“Art is Alive” is a multi-part series detailing Yuurea Sulphur’s experiences making music within the punk scene.
I am kicking myself, not for any real sort of reason but for not having the sense of mind to write this in the moment. A large part—half, in fact—of the motivation for this trip has been recording. I was initially asked over a year ago to take part in a split album to be released on cassette, along with several other artists. I jumped at the chance but had not had the ability to get out here—but now here I am.
What follows is a retrospective on the recording process.
We arrive at 12:30 pm sharp, the exact time we were told this morning to be there. A guitar slung on my shoulder and another on my co-conspirator’s (CC), we pop around back for a quick smoke before digging into the bulk of the emotional work to be done. We are sat among friends in the warm midday sun. We talk of CC’s new guitar, which I am cradling. I’m handed an acoustic guitar by the engineer (EE) of our session. This is not a studio…but it is at the same time. The feeling is nice. Between the buzzing of the bees and the quiet smoke-filled inspirations I tune: C, G, D, G, B, D. It feels wonderful, if a little foreign; it’s much larger than the guitar I had written these songs on; it feels larger than me. I am blessed to be able to use it and I accept this burden. We step inside to set up.
I’m happy that CC has heard my half of the songs we are to immortalize on tape. I’ve heard hers as well. She tells me sweet things to inspire courage before she departs to take care of some errands. EE and I will work alone on my half. These songs are hard, for both of us. I wish she could hear them now, but that’s not the way things will go.
CC has departed and it is just me and EE now. They are a good friend and a wonderful artist. We are alone in a ramshackle studio, practice space, and home—it is wonderful and familiar, loving and new, warm and humming with electricity and life. I am sitting in a hard wooden chair. My ass hurts but the pain keeps me in the moment, ready to record. I play some pieces, I sing some pieces, we test the levels of the microphones and we are ready.
I am ready.
Two takes later a song exists, extracted with the help of a steady hand and the caring words of friends who want me to succeed. I’ve never recorded with someone else; all of what I’ve done has been on my own, and in some ways it’s very welcome not to have to do the minutiae. When my leg becomes sore from my awkward seating, it is propped up. When I need to take a break, I am given space. All things in due time. I feel very relaxed and at peace.
Something is weird about making music or art; something is weird about being on a video and seeing yourself externalized. There’s something very terrifying to me about existing outside of my own perspective and engagement with existence, something concrete out there that shows me that I am here, or there, or somewhere, or that I was. I think that’s something that’ll get easier the more I force myself out there, but maybe that’s just a lie I’ve been told.
More takes, more songs, some breaks, and the words I’ve written come out like I’ve broken in two and they are bleeding out of me. EE compliments my songs, but I am somewhere else now, somewhere I need to be to undertake this. Older songs are the strangest in that way. You write something and dwell on it and maybe forget it but it’s always kind of there—until suddenly it isn’t and that isn’t you and you need to step into a role you once made for yourself. You need to relive the past in strange and often upsetting ways. At least for me. Right now I am in the thick of it all. I am wading through this bog.
Struggling to keep time, my arm hurts from strumming (though that’s nothing new to me), but my voice is new. It’s fresh like surfacing from the water—and after a short duration, I’m able to hear with clarity again. I feel as though I’m undoing something.
I smoke again. The sun beats down on me as a familiar face rounds the corner. I half-believe it is a hallucination. CC has returned and is standing before me, but her face is someone else’s—it is her girlfriend, Null’s. There’s blood on her hands and face and she offers me some, which I decline, before going inside to wash up. Things are complicated, but manageable—I squeeze out the tobacco and cherry from my cigarette and stamp it with my left foot: “Small rituals are appreciated,” I muse aloud to the cat lying in the grass nearby. She doesn’t care. I pat my pockets to feel the stones I am carrying. I feel something but I’m not sure what. CC is returning shortly to finish her half, but not soon enough.
Slightly frantic, headphones sat lovingly on their ears, EE begins to trim the fat from my 5-song performance. I come back into myself and the moment and begin to worry, but I push it aside. It’s in the Lord’s hands now.
My side is done. I am done. This journey of writing and understanding and growing has come to a close. Two years and two weeks after meeting CC at an random show, two years after some of the worst years of my life, two years after resolving to be this person I am, to make the things I do, to get better in the terms I had set… it’s poignant, I guess, is what I’m saying. It’s a nice chapter closing on something.
I settle on the floor to listen as CC begins her half. I am alone in my thoughts and feelings, as the well-worn and loving hands of someone dear tear into the strings like a blue jay into a finch. Songs of struggles both present and distant, of writing and playing, of doing and creating.
Art by guest artist Blare Coughlin, whose portfolio can be found at blarecoughlin.tumblr.com.