Photo credit: Guy Eppel
NYC-based dance-pop artist, Michael Tapper, who was the previous drummer of We Are Scientists, Bishop Allen, Fool’s Gold and Yellow Ostrich, has a new project: Practice. Today, he announces his forthcoming album, Not A Game, and shares his first single and video, “The Afterlife.” The song acts as the counterpart — the yin to the yang — of previously released single, “Sleep In My Clothes,” which was about sinking into the melancholy of isolation. “The Afterlife” is about embracing life the way it is and the way it’s not.
The accompanying video for “The Afterlife” was made in collaboration with Hawaii-based artist Micah Grasse and his dog George ‘Data’ Chooney (RIP). A trippy, fuzzy, glimmering dreamworld of ocean and clouds open up, as Tapper surfs through sea and sky. Rainbows and skulls shine, sailboats float peacefully and palm trees dance in the wind. A close-up on Tapper’s face shows a blinking third eye before he seamlessly multiplies and keeps on surfing into the sunset.
The songs and videos for both singles were made pre-2020 madness, and yet the themes of isolation and self-quarantine root them (maybe too much) into current reality. Reflecting on it now, he adds, “‘Sleep In My Clothes” sort of how you might feel on a bad day in quarantine. But you know, sometimes connecting with a song that speaks to how you’re feeling when you’re down can feel good, too, like commiserating. And in the end, it’s kind of sad but kind of hopeful about wanting to make the world better, even if you feel kinda helpless to do so.”
Tapper says, “The vibe of “The Afterlife” video is how I feel on a good day — afraid, but surfin’ though it, facing reality.” He adds, “Even though I had written these songs and made the videos well before this pandemic, that made sense to me because I wrote each during an intense period of isolation and uncertainty. I wrote “Sleep In My Clothes” just after I had quit my old band, which had been my job and career, holed up in an apartment in an unfamiliar city. It’s about remembering a time when you would get up and go out the door and be a go-getter, and now you get up and don’t really have anywhere to go or anything to do and you want to escape, but you’re at a loss.
“The Afterlife” is about the feelings I had when I was stuck on this small sailboat for a month out in the middle of the ocean, completely cut off from civilization and everything — a thousand miles from anywhere, nothing but a desert of water. The music is a continuous, rolling, repetitive beat and bass line that never changes, never stops, never goes to another part, much like the waves rocking the boat at sea. I was getting up every day and looking around being like, “what the fuck is happening?” but just doing what I could to keep going through it, facing reality and carrying on.”
He adds, “So in some ways, the two songs [“Sleep In My Clothes and “The Afterlife”] are two sides of the same coin, and the common thread happens to be what a lot of us have been dealing with recently during this time of isolation, uncertainty and fear. Hopefully people can hear the songs and watch the videos and feel like they are not alone in their aloneness and loneliness.”
This year has been hard on everyone, of course, and Tapper is no stranger to the impact of COVID-19. He says, “Like everyone, coronavirus has upended my life and consumed probably the majority of my waking energy for the past month or so. My wife is a doctor in Manhattan, so we started quarantining before most people (when she’s not at work), concerned that she might bring it home from the hospital and not wanting to spread it to our friends or neighborhood. Our fears were founded because we did get it early, but thankfully our symptoms were mild. During this quarantine time, I was able to finish up preparing this music videos for release. As I showed it to a few people, one friend mentioned that it embodies things we’re feeling during this isolation period. As one friend put it: “the vibe of the “Sleep In My Clothes” video is how I feel on a bad day during this quarantine — crying my mascara off (if I even had the will to put any on).”
Other than his naked backside, the video also features Tapper’s beard, which did in fact, receive MTV’s Beard of the Year” award for 2005 and 2006. Psychedelic distortion in reality through color, and texture echo the song it’s with a mixture of sadness and hope and hinges on an absurd, dreamlike vibe.
On the video, he adds: “The video starts very literally with me waking up in all of my clothes and walking out the door, which is the first verse of the song, but then takes it a step further by diving into a pool fully clothed. Later, the character experiences a sort of baptismal rebirth transformation, ending up completely naked, which is a literal reference to the lyrics but also a metaphor for honesty and vulnerability, which is what’s happening lyrically at the same time.”
He adds. “I always like the image of people jumping into the water in all of their clothes as if it’s completely normal, just because it feels so wrong. Surprisingly, the thing that felt most wrong about swimming fully clothed was having socks on. There’s something extra wrong about that. I also liked making a scenario where being naked is actually the correct way to be as opposed to being fully clothed, because in almost any other real-world situation, being fully clothed is not only the norm but if you’re naked you’ll go to jail.”
Photo credit: Guy Eppel
Bio by Larry Fitzmaurice —
Taking some time off to clear your head can do a world of good — and sometimes it can lead to new discoveries about yourself, too. That’s the thinking behind Not a Game, Michael Tapper’s adventurous debut album as Practice. Teeming with lush synth work and wonderfully varied atmospherics that are anchored by Tapper’s sonorous vocals, Not a Game represents an exciting new chapter in his career as well as the beginning of something else entirely — a fresh start, sonically and perspective-wise.
An accomplished drummer and indie rock lifer who’s been behind the kit in acts like We Are Scientists, Fool’s Gold, and Yellow Ostrich, Tapper’s point of self-discovery that led to the creation of Not a Game took place in 2013, when he headed out on a 28-day sailing trip from Mexico to Hawaii with his brother-in-law. “It was a lot of alone time being disconnected from everyone,” he remembers. “I was thinking a lot about what I was doing, and what I wanted to do — feeling dissatisfied from what I’d been doing musically.”
When he returned from the trip, he wound down his time as part of Yellow Ostrich and started writing songs on his own. “I always wanted to be a collaborator — to be part of a group,” Tapper explains while outlining the new, fresh feeling of starting out on his own. “I’d never tried songwriting.” But going it alone became his main focus anyway, as he worked fastidiously on his songcraft in his practice space while learning the ins-and-outs of various synthesizers he’d recently procured: “I just wanted to try everything new and leave everything I’d been doing behind.”
The moniker of Practice itself was borne out of this constant, self-exploratory toil, along with a connection to the practice of meditation itself. “I was going to a rehearsal space every day, setting up, and starting to play,” Tapper recalls. “I was doing this routine every day, and it felt like practice to me. Through practicing, I was coming up with this music.” NBA legend Allen Iverson’s infamous “practice” speech was another inspiration for the project’s name, and the speech itself is showcased over the rippling synths and hissing snares of album centerpiece “Practice.”
Wielding an array of analog synths and MIDI controllers for the first time in his career, Tapper strove for a sound that was tactile even at its most purely electronic: “I wanted it to sound live—something I could touch, not just on the computer.” His interest in exploring synthesizer music began a year before his fateful sailing trip, when he purchased a broken Juno 106 online with the goal of learning the complex instrument’s technological ins and outs as he successfully refurbished it. “I ended up learning how analog synthesis works, and I fell in love with synthesizers,” he recalls.
Musically, Tapper’s cited influences include Arthur Russell and Brian Eno’s respective artistic transitions from rock to electronic music, as well synthesizer artists like Tangerine Dream and Bruce Haack — machine music that sat on the edge of pop, slowly shaping its contours. “I wanted to put my musical education into this album — my own synthesis of that music, in a way that sounds familiar but new,” Tapper explains, and he enlisted Darby Cicci of the Antlers early on to assist with nailing down his specific retro-futuristic synth sound.
A sense of loveliness abounds, from the radiant reverberations of “Wild Speculation” to the wayward disco dreams of “You Don’t Believe in Accidents”; lyrically, Not a Game takes much of its inspiration from the sailing trip that inspired Practice itself, while the dewdrop synth echoes of “Failure of Imagination” (the first Practice song Tapper ever wrote) carries an especially personal weight. “I started working on it years ago but never quite liked it until I was finishing this record — it took a lot of different shapes,” he explains while talking about the song’s genesis. It’s about meeting my wife and realizing I wasn’t looking or waiting for her — just living life. I felt like I had a failure of imagination because I hadn’t realized that the relationship could be possible, even though I hoped that it could.”
And reaching a full realization of one’s hopes — of embracing the limitless possibilities of life’s many paths — is what Tapper’s journey as Practice embodies. The album is a pre-do-it-yourself affair, as he wrote, produced, and mixed the entirety of Not a Game over the course of four years. “Every part of it was a process that I hadn’t done before,” he marvels, and Not a Game’s beautiful confines are proof that there are no barriers when it comes to trying something new.
Photo credit: Guy Eppel
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