Lunch came and went, and in the early afternoon I settled back down onto the living room couch, browsing aimlessly on my computer. Nothing in particular aroused my interest – I was just wasting time. I do that a lot. Meanwhile, Tadashi and Katsumi cleaned up the kitchen and then vanished up the stairs one after another. I checked out the blogs and social media feeds of a few celebrities I like, and then spent half an hour on a pointless online word game.
Just as I was finishing that up and wondering what I should do next, the sound of electric guitars came blaring from the studio upstairs. I closed my browser, raised my head slightly, and listened to Tadashi’s swift, skilled tuning. First he did one guitar all on its own, and then he picked up the second one and tuned it to the first. I found out a while later that he has perfect pitch – no surprise there. Even without that trait, he’s always had exceptionally good hearing. Relaxed on the couch, I closed my eyes and waited for the two guitarists to start playing something.
As the days went by I’d learn to differentiate the sounds and styles of the guitars and figure out who was playing what, but for the time being I just accepted the music as it was, with no names attached. They warmed up for a few minutes, one of them running through some scales, the other playing an exceptionally fast, complicated melody. Katsumi tested out his voice, too. After this was a short pause; then they launched freely into a song. For this piece, there was some prerecorded drumming going on in the background, and Tadashi contributed no backing vocals. I listened with intense curiosity. The pace was faster than the song I’d heard last night, and the rhythm was far more complex; the guitar solos were spaced well apart with some kind of interlude between them, and in a lot of places the two guitarists were playing entirely different rhythms laid on top of each other. Last night’s piece had certainly impressed me, but this one captured my attention in a very different way.
And what about the lyrics? Even though he was all miked up and belting soulfully, I didn’t really catch Katsumi’s voice all that well, so I couldn’t really tell what the song was about. But, guessing just from the tone and melodies, it was certainly on the rougher side. The song they’d played the night before had been more of a soft, introspective, heart-wrenching ballad; this one, on the other hand, made me want to get up and take action, to get in a fight with someone over something I found worth fighting for – at least that’s how I imagined it.
Suddenly inspired, I opened up a new document on my laptop and wrote down my impressions of the song. Maybe, I thought, writing about music wouldn’t be so bad after all. I just had to learn the terminology, get to know the artists, listen to the songs more, and it would be just like any other article… right? And if the music was like this, like what Tadashi and Katsumi had just played, I might even be able to enjoy it.
Before they could start on their next song, I bolted upstairs and poked my head into the studio. There was an intimidating mess of instruments and equipment everywhere. Katsumi, who was adjusting his headset and monitors, saw me and gave Tadashi a surprised, somewhat perplexed look; my friend glanced over his shoulder, met my gaze, and smiled.
“Hey,” he said, turning to face me. He muted his guitar with one hand while brushing back his hair with the other. “You been listening?”
“Sorry to interrupt,” I said embarrassedly.
“That’s okay. What’s up?”
“You said you release your music digitally, right? Is there like a website or something? I have no idea how that kind of thing works…”
Tadashi grinned. “I’ll set you up with it after dinner, okay? Just remind me, in case I forget.”
“Okay, thanks. Also… can I stay and watch?”
He looked at Katsumi; the black-haired musician shrugged. “I don’t mind.”
“We’re just running through some of our old songs right now,” Tadashi explained to me, “so it’s probably a good time for you to listen in, too.”
“Is it okay if I bring my computer and write down my impressions of the songs?” I asked.
Katsumi scratched his head. “Yeah, whatever, but probably best if you don’t publish it – especially not for a real article.”
“Better if you talk to our manager first for stuff like that,” Tadashi clarified. “Otherwise she’s going to give you some trouble for it.”
“Okay, I won’t,” I promised.
I brought up my computer, crashed on the floor in a corner of the studio, and spent the rest of the afternoon watching, listening, and writing.
The two played on for hours without paying much attention to me, a behavior which I appreciated. I wanted to observe everything as it was, without interfering or changing it. The notes I made were nothing special – there was nothing you could describe as technical, no professional evaluation or criticism. I just jotted down how each song made me feel, and that was about it. But I would later come to believe that this kind of emotional, surface-level writing was just as important, and in some ways just as valuable, as the real thing you might find in a music magazine.
While listening, I observed their instruments and the equipment they used, trying to learn as much as possible. Having had no background in music, especially not of this kind, I was basically starting from scratch. It was like catching a glimpse of what life was like in a different universe. Tadashi would eventually explain everything to me properly, but for the time being I just tried to soak everything in.
I wasn’t at all sure why I was suddenly interested in their music. Maybe it was because it was my old school friend making it. Maybe it was because I was living in the same house with them. Maybe there was something special about their songs. I really hadn’t a clue. But whatever the reason, I knew in my heart that this was what I’d been searching for when I had started asking around for a summer place in the countryside – I needed cleansing, emotional and physical; I needed to jumpstart my stagnant life; and I needed writing inspiration. And here it all was.
The guitars, the lake, the people – everything was perfect.
After a few hours of on-and-off playing, Tadashi left to start prepping dinner. Katsumi fell back onto a chair and rested. He was breathing a little hard, but it seemed like he’d had a good time. His voice had come out well, I thought. I made no attempt to strike up a conversation, wondering how hard it must be to sing.
After a few quiet minutes he faced me and asked, “How was it?”
“Great,” I replied.
To be honest, I was still slightly wary of being alone with Katsumi. Sometimes he would be casual, sometimes he’d be just as friendly as Tadashi, and other times he’d be too friendly – as I mentioned, wild. But I was slowly getting used to these changes in his mood. I imagined the surface of the ocean, sprawling from horizon to horizon; sometimes it would be stormy and surging, sometimes the shifting waves would be of an average, expected size and shape, and other times the sea would be calm and still. Right now, tired as he was, and having loosened up with an afternoon of music, he seemed pretty relaxed. So I wasn’t too worried about having a conversation alone with him like this.
The worst times to catch him, I’d eventually learn, were either late at night or, in the event he hadn’t slept well, early in the morning. During the day, especially when he was with Tadashi, he was generally pretty tame.
“So you like our music?” he asked.
“I like it a lot,” I admitted. “More than I thought I would.”
“Anything in particular about it that you like?”
I thought about it. “Your vocals… when the two of you sing together. Two human voices singing together, that sound is really powerful, I feel. And you make good use of it. Also, just your personalities, the way they come out in your guitar playing… and the variety of style. The way you sometimes use recorded backing tracks, and other times play alone, that kind of thing. It keeps it really interesting. Each song is different and incredibly unique… that’s new to me. Most of the stuff I hear on the radio or in stores just all sounds the same. So I like the creative, artistic drive behind your music, it’s refreshing.”
“As expected of a writer,” Katsumi said. “You think carefully and speak meaningfully. I like it.”
I flushed. “What’s that?”
“Most people will just say ‘the melody is really catchy’ or ‘your voice sounds good.’ I like the way you think about it and really detail what you like and why it matters.”
“That’s one of the reasons why I like artists,” he said. “They’re sensitive to this kind of thing, and they care about it.”
I learned a lot that summer. About Tadashi, about music, about life – but also about myself.