Human Potential, “Plastic Flowers”

Blake Gillespie

Human Potential

Following the implosion of Brooklyn's Screens, drummer Andrew Becker put forth a challenge to himself to learn more instruments and not only that, but be self-taught. It was how he learned drums before he began performing with Dischord Records band Medications. Th aptly named Human Potential is his solo project born of his dedication to growth and learning. On Heartbreak Record, Human Potential explores a space-rock terrain that's fearless in grounding the celestial strings to the terra firma. There's an impression within the recordings that feels affected by the natural world that imposed its will on the artist.

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In writing and recording Heartbreak Record, Becker slept in a haunted igloo in Granville, New York, learned guitar on an instrument handcrafted from the wheel wells of a Mazda 323 by his grandfather, and had to stall recordings after Jeremy Scott's former recording studio was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. On “Plastic Flowers” Becker's guitars invoke early Walkmen, circa Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, with its gauzy, yet angular affectations. Becker keeps his voice in the celestial realm, but “Plastic Flowers” is immense in its rolling crashes like a high tide tearing into a cliff side.

Listen to “Plastic Flowers” below and read on for a brief interview with Becker.

You're known for your drumming, particularly in the mathy-sense, in Medications. Human Potential is a significant departure from that in which you play every instrument on the record. When did this journey of learning instruments besides drums to become a one man-arsenal begin and when did it reach a point in which you felt comfortable developing the idea of Human Potential?

After my last band, Screens, broke up, I was pretty dejected. I thought the record we had just released, Dead House was ambitious and unique… plus, we had another album's worth of material almost ready to go. But in a sense, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Not having a musical pursuit of some kind wasn't an option, but I wasn't interested in entering into another band situation. So, basically I resolved to never rely on anyone else to accomplish anything I wanted to do musically, again. I'd do it all myself.

I'd always wanted to record an album of percussion compositions, which I was thinking about at that point. But, a few months after Screens disbanded, I picked up an acoustic guitar that had been collecting dust in the corner of my apartment for a few years. I'd screwed around with guitars in the past, but I certainly didn't know any chords or scales or anything really. I just started playing and making up my own primitive chords. I've always liked arranging songs so, once I had written some guitar parts, I experimented with the structure a bit. And within a day and a half, “Plastic Flowers” was essentially done.

Basically, I “learned” the guitar and other instruments in much the same way that I “learned” the drums… by listening, interpreting and experimenting. I would certainly like to improve my technical proficiency and acquire some kind of musical vocabulary, but I like approaching the instrument somewhat ignorantly. Many of the cues I take come from people who took that approach as well… though many don't. Plus, I'm somewhat lazy. I'd rather write songs than practice scales and progressions.

How much of your bio, which includes haunted igloos in Granville, NY, family heirlooms of hand-crafted guitars, and spiritual assassins is real? Did the journey in creating Heartbreak Record truly happen this way?

Why, it's all true of course. How could you doubt its veracity?

The sounds found on Heartbreak Record are quite unexpected based on your previous bands and the bands released on your label What Delicate Recordings. Have you always had an interest or warm spot for space rock and the gauzier-rock?

I, like most musicians I know, am first and foremost, an avid music listener—someone who seeks out and absorbs sounds from nearly every musical stripe. What Delicate Recordings' releases, including Human Potential, I feel, are a reflection of that curiosity.

I had an idea of the direction I wanted the Human Potential songs to go in, an algorithm I had worked out using very specific sounds and very specific phrases to create pop songs that were poignant, compelling, strange, and catchy (whether I succeeded or not is a different story, but that was the goal). And sure, many of those sounds were produced by artists, to which one could ascribe adjectives such as “spacey”, “dreamy” or “psychedelic”. But, I really couldn't be sure what would happen once I picked up the guitar, because my technical deficiencies didn't necessarily allow me to replicate what I heard in my head. So, in a sense, the atmosphere and textural orchestrations were used to saturate the color of the compositions that were limited by my musicianship.

What was the creative process like when you took these demos to Jeremy Scott and began collaborating with him to polish the recordings?

It was a lot of fun… and a lot of work. My previous studio experiences had mainly consisted of laying down a day or two of drum/percussion tracks, after which I would spend the remaining time sitting on a recliner eating pizza. This time around, I didn't have that luxury.

We started recording six songs in the summer of 2012. The process, at that point, consisted of trying to knock out one instrument at a time, starting with guitar. I would usually lay down new guitar tracks over the demos, working through the batch of songs that I had written at that point. Then we would flesh the songs out with bass and keys/synth. Drums were usually the final variable of the instrumental equation, with many of the parts written on the spot using various pieces of debris found in the warehouse adjacent to the studio. Then, it was vocals. This was quite a trying process, not only because it was the first time I had attempted to sing, but because I had written a ton of harmonies that pushed the range of my already melodically questionable voice.

By the fall of 2012 we were getting close to finishing the mixes of the first six songs, which I initially planned to release as an EP. Then Hurricane Sandy hit. Jeremy and his studio partners lost everything they had built the previous year… all of their equipment. Everything. Just devastation.

By the time we were able to reconvene in the spring of 2013, I had written a handful of new songs and decided that I wanted to release a full-length. So, we went into a studio in Dumbo that summer and recorded seven more.

Because I didn't have anyone editing me, I composed many, many, many different parts for most of the songs. So, recording them took a long time and required a lot of different set ups to get unique sounds, not to mention the sheer amount of tracks that then, had to be mixed. Luckily, for Jeremy, I decided to drop three of the songs and whittle the record down to ten. But, Jeremy was very patient, accommodating and up for basically anything. It was a great experience.

Human Potential's Heartbreak Record is out June 3 on What Delicate Recordings.

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