Diary: Shoeb Ahmad "Feverish, Like A Dream"

a rehearsal diary and reflections from shoeb ahmad and band.

day 1 - wednesday 5 july:

 it hasn’t been a great start to the week as i seem to have a knack of getting sick every time something “big” comes up. this time, i managed to get flu like symptoms on the weekend so i’ve been holed up in bed. however, i've woken up this morning and i think i'm on the right track so that's a good start. 

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

drummer luke keanan-brown (from dubby live-techno duo honey and jazz trio moving paths) came down from sydney on tuesday evening to prepare some loops and go through the set list with me. he has been a pretty integral part of the album making process, privy to the original musical demos three plus years ago in fact.

joining luke and myself on stage (and throughout the record too) are some of canberra’s bestest and most humble musicians:

  • luciana harrison from pocket fox and oranges (a trio i also play in with fellow album contributor emma mcmanus) on guitar and vocals
  • hannah de feyter (better known as alphamale) on viola, keyboards and vocals
  • matthew lustri (an old bandmate in spartak and also member of cracked actor) on guitar and keyboards
  • young contemporary classical composer, beat-maker and helena pop member benjamin drury on bass guitar and double bass

i’ve been pretty lucky that everyone in the group has been able to catch up with me and go over the material individually before meeting up for this rehearsal residency ahead of a launch performance for the first single from “quiver”, a soul-pop ditty called “mask-ed”, in canberra on july 8th.

we're working at ainslie and gorman arts centre, a much loved arts space in canberra run by a great crew, including producers and team members from the wild you are here festival. pretty lucky to have their support in helping me bring this live vibe to fruition and have us perform in a more natural environment for the music that is on "quiver".

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

we start day one of the rehearsal residency in a different space to the ralph wilson theatre (where we will launch the single in canberra) since it is booked out for this day. the pa is a bit “iffy” but i figure that it will be first time a lot of the band may have met each other or at least first time a lot of them would have spent more than a few hours with one another so it’s a day of running through the album and feel our way through the songs. 

it’s a great process to be able to go through and i find that it has allowed me to really find out how talented everyone is and pretty willing to try their hands at instruments that aren’t usually in their remit to service the music. an initial surprise is that hannah’s gonna take a shot at playing second floor tom on “washed air” and that while i thought i could scrape a piano part to “status anxiety” live, we really need it structurally so matt will tinkle the keys for that one.

"The lyrical themes in this album are very close to my heart. I love the way the songs show the processing of emotion and the overall movement from vulnerability to self-acceptance that shines through. The musical arrangements perfectly support the lyrics, moving between quiet poignancy, tension and release and up beat confidence.

To me, the recording feels like a very complete work. In rehearsing I look forward to learning all the arrangements in the recording to create a live version of the album. I think it’s really exciting to work with a group of musicians who play across such a wide variety of genres and styles and who are so good at what they do. We’ve worked hard and I think it’s going to be really special." (Luciana Harrison)

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

day 2 - thursday 6 july

we’ve moved into ralph wilson and our sound engineer nick mccorriston has joined us to get us and the room sounding great. we decide to plot out the stage set-up and i didn’t realise how much i was all about aesthetically pleasing until point in time. i think we’ve got the sonic balance pretty on-point though, working with the guitars flanking everyone, bass and keys down the middle and the drums off-centre to the right.

today, we’re trying to go through the set a few times to see how far we can make it. everyone has a pretty good handle on their parts but still need to tighten up the arrangements. however, considering this is the first time the whole band has been together, there’s no complaints and a lot of mellow enthusiasm.

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

 it’s luciana’s birthday today so we decided to have a cupcake morning tea, such a good way to start the day and just upping the warm vibes of rehearsal too. don’t know if i would want to be in rehearsals on my birthday but luch isn’t complaining so i’ll take that as a positive sign. i should add that my wife kate (check her own floral designs at www.pekingspring.com) has been whipping up some super simple vegan lunch options for us each, yesterday was roasted vege deli sandwiches and today, we had yellow daal and fragrant basmati rice. my life revolves around what I’m having for each meal so pretty spoiled this week. 

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

"The rehearsal process has so far been a positive experience. Everyone in the group has a positive and collaborative attitude towards the songs and their arrangements. I feel part of a team that is unified to help bring Shoeb's musical vision to life.

The music itself is deeply personal and I feel privileged to be a part of the project both as a friend and fellow musician. As we continue to rehearse and eventually perform the material, I look forward to watching the songs take on a life of their own. This feels like it would be a natural outcome, as for me, playing the songs is an exploration of the meaning behind each track and the emotive qualities that are being conveyed". (Luke Keanan-Brown)

 

 

day 3 – friday 7 july:

straight back into it this morning, i’m feeling great about it but getting nervous about how we’re sounding and how tight we are. really, i think that its been amazing at how well everyone as taken to the arrangements and how quickly we’ve all gelled together through playing the songs that i’m just picking at small things now in the strive for total perfection.

everyone’s feeling pretty good too but i think that everyone is a bit tired now so we’re lucky that we’re able to get through a few hours today and then have an early mark to enjoy the rest of the day and stay fresh for saturday night. the band have said that it has been such a pleasure to work on the songs in a concentrated block of time, like in a day job fashion, which is awesome, such a massive vote of confidence from them all and goes to show how much all of them have bought into the project.

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

it makes me think how lucky i am to have such good, kind hearted people around me as i am at my most vulnerable and put out my most inner thoughts into the public sphere.  i can’t imagine how it might be like for other artists who do it on their own and perhaps i’m still not as brave as i could be to do that but it’s amazing to know that these guys have my back while i lay it all out on stage.

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

day 4 – saturday 8 july:

the big day – crazy to think that we’ve been able to knock out three solid days of rehearsal before this moment and not worry about other things whilst in the process. who knows if we will ever be able to do it again but taking this opportunity has been one of the best things i’ve done in my musical life to date and am pretty excited to have been able to bring this wonderful group of people together and spend time with them doing something fun – if a little tiring.

while we do our final rehearsal-slash-soundcheck, i’m a bit manic thinking about how the night is gonna transpire and probably being a bit edgy with everyone but they are all very calm and zen about what’s about to happen. to add to the stress, i’ve had to do a bit of work somewhere else before everyone comes in to but while i’ve been out, kate’s surprised me with her set design and jeez, it looks amazing – a nice weave of delicate arrangements and fairy lights. later on, i’m told that it was a beautiful visual narrative for our set too.

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

both wives and naif make their way in and get going for the night too. i’ve sent the band off for dinner while the others get organised for their sets, i can’t eat before i perform so i’m just procrastinating while i sit around. too much time to think.

we’ve decided to do a short panel discussion around the topic of personal identity in creative practice, led by chiara grassia from girls rock! canberra and featuring myself, hannah, naif and the three members of wives. people start filtering in as this happens and the discussion goes into some interesting places, certainly after questions from the audience. pretty thought provoking and a really nice way to preface the evening ahead.

📷: Jem Natividad

📷: Jem Natividad

both naif and wives play great sets, one of my favourite things is seeing music i dig in settings that are outside of the bar-band continuum so this setting for their music is perfect!

nervous as fuck now and getting ready for the most exposed moment of my life – no improvised music, no giving a damm because the first time ever, it’s really all on the line, everything thing about me as a musician and even more as a “singer”. i do a group huddle and i say to everyone thanks for all their work and that if we do start to fuck it up, let us have fun doing so. not motivational per say but y’know, give off the vibe that we had a good time if the ship starts sinking……but why would i have to worry about that anyways, they all were amazing during the set and blew everything away. there was soul, swagger and washed out bliss, pushing and pulling in natural harmony. it was a pleasure to share the stage with them for this first time as a group and i can’t wait to do more of it.

i still need to unpack a lot of my feelings from the week that has been and i’m not sure where to start as i don’t know how such simple music can become such a complex beast. thinking about the night of the launch and the days before makes me feel feverish in a good way, like in a dream that could never be real but leave me memories that can’t ever disappear.

📷: Patrick Cox

📷: Patrick Cox

"I enjoyed having the extra time to focus on honing the sound of our performance. Being in the space enabled us to establish a well-balanced sound which often is not possible in standard performance venues. The subtlety and quality of sound in important to me and is one of the main determinants of its attractiveness. 

The time also enabled us to establish relationships within the group. Four out of the five members I had not previously played with, so getting to know everyone and watching them reveal themselves whilst sharing in the process of music making was pleasurable. Making music in close contact also helped me to see and remind me of where I and others struggle in the process of self expression. 

Shoeb's approach to music is always refreshing to me. I have been involved in one of their projects before, Spartak, so have a history with their music making and style of songwriting. I always find that Shoeb comes up with novel ways of making and structuring music that I'd often never think of." (Matthew Lustri)

Follow Shoeb Ahmad over here.