Veteran indie drummer Michael Tapper released his first album, Not A Game, as Practice, his synthesizer-driven psychedelic solo project. COLLiDE sat down with the New York City artist ahead of the album to talk about his influences, the sailing trip that started everything, and why happiness is actually not worth writing about.
Your songs have this ever-changing nature about them. What do you do to keep your music moving?
I think things that are sort of psychedelic often have a phaser thing going on, things that are sort of subtly changing the tone. These low-frequency oscillators color the music over time. Even if you have just a drone going, it will alter those frequencies. It’s interesting because the synthesizer is an electronic thing, but it can emulate these natural properties of the world and the wind in this intuitive way. I love exploring those rich tones you can get out of some of these analog synthesizers, they’re very similar to natural instruments.
Was there any music you heard growing up that stuck with you?
When I was growing up, I didn’t actually listen to a lot of music. My family was very musical, so I was playing a lot of music, but I wasn’t listening to a ton. It was partially because my family was very religious and very against so-called “secular music” in our house, so I didn’t even know what pop music was happening growing up. When I was in around 5th grade, though, I bought a tape at the church bookstore by a rapper named Stephen Wiley, and that was my only tape for I don’t know how long. Man, I listened to that thing so many times, memorized the entire thing.
When I got into college, the first album I got into was Sublime’s self-titled. It had just come out when I left home, and I was like, “Wow, this is so cool.” He was doing so many things, pop and punk and reggae and ska, and I thought it was incredible. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was also a big record for me at that time.
Who are your current influences?
There’s a good handful of artists who get me excited that are somewhat in the same sphere that I’m working in. Channel Tres is one that every time one of his songs comes on, I’m just like, “Yes.” It just sounds so good and feels so good. Zebra Katz is a rapper, but it’s rapping over EDM music. My bandmates and I got into him six or seven years ago on tour, and every time he puts something out, I just feel like it’s so cool and so exciting.
What inspired the track list on Not a Game?
For all of the songs on this record, I was just trying to look around me and look inside me. It was like, “What is some feeling or experience I have, or some type of thing that is moving me for one reason or another?” That very particular instance might be specific to me, but I wondered how I could look at that and write about it in a way that someone else might be able to relate to without having to understand my personal experience. Each song is some very particular thing, but I hope that people can listen to it and say, “Oh yeah, that’s this in my eyes,” and not even have to know what I’m talking about.
What was the creative process like for the album?
This record took a long time. It’s the first thing that I’ve done as a solo project, so it was sort of an experiment of figuring out what I wanted to do and what I was even interested in pursuing. Some of these songs I started ten years ago, some of them came together really quickly, but it was sort of a long process of experimenting and figuring out what I wanted it to sound like.
I went on this sailing trip with my brother-in-law, and it was a lot of alone time of sitting and reading and listening to music. That was sort of a pivotal moment for me of reflecting on my life and feeling like a little bit of a reboot. When I came back, I started writing songs based on that experience and things that I’d felt during the trip. For a little bit, I thought that I was going to make a record just about that, but I just kept writing. It ended up with maybe half of the songs being about the trip and half being about other things, and not only did it take me a long time to write, but I was also figuring out a lot of details about recording. I recorded the whole thing myself, then I mixed it myself, and that was like an extra year. This project sort of went on and on, even when I thought it was done, but finally I was like, “You know what, it’s done.” Pencils down.
What was the mood going into the album?
It’s not happy. Some of the themes are a little dark, exploring sadness or regret or longing. Some things are just a little but, “Why does it have to be like that?” But it’s not wallowing in it though. I’m not a depressed person, really, but I also don’t like to dwell too much on happiness. I’m always attracted to the sad songs in life. That Pharrell song, “Happy,” that’s like the worst thing I’ve ever heard. It drives me nuts. Any time someone is trying to say something like that, it just feels so cloying and shallow to me. I’d much rather be facing the darkness of life head-on without pretending it’s not there.
Where do you see your music going in the future?
I’ve had some ideas about it. I’ve been collaborating with a couple of friends on different projects and they’ve gone in different directions. One project is straight-up club music with sort of a medieval darkness to it, and on the other hand, I’ve been working on this auto-tuned ballad thing. Not quite R&B, but kind of slow club music. A lot of the music I made when I was playing in indie rock bands was like indie-rock dance music, which I guess is a common thread through everything I’m doing. That’s the type of music I like to listen to, different types of interesting rhythms that make you want to move. I’ve also been experimenting with some more meditative music with synthesizers, like yoga/outer space music. I was thinking of making an EP that was that kind of stuff.
What do you want listeners to take away from Not A Game?
I want people to be able to enjoy it in whatever way they want to. Whatever way they hear it and want to approach the record, I would just be happy if they enjoy it in that way. If you put it on and it’s something you want to groove to, great. If you just want to listen to the lyrics and cry, great. If you can connect with it, then I’m happy. That’s all I want.
Check out Not A Game here!