48: “At least pick something from Tusk 

Sybil and Chris had a new project at work. They were producing the latest album for Five Party. Sybil was one hundred per cent certain they had gotten the job because Harry Everett, Five Party favourite, was Chris’ younger cousin. Regardless, it was a pretty huge deal. She had mostly worked on the albums of people much less well known. Primarily, she had worked with local artists that most people had never even heard of. Five Party was a far cry from the jazz harp music of a woman tripping on cough syrup.

Sybil and Chris met the entire band one Friday afternoon. They had come in with their manger for an introduction, but would be coming back the following Monday morning to actually begin recording. Angry Ron was delighted with the newest addition to the record label’s roster. Sybil couldn’t really blame him for that. Obviously Five Party would bring notoriety with them, and a hell of a lot more of it than Tom the weepy folk singer did.

Five Party was made up of four guys in their young twenties. Besides Harry, there was Conor Hughes, Simon Ashbury, and Jay Reed. There used to be a fifth member of Five Party, hence the name, but he had recently quit the band to focus on his solo career. According to all of the gossip magazines, there was a lot of tension in the group because of it. This would be Five Party’s first album as a foursome. The world was waiting with baited breath. More accurately, millions of preteen girls were practically hysterical over it and dying to know what would happen with the band now that one of the members had left.

“Can you guys really still call yourselves Five Party when there’s only four of you?” Sybil asked during the meeting.

“Technically, we can do almost anything we like because we’re multimillionaire pop stars,” Conor returned, quickly proving himself Sybil’s favourite.

“And also, like, it’s a consistency thing,” Harry added, taking an enormous bite of an apple. The other two said mostly nothing to Sybil and Chris, beyond the usual polite interactions. Simon seemed preoccupied with something happening on his phone and Jay seemed like a little bit of prick, if Sybil was being completely honest. They dealt mostly with Harry and Conor, who she found to be both ridiculous and charming. She discussed exactly that with Chris on the subway ride back to her apartment. Chris, despite being a blood relative of one of the members, seemed to have very little prior knowledge of Five Party.

“What did you think the members of Five Party were named before you knew their actual names?” Sybil asked him, just to check how much he didn’t know.

“I still don’t know most of their names,” Chris answered honestly. “I knew Harry’s because he’s a blood relative. I assumed Conor’s name was Angus as all Scottish men are named Angus. And then, as far as I’m still aware, the other three are Stewart, Reg, and Tyler. How many did I get right?”

“Their names are Jay, Simon, and the one who left is Kai,” Sybil told him flatly.

“Oh, so I was close then,” Chris returned. Sybil smacked him on the side of the head.

Sybil and Chris went in to the studio the following morning. They normally didn’t need to work on weekends, since the people they worked with were not nearly important enough to warrant that kind of overtime. But they were once again helping Tom the weepy folk singer produce yet another horribly depressing Christmas single, the proceeds of which would go to charity. It was such a lovely concept in theory. In practice, it was a song about a three-legged dog that loses an ear to frostbite, gets heart worms, and finally gets adopted by an elderly woman, who then dies alone and unnoticed in her bungalow.

“I swear to God he’s already recorded this song,” Chris said during a break.

“No, no, you’re thinking about the song he wrote about the elderly man who gets shingles and dies in a hospital bed after being ignored by the nursing staff,” Sybil replied. “It’s a damning indictment of the healthcare system.”

“He better hope that song never makes it onto the record of he’ll be shunned by every nurse he ever encounters,” Chris said. “God help him if he ever breaks a limb. He’ll go in for a cast and end up missing a couple internal organs.”

Wes turned up at lunch to bring them some food. Tom was taking another break from recording, practicing the third verse of his unbelievably sad Christmas single. They could hear him through the glass partition. Chris had left the mic on primarily to torture Sybil because he thought it was funny. Wes listened for a couple minutes before commenting.

“Holy Christ,” he breathed eventually. “That’s one fucking depressing Christmas song. Is it even actually about Christmas? Or is it just an incredibly sad song about neglected dogs and dead senior citizens?”

“A little bit of both,” Chris answered. “You should hear last year’s. It was worse than this.”

“Really? You think so?” Sybil cut in, not so sure herself.

“Definitely,” Chris said. He unearthed it and played it so that Wes could decide for himself. It turned into the three of them listening to Tom’s entire unfinished album while they ate lunch and Tom made some adjustments to his lyrics.

“Christ. This is like a forty-two track album of the saddest songs ever written,” Wes said after a while. “I can’t listen to this anymore. I’ll sob for literal hours.”

On Monday, Sybil and Chris met with Five Party yet again for their first recording session. Harry and Conor turned up early together. Apparently Conor was staying with Harry in his rented condo while they were in Roehampton to record. Simon and Jay were late, which seemed like it might end up being something of a trend throughout the process. Sybil was not as such looking forward to that.

“How can you guys be sure that this isn’t going to fail like your last group?” Sybil asked casually as they all sat together waiting for the other two to arrive.

“Well, we can’t really, but thanks for the vote of confidence,” Conor answered darkly, rolling his eyes. “To be fair, though, this one’ll probably be a lot less shit than the last one. Kai was really holding us back.”

Sybil had heard some of Kai’s solo work and she believed that.

“Shall we just start then?” Chris asked a few minutes later when Jay and Simon still hadn’t arrived. “Maybe you two could just give us a taste of what you’ve been working on.”

Conor and Harry exchanged glances before Harry shrugged and Conor reached over to pick up his guitar. Harry moved to the piano and began playing out a nice little tune. Conor joined in with the guitar and then the two of them began singing a lovely, soft duet of “Songbird”. Sybil and Chris listened for a while. Sybil thought about interrupting, but she was genuinely enjoying it so she let it happen.

“I appreciate the attempted deceit,” she said when they had finished. “But I’m not actually an uncultured swine and that’s a Fleetwood Mac song. I’m not actually sure what you were hoping to achieve there because that’s a very well-known Fleetwood Mac song. It was on Rumours. At least pick something from Tusk.”

Harry sighed deeply, like she had greatly inconvenienced him.

“We’re just a little concerned about the trajectory of our sound, you know?” He said quietly, as if he was sharing a secret. “We don’t want to end up sounding like S Club 7. England has already had them. Let’s do something else instead.”

“S Club 7 is British?” Sybil asked, clearly not taking away the information that Harry had intended as the point. “This whole time I thought they were Australian.”

“It’s probably because they all looked far too happy to be on an English beach,” Conor returned dryly.

“Let us hear what you have for real and we’ll see what we can do to make it sound as little like S Club 7 as possible,” Chris interjected, picking up a guitar of his own to play. By the end of their session, they had managed to take some of the stuff Harry and Conor had written in a new direction, a much less boy band pop direction. Jay and Simon didn’t ever show up. Simon messaged about thirty minutes in to say he couldn’t make it because he wasn’t feeling well, which according to Conor meant that he was hungover. Jay never even let them know he wasn’t coming. As much as Sybil was looking forward to the chance to work on a record that would be well known an widespread, she definitely wasn’t interested in this kind of pop star elitist behaviour.

Nevertheless, she gushed excitedly to Chris about the new sound on the way home from the studio later that day.

“We are going to piss off so many preteen girls with this record,” she said enthusiastically before she stopped to consider what that really meant. “That’s not great actually. Thirteen year old girls are the meanest people in the world. We’re going to be cyber-bullied.”

“If someone can manage to cyber-bully, I’ll give them a hundred dollars,” Chris returned, playing sudoku on his phone. “The only social media I have is a LinkedIn account that I haven’t updated since 2013.”

Suze was appalled when she heard that later after Sybil had gotten home and rambled about her exciting day at work.

“Is he in the Witness Protection Program?” She demanded in shock. “Who doesn’t have Instagram?”

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