There are certain things I expected to do during my year in New Zealand. Like I’ve written, I knew a bit about Fiordland and was looking forward to visiting Milford Sound. I figured a trip to Oz (short for Australia by those-in-the-know) would be a mandatory pilgrimage already living Down Under. And I couldn’t wait for my first foray to Asia, something that’s soon to happen in about ten days when I leave Christchurch for Bangkok.
But then are there things I would have simply laughed at the thought of if you’d told me about them back in March. There are things I had no idea would even be possible to be a part of in New Zealand. Getting back into music has undoubtedly been the greatest surprise of the year thus far. I started off playing just a couple of songs each Sunday at Wattie’s – something I was fine with as it was certainly more than I’d played in the past year and a half. But it wasn’t long until my manager Braden got an idea and had a plan brewing. Working with our promotions manager, he had soon created “Wednesdays Unplugged,” a mid-week acoustic night that would feature five local musicians each week – including me!
It was hard to believe I’d gone from two to three songs in between another artist’s set to officially having my own 45-minute-long set. All of a sudden, I was back in it, back in the music; scribbling down set lists on the back of comment cards from the supermarket, learning covers, digging out old originals. I even started performing with another guy from Wattie’s, an English guy named Dave. Braden was pretty set on putting the two of us together – Dave on guitar, me on a mic – and while I felt stressed he kept calling me, telling me to arrange a practice session with Dave when I barely had enough time for both jobs, even that collaboration has been great. The simple feeling of creating music with another person, of having someone else up on stage with you, to give looks to, to banter with in between songs, to laugh with when you forget yet another word.
But even with having a chance to perform every week in Wattie’s, nothing could have prepared me for the latest musical opportunity. Braden can tend to have quite the laissez-faire approach when it comes to music and getting gigs together. From the first Sunday he wanted me up on stage to pairing Dave and I together on Wednesdays, he’ll either leave it to the last minute or bring the subject up in the most nonchalant way. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when last Friday, I walked into work at the bar and the first thing Braden said to me was, “So we’re all confirmed for the radio next Friday.”
Excuse me? Confirmed? I had no idea there was anything of the sort in the works, let alone good to go or “done and dusted,” as the Kiwis might say. And ecstatic as I was over the news, my nerves kicked in an instant later and in that crisis-management kind of way, I needed details. “What do you mean I’m on the radio? Which station? When? For how long? Do they want covers or originals?”
But of course, Braden could give me nothing, only that I had to be there at 7.45 am, a truly unacceptable hour in our line of work. And although I knew I’d be performing for a segment called “Friday Live,” he couldn’t even tell me what station it would be on so there was no real point in telling friends to tune in (not that there was any chance of them being conscious at that hour) because I had no idea of where to direct them. But so I showed up one bright, early Friday morning to the RadioWorks office in town where most of Queenstown’s radio stations are based. Braden came with me and we were shown into the reception area where we waited for our slot. Around 8.15 (having been told I was playing at 8.30), the two announcers, Emma and Margot, came out of the recording studio and asked who I was.
“Oh, we were expecting a Dave…” Which is exactly what you want to hear when a) you’re eaten up with nerves and b) you’ve already set your Facebook status to “OMG!!!! Going to sing on NZ radio!!!!” or something similarly overdone, and we all know the embarrassment of Facebook-status-retration. “Oh, sorry guys…false alarm…” But the women were lovely and accommodating, making a split-second decision – supposedly against what their bosses would probably agree to – to include me anyways, having me go on before this mystery “Dave” arrived to play and promote next week’s Jazz Fest.
They brought me into the recording studio and I was shown the seat I’d be playing from. As I waited to play, I marveled at how animated and expressive they were on air, even while talking to an empty room. Maybe that’s the secret to DJs we know and love? The whole affair was pretty quick-bang – thirty seconds in and they announced I’d be playing – “Alright, folks, we’re about to get even prettier in here. We’ve got Candace Rose in the studio this morning who’ll be playing for us.” Two minutes later we were back on air. It was go-time.
It was all I could do to ignore the microphone in front of me and just talk to them as if having a normal conversation. “So what are you playing for us today, Candace?” And the more leading question, asked purposely as a sort of plug for Watties – “Do you play anywhere around town?” By that point, though, I’d gotten into the swing of things and I let the newfound promoter in me come out. “Absolutely, Emma. Every Wednesday night at Wattie’s at 9pm, we have five amazing local acts in…” It was one of those moments where you stop and ask yourself, “Who are you and what have you done with the old me?”
I only ended up playing one song, an original called “Yours for the Taking.” It’s one I wrote on piano but have since transferred to guitar so I can play it at Wattie’s. It goes over great every time I play it, so I decided it might be the best choice for the radio. It went well, especially considering it was probably the earliest I’ve ever performed live I was grateful for just a few parts where my voice got scratchy. As I played, I looked around the room, at Braden and the announcers, and got affirming nods, thumb-ups, and the like. I wanted nothing more than to enjoy it, to live in that moment and revel in the fact that it was really happening. When I finished, Emma said, “What an absolute treasure we have here today. Thank you so much for that, Candace, and remember you can see Candace every Wednesday at Wattie’s…” I chatted with them briefly afterwards but it was soon time for jazzy Dave to have his go on air.
As Braden and I walked back out into the still-early Morning, I was completely buzzing – no other word for it. Exhilarated, energized, on a high, whatever. All I could say to myself was, “Who woulda thought? Who woulda thought?!” The last thing I pictured happening in New Zealand was having a chance to sing and play live on a major station – the total last thing. “You nailed it,” Braden says, “The lyics are brilliant. You know what you’re doing.”
I do? Really? It was a cool thing to hear, to think that the years of lessons, practice, camps and performances are paying off in a way. That as a musician, I am able to offer something people enjoy. The buzz stayed strong through the morning (the longest, most productive morning I’ve had in a while, I might add), making the thought of going back to sleep an impossibility. So I carried on, officially submitting my application for grad school, wrapping all the Christmas presents I’m taking to Thailand to send home with my mother – and even going into work at the supermarket more cheerful than usual.
But after four hours of utter monotony – of the dreadfully draining task of my arm moving in the same swiping motion ten thousand times an hour – I had lost it. The morning in the studio was but a faint memory in my mind-numbed state. Until, that is, one gentleman came down my till and after a few moments of talking, he asks, “Was that you singing on the radio this morning?” Talk about an irrepressible smile – I couldn’t even help it, I was absolutely beaming. “Why, yes it was,” I said with a sly grin on my face. “That was pretty sharp. Was it pre-recorded or live?” I assured him it was indeed live (hence the name of the segment, really) and as he walked off, he says, “Keep at it.”
It’s one of those phrases that hits you right in the gut. There, in my checkout lane, I fought back tears, blinking fast and staring up at the fluorescent lights hanging overhead. Because sometimes, caught in the never-ending monotony, you just have to wonder. What will all become of this, you ask yourself. Often while closing the bar each night, as I’m sweeping up piles of bottlecaps, straws, napkins, and broken bits of glass, Braden will walk by and call me Cinderella. I have to laugh and wonder if he’s right. It’s hard to balance having a mind that’s itching to be creative with having jobs that are anything but. But – this is where I am right now, these are the jobs I have and I will aim to do them with the smallest amount of grumbling that I can manage. And, of course, always holding onto every opportunity like this one, hoping they are only a taste of what’s to come.
And to you, sir – you in checkout lane 4 telling a tired young checkout chick to keep at it…yes, sir, you better believe I will.