I was never a natural singer. As a kid, I would sing along to my favourite pop songs but no-one ever stopped me in my tracks to comment on how good my voice was. I could sing in tune, but I had no style, no control, no technique.
When I decided that I wanted to be a singer, aged about 15, my only “training” was to sing along to Queen songs. I would wait for my parents to go out, crank up the stereo and shout along as loud as I could. Again, no technique; the only way I could hit certain notes was through sheer volume.
I wasn’t the sort of person to seek professional training. “It would ruin my unique voice and make me sound like everyone else”. OK, there is some truth to that, but it probably would have helped to have built a foundation. This was never an option, though, even if I wanted lessons it is not something my parents would have paid for. There wasn’t much money around and singing lessons for their wannabe son wouldn’t have been top of the list.
My first band where I actually rehearsed was when I was about 19. By that time, I could sing barely OK. Again, very limited range unless I really pushed the voice. We covered a lot of 1970s classics and they were a struggle for me. My first gig was about aged 19 or 20. I went on stage, nervous as all hell, waited for the technical issues (of which there was always many) to be resolved then started singing. The smoke machine came on. Within seconds my voice dried out completely and became a squeak. Big lesson learned: don’t use oil-based smoke machines.
That gig ended in disaster. The band split into two factions, I stole the cash and formed a new band with the guitar player, Rob. He had some songs written and, together, we wrote a few more. Now I had a whole other aspect of being a singer to learn, that being studio technique. Again, I was clueless. I would scream and shout out of tune, blowing my voice out time and time again. Those first tapes are an embarrassment!
I shared a house with Rob and, one day when out, he set up the Tascam 488 studio he had for me to record vocals to a new song. Being in control, for the first time, I was able to experiment without being self-conscious. The result was the first bit of singing I was ever proud of. I found a voice. I was in tune. I was hitting crazy notes. There was personality.
Re-creating that live never happened. We did some shows, played the Marquee, got a manager and label interest. But then the guitar player decided to be a dick, on several occasions, ended up in prison and also swiped at a record company exec. That band was dead in the water.
I formed a new band shortly thereafter. My new guitar player, Rick, came along with a different tuning to his guitar which suited my voice so much more. Tuning was not a concept I was aware of, so singing in D instead of E made things so much easier. My voice worked better, stayed in better tune and became pretty damn good.
We rehearsed a lot. We gigged a lot. We won the South East Battle of the Bands (woop!) and I was a good singer and a good performer. Of course, like nearly all bands, it didn’t last long so that was game over, for now.
When Vikki and I started SPiT LiKE THiS, my voice was maybe the best it ever was. I was still of an age to hit some decent high notes, I had power, I had tone and was great at building harmonies. All that is evident on those first few CDs. For some reason, I had reverted back to E tuning but, as my voice was so much better, it wasn’t a problem.
Rehearsals started in March and the very first SLT gig was in May 2003. It was my first time performing, in a while, but the voice was great and I got through the set no bother. It was like that from gig to gig, but all that changed the day I decided to throw my guitar away and concentrate only on the singing on stage. It was our biggest gig today, supporting The Damned. I was excited as hell. I was also drunk. No-one told me that alcohol dried out the throat. No-one told me that bouncing around on stage without the constraints of a guitar used up a lot more oxygen and fucked with your breathing making singing harder. So, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise when, two or three songs in, I virtually lost my voice. Shouldn’t have been, but it was.
So, the next lesson to learn was how to run around a stage and sing at the same time. Pacing was important. We continued rehearsing for shows and decided to hire the biggest rehearsal room with a stage and opposing mirror, so we could work out some stage technique. That room was boiling. It was an 80 degree day as it was. The air con went on and out came the ice cold cans of pop. I didn’t know that air con fucks up your voice. I also didn’t know that chucking ice cold pop on warm vocal chords was a great way to shock them. It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise when, two or three hours in, I completely lost my voice. Shouldn’t have been, but it was.
I did what most normal people do when they have layringitis and went around trying to yell at the top of my voice simply to prove how lost my instrument was. It was GONE. One week, two weeks, three weeks. For the first time ever, I started looking into the voice, how it works and researched technique. I realised everything I had ever done wrong and spent months kicking myself.
It took months for the voice to recover. It came in bit by bit. First the speaking range. Then the lower notes. Finally a few higher ones. Just a few though; I lost several notes off my top end. On the plus side, I discovered some lower notes and, to work my way around the various melodies I had written, I found new ways to sing and discovered a new voice.
We STILL didn’t tune down, even though we should have. The whole of our first album was recorded in E, and I struggled in places. I also managed to lose my voice AGAIN for nearly two weeks, recording the vocals to “Dead Girl Walking”. I really went for it, using parts of my voice that I never knew existed. You hear new things when you have the cans on and the gain is turned right up. Fucked up me voice, though. Not entirely my fault; the producer’s preferred method of working was just to keep doing take after take after take. He was used to working with indie bands who don’t so much sing than speak, so he didn’t realise that belting a song out ten times in a row is a great way to fuck the voice up.
The album came out and, to my surprise, a lot of reviews commented on my voice, all of them positive. I never really thought of myself as a good singer, but these reviews were making me feel better about my voice. I felt confident in it.
Finally, after a guitarist change, we tuned down to D. It was like breathing out after holding your breath for five minutes. Instead of most of the singing being slightly above my speaking range, it now mostly fell within it making nearly all of the singing easy with only a few notes needing consideration.
Going into the recording of the “Normalityville Horror” album, I was at my vocal peak. I had character, I had tone, I had control, I had power when I needed it, subtlety when I didn’t. We were recording with a legendary producer who had recorded some of the greatest metal singers of all time. Just by him not saying “that was shit”, I felt good about myself.
Again, the album came out and the comments about my voice were positive. I have sung in hundreds of venues under hundreds of different circumstances in a whole bunch of countries. I learned how to look after my voice. I learned warming up and warming down techniques. I realised I couldn’t drink certain drinks, eat certain foods and had to refrain from speaking. I basically became Mr No Fun, but this was necessary to preserve my voice on a tour.
The title of this blog is the tag line from the Rocky Horror Show. It is quite apt. Not only does it underscore the message behind this post – don’t dream it, be it – it is related to what was the highest compliment I have received as a singer.
We covered “Sweet Transvestite” from the Rocky Horror Show. It was good. No, scrap that, is was AWESOME! So good, I decided to send it to super-blogger, Perez Hilton. At the time, there were rumours that Fox were going to remake RHPS possibly with John Stamos in the lead role. When I sent the demo to Perez, I claimed it was a leaked demo from a session with John. Perez rang with it. “Shame on you, Fox”, was the gist of his blog, “John Stamos nailed it”. Except John Stamos was me. John Stamos, who has appeared on Broadway.
All of the above reminds me of the confusing place I am in right now. I no longer have that dream, having achieved pretty much what I wanted, so have a scatterbrained approach to the future. I could do this. I could do that. I could do the other. So many identities. So many potential futures. It is a bit bewildering and scary.
What I do know is this: IF I am lucky enough to find another dream to strive for, I will become the thing I want to be. Obstacles are there to be overcome and I won’t ever let the lack of a natural talent or affinity to stop me going for it, if it’s what I really, really want.