Chapter 20:

Sayoko the Producer

Purple Prose

“Welcome to The Garden Enterprises, Gentlemen.”

Issei, Kanka, and Takao had signed their contracts and placed them forward on Mr. Kiyabu’s desks: from this day forward, they were a real professional band. The agent shook everyone’s hands officially.

Issei flipped around. “Alright everyone, get ready for a commemorative photo!”

“Hey–my donut!”

Issei and Takao put an arm around each other, while Kanka had seized Mr. Kiyabu around the middle, laughing as the sudden hug caused him to drop his donut on the floor. Issei snapped the photo–this would be a memory he’ll hold forever.

Someone would love to see this. Issei sent the photo to Murasaki with the text just signed the contract. She saw it immediately, but it took a while for her to reply back.

<What a great photo! I’m proud of you.>

Maybe she’s a slow typer. Regardless, Murasaki’s message, especially the second sentence, made Issei melt; having an important person besides family say it was an incredible feeling.

Mr. Kiyabu picked his donut off the floor, then decided against eating it. “Now that the excitement is over, it’s time we get down to brass tacks. Follow me, gentlemen.”

Mr. Kiyabu led them out of his office and back into the elevator. He pressed a ‘five’, and the elevator whirred to life as it took the group up.

“We got a lot of work to do to mold you into a band we can advertise with pride. Not only that, but we want your skill to be amplified–no pun intended–which includes your stamina. You guys were sweating after three songs inside an air conditioned venue in Autumn. How are you going to survive when you play ten songs outdoors in the ass-end of Summer?”

Kanka nodded, then his head seemed to droop.

“Speaking of songs, how many have you composed?”

It was better to tell the truth.

Issei swallowed. “Six, Sir.”

Mr. Kiyabu recoiled. “That’s sixty-percent of the average full album–you’re lucky your skills are impressive. Once we train you how to use the studio, you need to get cracking on your songs. Remember, I’m taking a big risk putting you forward.”

Muffled screeching of guitar and thumping bass filled the air as the elevator door opened, revealing a hallway that must have had several studios hidden away. Mr. Kiyabu went to the sixth door on the left, opened, and promptly flipped some switches. Inside was an impressive studio: buttons and switches filled a desk; a monitor, switched off, must be where the software was recorded and observed; a glass partition separated the production from the set, where chairs, amps, and several professional-grade mics were hanging, waiting for their chance to be used.

The agent stepped outside abruptly. “Sayoko! Where is that woman? She’s late.” Mr. Kiyabu sighed. “Wait there for a sec, I’m gonna get your producer out here to show you the ropes.” His arms flailed about. “This is not my job. Don’t touch anything until I return with her, because it won’t be me who will be tearing you limb-from-limb, let me tell ya.”

Issei could finally relax as he, Takao, and Kanka settled themselves on a chair.

“Did you hear that?” Takao asked. “Our own producer. It’s real then, isn’t it? It’s not just some prank you pulled off?”

“Why would I take a joke this far?” Issei said, flipping his phone to Hark.

“Oh, good idea,” Kanka said, eyeing his phone. “I need to make a phone call too–make that two calls. My wife will want to hear about this…and I can’t be the drummer of a band if I’m also working full time. I gotta put in my notice.”

No new messages from Murasaki; she’s either busy or…possibly thinking about what to do tomorrow. Issei ought to do the same. What would a great first date be? Better question, what would be a good first date for them? Then as he thought about it, dread pooled in Issei’s stomach: he didn't know the first thing about Murasaki. She’s a musician, she likes spicy food, and that’s pretty much it. If Issei didn’t already feel such a connection with Murasaki, this would be nothing short of a blind date.

Maybe there was something she wanted to do. Slowly, he texted her.

<I was thinking about what we should do tomorrow. Any ideas?>

Hopefully it didn’t sound too forceful. They had the whole day to each other, so they could do any idea they wanted.

Murasaki replied faster than expected.

<Lunch and dinner for sure, do you want to go somewhere open?>

Somewhere open? What did she mean by that?

The door opened, and alongside Mr. Kiyabu was a woman with long, dark hair, round glasses, freckles, and wearing a wool sweater. Her baggy-looking eyes glossed over the team, and she pursed her lips as if she were annoyed she was even brought here.

“Alright Secret Prose,” Mr. Kiyabu began, “this is Sayoko, and she’ll be working on your material from now on.”

Her arms dangled as she bowed. “Nice to meet you…”

Did Mr. Kiyabu steal her away from a nap?

“I, on the other hand, will manage your finances and outreach, so I’ll mostly be working from the shadows. If you have any questions, call me. Good luck, Secret Prose.”

Mr. Kiyabu waved, and promptly left the team in front of a new person.

“Nice to meet you too, Sayoko,” Issei said. “We’re counting on you!”

“Yes…no problem…First, let’s start off with…”

She leaned over and smacked her head on the studio, hitting three buttons and causing a dreadfully-dissonant droning noise like three trumpets playing off-key.

“Hey–why did you do that for? Are you okay?” Takao stood up and shook her.

“She’s clearly sleep-deprived,” Kanka said.

“It must be tough being a producer,” Issei added.

After snoozing for a bit, Sayoko jerked her head awake. As if she had her own switch to be flipped, Sayoko immediate gave them a tour of the studio.

“We use this software for recording,” she said brightly, turning the monitors on. “Once we get feedback from the music that’s played, it’s sent back here, and we can fine-tune the audio to fit our needs.”

It didn’t take long for the band to take turns back and forth through the recording room and watch as the studio filtered and sharpened their tunes. Kanka did a wild, obnoxious drum solo, Issei and Takao swept up and down the loaned guitars, then they hooked up the mics and belted out some vocals.

Sayoko clapped. “Very nice! I was told you had potential, but that’s an understatement.”

“Thanks,” Takao said, rubbing the back of his head. “I’m…just glad we got signed. It’s been a long while. So you really think we’re suitable?”

Sayoko hummed. “I dunno. That’s something we won’t know until the first album is released. But I do know you have the talent for it.”

She gave them a thumbs-up.

“Psst. Issei.”

While Takao asked Sayoko more about the music software and their tools, Kanka called Issei over, then leaned in his ear.

“I’ve seen it happen many times, and now Takao is victim to it: he’s hooked.”

“On what?”

“You mean who–Sayoko, of course.”

Issei glanced back. Sayoko leaned forward with her finger on the monitor explaining data points and audio spikes, but Takao wasn’t observing the screen at all–his eyes gazed into hers, only moving when strands of hair fell over her ear, or when they constantly pivoted from her face to her chest.

“Damn that’s obvious.”

He felt Kanka’s hand clap his shoulder as he chuckled. “That’s what we’ve been saying about you.”

Issei’s mind spun. How overt was he when they were with Murasaki? His eyes weren't ogling all over her like that, was he? “But that–nah, look at him–there’s no way I was as obvious as him.”

“You were the only one who didn’t see that phone number in your ear, my friend.”

Raring to go, ready to prove that they will be an asset to their company, Secret Prose spent the rest of the studio-allotted time recording all six of their songs.

“Good work,” Sayoko said, taking off her studio headphones. “This will do for now. To get this to record-quality, we will have to mix the audio and edit certain cuts.”

Wiping sweat off his forehead, Takao asked, “So what did you think of our work? Any songs scream at you?”

Her lips puckered, and her eyes veered off to the ceiling. “As far as first albums go, the songs aren’t bad. I particularly liked Ebisu. It was different from the usual songs I’ve worked with.”

“Have you worked in the studio long?”

“For about six years. I first worked on Sewer Paradise until they broke up, and then I had the honor of mixing Sapor’s final album before they retired.”

So both bands had ended under her hand. Issei felt a pit in his stomach.

“And now Secret Prose is brought to me.” Sayoko furrowed her brow, her face becoming sterner than usual. “Work hard on composing your new songs, okay? Our studio is closed tomorrow, but on Monday, I want to see some progress.”

“You can count on me, Sayoko,” Takao said, putting a thumb to his face. “I’ll make sure you’ll acknowledge my band in no time!”

Your band?

“Sure, sure,” Sayoko said, clearly not buying it as she shooed him away. She yawned. “See you on Monday, boys.”