark Verona could easily haul off and do seven minutes of impressive solo playing, but instead he shares the spotlight and plays locked in with the band, a united front against everyone else. He even shares the spotlight with his rhythm guitarist, Stace Calvert, and admits to being 'entranced' with good rhythm guitar playing. The songs are carefully composed, but also simple, lending themselves to be played by kids in their garages; Mark Verona seems to feel that the mark of an expert is making it look easy, and that's what he does in the recording booth and on stage.
It's a sound that appeals to old guys moaning about the loss of real Rock and younger folks looking for someone in their generation that can really cut it loose, a whole generation that got told that rock was dead and what remains sucks. Reckless Life is a defiantly-up thrust middle finger to the conventional types in the industry that keep signing artists that sound alike. The band is ramshackle, disorganized, distinctly unaltered from when they were plucked up from a stage on the Alley Cat by no less than Phil Becken, Alex Blue and Johnny Renyolds, but that's charming -- they wear what they want, play like they want and sing about what they want, with a refreshing lack of input from the marketing guys in the creative process.
It might even work.
Where can you get their album? Right now, nowhere, though Edge Records has two singles out; "First Taste" and "Mindgames" though we're reliably told the title is a compromise from something more vulgar. The singles are high quality and riveting in their rawness, and the material is old story for a new generation. It's on the radio, it's on MTV, though the video is nothing special, and intentionally so -- just a shot of a band sweating their asses off under the harsh stage lights in some seamy club. But that's alright, because it's far from contrived. It's worth a listen, because it sounds like Rock is making a return with all the loud, nasty, swaggering toughness that seems to be lost in all the undergrad angst of the current rock scene.
Headline: Sin is back in. Reckless Life is the Vanguard of Degeneracy in Follywood.Breaking the Seal, KROC FM-101.5, Late Night Local Rock Show:
"So yeah, at first we played it because strippers delivered it to us, but now we're getting requests all the time for Reckless Life. Sorry guys, the album isn't out quite yet, but I heard the word that the day of release is close. Until then, you gotta go see them live; they kill. But a word to the wise: make sure you bring rubbers, that you ladies don't accept any free drinks and you shower off afterward. Until then, we've got the tunes. That's right, another "First Taste" on Rockin' 101.5..."Email: from Phil Becken
Johnny, pitch this to Mark Verona and Cave Wyatt, along with the attached article in Christian Music Weekly; let's name the album, "Follywood."