In 2014 the Human Potential debut, Heartbreak Record, was smartly deemed by our writer to be “sadly doomed for a particular kind of obscurity.” Given it’s a year later and Human Potential remains on the outskirts of a thread on the fringe, those prophetic words retain a certain sadness. Later this month Human Potential, the solo project of former Medications and Screens drummer Andrew Becker, will release sophomore effort How To Get Where You Want To Go. Is Becker a lot like that glimmer of light burning hard in hopes to be seen behind the obscuring cosmic nebula on the album cover? Is that artwork also functionary in signifying the space rock on the album? The answer to both questions is a simple: yes.
Being doomed for a particular obscurity could be worse. For example, it’s not a particular kind of hell. Free from outside expectation, Becker is making exploratory records that deny the impulse of compartmentalization. If I were to try, they would be guitar records prone towards ambient, yet on How To Get Where You Want To Go Human Potential ventures beyond those interstellar visions like on the tumbling, psych-rock jangle of “Jungle Speed In French”. But, before the record enters that phase Becker theoretically launches Side B with “105 Pounds of Disintegration”, which is dutifully ambient space rock that suggests an inverse big bang with the lyrics “the world turned itself inside out.” It’s a track that suggests when the big finale arrives it will not be violent destruction but the balanced fade of a soft light losing its remaining luster. All will be at universal peace when viewed at the proper distance.
Read on for a brief interview with Becker in which we discuss “105 Pounds of Disintegration” and his thoughts on band mythos.
Does Side B begin with “105 Pounds of Disintegration”? And if so, was the inverse big bang effect (or perhaps rapture) intentional as a way to reset for Side B?
Originally, “105 Pounds of Disintegration” was intended to be the opening track on the first Human Potential release (“Heartbreak Record”). But, by the time I was finishing the mix for that album, I decided I didn’t like it anymore and subsequently cut it. Then, as mixing for How To Get Where You Want To Go was concluding, I realized I detested a handful of the songs that were intended for that record. Those tracks were cut…”105 Pounds…” was slightly remixed and thrown into the sequence.
Not that I would ever equate this simple guitar song with anything as sophisticated and culturally rich as opera or classical music, but the song has always felt a bit like an overture… though the lyrical content isn’t a concerted effort to reset or invert anything that came before it. So, to answer your question, yes, “105 Pounds of Disintegration” would ostensibly start the second side of the new album. However, last year, What Delicate Recordings liquidated its assets and poured the cash into a rehabilitation home for left-handed geriatrics on the Florida panhandle. Unfortunately, earlier this year, that project that went belly up. So, due to a gross lack of resources, we were limited to a digital only release this time around, which sort of precludes conventional “A” and “B” sides.
Human Potential, in its moniker and in the challenges pursued in the first record, has been a project focused towards growth. Is that still the m.o. for you? If so, what growth did you pursue on How To Get Where You Want To Go?
Well, I actually decided on the project name, “Human Potential”, after reading a bit about the white-collar, self-help, new age, quasi-cult called The Human Potential Movement. I simply liked the name and the fact that it implies some kind of blissful positivity that belies the undertones of some of the movement’s related groups’ more nefarious activities…as well as the context in which the name was chosen. So, yes, in a sense, the moniker could suggest a path towards growth musically and personally, though that’s not necessarily intentional.
Regardless, I would imagine that most musicians that I respect, and who operate in the sphere to which I relate, are constantly striving for musical growth… or reinvention… or the inclination to crawl out of the coil that housed a previous work. For this record, there were a few elements that I consciously pursued. First, and foremost, I wanted it to be different from the last. One way I approached this was to write songs at faster BPMs, as “Heartbreak Record” operated on a pretty consistent, mid-tempo slog throughout. But, I also wanted to experiment with formlessness, or the lack of a discernible tempo altogether. This was manifested in the songs that bookend the record and the piano based piece that occupies a few minutes in the middle.
Give the presence of rapture or the awareness in the impermanence of existence, in tackling such topics head on… does this ever cause you to question your motivation to create? Even if it may last for hundreds or thousands of years, at some point it will be gone forever. Do you trouble yourself much with that thought?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I have a motivation to create. Rather…and I think this would be the case with most anybody who creates in any medium…it’s a compulsion. So, I’d be making music regardless of whether I was able to pry open the digital doors of online stores/streaming services and cram this gunk into a product-based, semi-permanent environment or not.
In summary, no… I don’t really think about it.
In sequencing HTGWYWTG what were you hoping to achieve? Is 10 Songs a methodology for you or is that pure coincidence that Heartbreak Record was also 10 songs?
Sequencing a record, to me, is a huge part of creating a mood… and an experience. Including 10 songs one each record isn’t a methodology or a mystical numerological application… it just seemed like the logical life span for these particular albums; the amount of time/number of tracks one could sit through before they get bored, though it’s quite possible that may happen much earlier.
It also has to do with pressing vinyl, as there’s a certain length an album can be before you start compromising sound quality or get into spending more money to press a double album. That was a consideration going into the final sequencing, but as mentioned before, that became an unfounded concern.
The backstory to Heartbreak Record consisted of handmade guitars, igloos, and ghosts. For this record, it’s renovated dungeons next to curated sandwich shops, teeming heart chakras, bed and breakfasts, and David Axelrod. Have you traded in the bohemian experience for a gentrified spiritual yuppie life? How has that affected your songwriting?
Oh yeah, 100 percent. As I write this, I’m sitting in a sweat lodge, atop a waterfront condo having a bowtied mixologist combine vintage Four Loko, hair tonic, bitters and bitcoins into a concoction of unmitigated filth and mirth that will be distilled in an antique royal blue bathysphere. Once this is imbibed I will write an essay on just intonation after which I will record only the sounds of paper bag pops and sheep bleats, then mix it on a desk handcrafted from balinese wood. This is the only way I can write now.
Also, David Axelrod would technically fall into the proto-anarcho-yuppie-lounge-scuzz category, right?
Follow-up: What’s your opinion of the band/album backstory as a linchpin to enticing publicity and listeners? .
I abhor it and find the whole thing generally uninteresting. Many times it’s an utterly preposterous bit of narcissism that has no bearing on the music itself (except in the case of Iannis Xenakis or somebody like that) and that, in essence, tries to tell one how to feel or how to listen. Another problem I’ve encountered is that, sometimes, journalists/press will simply regurgitate a few key phrases contained in these bios instead of taking the time to critically evaluate the work itself.
I do, however, realize that it’s an unfortunate reality when one is interested in having people listen to your music on a wider scale. But, since my project and record label are one man operations, I don’t have the luxury of having someone else do this for me. Unfortunately, I don’t really find my “story” or the creation of my records especially interesting, so the only way I can make the whole thing palatable is to make the writing interesting and fun for myself, while hopefully, challenging the listener to explore the music for themselves instead of taking things at face value. That said, everything in the bio you received is true… I think.
Human Potential’s How To Get Where You Want To Go is out October 20 on What Delicate Recordings.