Trying to pin down the style heard on Heartbreak Record, the debut from Human Potential, is nearly impossible. There are elements that suggest Andrew Becker’s time in post-punk bands like Medications and Screens; there are also blissed-out moments of pop that recalled, for me, Mice Parade at their most shimmering. It’s an album that constantly shifts and surprises; to learn more about the process of making it, I checked in with Becker via email.
Were the songs heard on Heartbreak Record written after your time in Medications and Screens?
All the songs were written after the demise of screens. After that band broke up, I essentially pledged to never let anyone else impede the progress of anything I wished to accomplish, musically, ever again.
Listening to the record, there’s a willingness to experiment with different styles and tones, and yet the end result is very cohesive. Did you have a set style in mind when you started writing the album?
The only thing I knew I wanted to do was create a pop record while avoiding the usual pop tropes. I tend to be drawn more towards to polar ends of the, for lack of a better term, rock and roll spectrum…saccharine pop and harsh noise. So, that’s what I wanted to try to amalgamate.
But, when I set out to start writing there was a problem…I didn’t know how to play anything other than drums. I certainly didn’t know any guitar chords…and still don’t. And I think going into the songwriting process with a completely blank technical palette was empowering to some extent. I didn’t have any preconceived notion of what I should be doing, nor did I have an historical connection to the instrument. And once I picked up the guitar for the first time, I had no idea what would come out. So, basically everything I did, was an experiment…a process of discovery.
Stylistically, I’ve been heavily informed by a number of different artists over the years, like any musician. And I’ve always admired bands and records that are able to carve out a sound that is wholly unique, while incorporating myriad disparate elements. But, in the end…I’m the one that played and sang everything on the record, so, I would imagine that not having any external influence helped give the record a cohesive feel.
The album’s title is consciously vast in its scope. When did you realize that this was what you’d be calling the record?
Like so many albums filed way in the rock and roll annals, the genesis of the title lies in a break up I went through that was particularly painful. This was a strong impetus that compelled me to start writing. But, as the songs grew and I started sketching out lyrics, they grew to encompass other people in my life and in some cases, fictionalized stories surrounding various iterations of heartbreak.
The photos that comprise the artwork embody that theme. the front is a picture of my grandmother taken at Pearl Harbor, the day after it was bombed. I found the juxtaposition interesting…it seems to have an almost whimsical air about it, until you understand the context of the situation in which it was shot. I won’t go into my grandmother’s biography, but it sort of represents a loss of innocence…and the photo is even more poignant considering the fact that after my grandfather (who took the photo) passed away, many years ago, she was just never the same. I always got the feeling she was just passing the time until she thought she could join him.
The back photo is a shot of my father’s band playing a show circa 1966. I scratched off the faces of everyone in the band and crowd except for my father’s and my mother’s (who’s standing in front in the front row, eyes affixed on him). They had started dating right around this time (high school) and got married at a very young age. Like many kid’s parents from my generation, their marriage was fraught with acrimony and unhappiness and they ended up divorcing just after I was born.
These are just a few examples, but basically, it’s a universal theme that everyone’s experienced in some capacity. So, hopefully anyone that chooses to listen can identify with the content, the feeling and the mood to some extent.
You mentioned your father’s band — did you grow up in a musical family?
My father played guitar when he was in high school…and would occasionally fiddle with the piano when I was young. He played us a lot of music when I was growing up (old Beatles, Zombies, Lovin’ Spoonful, Mitch Ryder, The Animals…dad kinds of stuff). But, it wasn’t that my parents were especially musical or accomplished musicians or anything like that that piqued my interest in music…they were just really supportive in fostering my musical growth. They bought me my first drumset when I was four…and no matter how loud and annoying the racket got, they never discouraged me from playing, practicing and pursuing it.
How do you go about translating these songs into a live setting?
Great question. The answer is, I have no idea. When I started writing these songs, I never really planned on playing them live. It was more of a recording project. That said, I’m planning on recording another full-length this winter, hopefully December. It will probably take a pretty big band to effectively pull these songs off live, but, I’d like to start playing some shows next year at some point.
As someone who’s released music for others, how do you handle the overlap between the side of you that runs What Delicate Recordings and the side of you that makes music?
Well, What Delicate releases aren’t in especially high demand, and all of the bands that I’ve put out have broken up, or moved on to other labels that actually have the economic means to support their endeavors. So, pretty much right now, the only thing on the What Delicate docket is Human Potential.