I was recently afforded the opportunity to speak with Sydney’s Potential, a group of people operating in a format that allows the creation of sound known as music. Through their endeavours they’ve created many a release; one of which is known as Normal, which should be (at the time of this writing) coming out quite soon.
I asked Potential about Normal, among other things, and what transpired was a rather jovial conversation.
Part two of the interview is here.
Ez: Is it an album or an EP?
Dean: We’re calling it an album. It’s like… half an album long so that’s an album, right?
Three six-song albums.
Alisha: Yeah, so all of the albums are six songs for no particular reason. We’ll probably do a more legitimate album next time.
Nick: Let’s not make promises we can’t keep. *laughs*
We’ve been putting out – with other bands – EPs for a while, so we’re fine to just call this an album.
Dean: Yeah, exactly. It’s a release.
Nick: We’re releasing something.
Alisha: Into the world.
Our first one was over half an hour. The proceeding ones aren’t even half an hour but I think we’re just like “Well we’re in this now”.
Ez: Do you guys have any Primitive Calculators influence?
Alisha: Not directly, no. Do you see it?
Nick: I think I’ve seen Primitive Calculators, but I wouldn’t say so, no.
Ez: I thought I’d ask as listening to the release… Potential’s the band name. The album is…
Nick: Commonplace words.
Ez: Something I found interesting about it is the band name and album name seem very serious and very tongue in cheek at the same time, and then you see the cover, and then you listen to it and it’s this kind of darkly minimal-maximal stuff.
I thought there might be some Primitive Calculators influence stuff there because of the very simple percussion. It’s very focused, strictly on the beat and little else. It made me wonder if there’s influence from club music there as well, especially on the last track which seems to be some sort of dark take on workout music.
Alisha: Kind of. That’s probably our most clubby-ish track, I guess. That we’ve written. I think.
Nick: What’s the last one again?
Alisha & Dean: “Chronic Gains”.
Nick: Oh right.
Ez: You should know that.
Alisha: Nick’s got the worst memory in the band.
Nick: I have the worst memory in the band.
Alisha: I’m in the sweet middle.
When I was writing the beat to that, Dean and I – prior to Potential – were in another band called Clean Shirt, which was a bit more poppy I suppose. I think that the “Chronic Gains'” beat was something that I found in a little pocket of old ideas that maybe we had there that I went “This can actually be really interesting to sort of rewrite into Potential context” which is very different than what our previous band was, so it’s definitely our more dancy, clubby banger I suppose… *laughs* but like a sad one, like you’re sad at the club.
Dean: I know one of your favourite bands is LCD Soundsystem. I feel like that’s a song they’d do.
Alisha: I think I probably drew a lot of influence there, and being a bit more cheeky with the lyrics and delivery I think, which is probably influenced more directly by something like LCD.
Nick: But then the song with the video, “Non-Zero” (“Non-Zero Sum Game”), as far as club music, the later Health albums where they are less of a noise rock band and become more of a club band, I feel like that’s a bit of an influence on that song.
Alisha: Health is definitely a pretty good influence there. I mean, it’s impossible to sound as good as Health because they’re insane in regards to their sound, but that light spattering of industrial-sounding things but not quite an industrial band style I suppose.
Ez: The closing track also seemed to be the most openly melodic as well. As I was listening I did hear melody here and there, but that one seemed to be the most “I want to be melodic”.
Alisha: I think we were a bit more intentional when writing in that way. We usually start with something such as a beat or a really basic bass line or synth line and build from there.
Dean: That song coming from what was very much more of a pop band. We data-mined ourselves.
Alisha: But yeah, that was very much more of a disco beat. That’s probably our most fun, danceable track and I think because it started that way we experimented. The sax lines and the bass lines shift it upwards much more. It moves a lot more, I think. The beat moves a lot more, the bass moves a lot more to match that style.
Ez: There’s a lot of things going on in this album in terms of touching on different things. The first track is this very primitive thing and then there’s “Non-Zero” which has this high buzzing noise and very aggressive beat. The third track’s much more like Sisters of Mercy / Cocteau Twins-type thing…
“Phosphorescence”, the penultimate track is more instrumental and seems a lot more ambient or classical-influenced.
Dean: Nick arranged all the extra bits.
Nick: Hi, my name’s Nick. *laughter*
So, I’ve been on a project called Hieronymus Bosch’s Butt Music and it’s basically just me having fun with writing in a more classical setup of instruments on my computer and I really enjoy doing that,. That’s likely to be out in the next year or so. It’s just kind of “Am I bored? Maybe I’ll work on Hieronymus Bosch’s Butt Music”.
Nick: But I got really excited with that track, just having a more melodic spot for the sax and then feeling like “this could be good with some strings” or whatever. So yeah, we just ran with that.
Something that I really like with Potential’s creative project is it’s a very “Yes and” band. It’s just like “Fuck yeah, let’s do that!”. It’s super fun.
I’ve been playing in a wind band for a long time so that’s a musical space I’m not bringing as much writing to, so [with] “Phosphorescence” I was really stoked with that. It also allowed us to bring in a whole bunch of other people.
Dean: Very lucky. Everyone we asked was interested in doing it and performing on it.
Alisha: And were all excellent.
Dean: Tom who drummed on it was in a band with Nick and I before. It was basically an excuse to get him to play drums with us again. We had Peter Hollo on Cello, he’s in so many great projects.
Josh who engineered the release as well, he was the one person who didn’t sort of perform what was arranged. Josh, who played clarinet on the song, he sort of wrote it on the day. Josh was in mine and Nick’s old band. He played guitar, but clarinet’s his first instrument so we were very keen to get him to that.
Nick: We hit up our friend Ed who just started learning violin because he got a job making violins in a factory and so he started so he could begin testing them all. We were like “Ed, do you want to come chuck something on this?” and he was like “Yeah, sure!”.
Dean: He realised.
Alisha: “I can’t play the violin yet”.
Dean: He realised he is much more of a beginner so he got his colleague, Tori Spooner.
Nick: Who is just phenomenal.
Alisha: Initially I wrote some drums for it that was a bit more of an organic drum sound and we were like “What if we get someone to do live drums on this? This could be interesting. Do we know anyone who plays strings? Let’s ask them, let’s ask them, let’s ask them” So eventually it was “Who do we know who does this?”. Then once we had a few different puzzle pieces we went “Nick, arrange some stuff” and he did very well.
Dean: On our last release (Doggy) we had a guest trumpet spot on one of the songs from our friend Kaylee. It’s always just awesome to get other people’s takes on the parts you’ve written.
Nick: The way we recorded “Phosphorescence” meant that Tom put together a few things that were going to be arranged later but weren’t necessarily start to finish of the song, and then Josh had quite a significant part in putting the drum parts together for the structure of the song. It was just a very ridiculously collaborative song.
Alisha: And genuinely really fun to see how it ended up, I think.
Nick: Once we all heard the final product together, going in a bit blind we went “Oh my god, it sounds amazing once put together”. We love that song because other people are on it so we’ll talk about it all day.
Alisha: We can be like “This song rules” ’cause we only had a really small bit in all of it.
Ez: What with this being your third release and you’re in other bands and still active in other bands as well. Obviously it sounds like you come in with different ideas and whatnot. From there, how much of it is a push and pull verses “Hey, let’s try this”?
Alisha: It’s “yes and”.
Nick: What’s the pull from a writing perspective?
Ez: Sort of arguing for an idea and conceding.
Dean: Most things just make it in.
Alisha: Yeah, there’s only really times where it’s like “I’ve written this thing but I’m kind of a bit unsure of it” and then try it a few times where we’re like “Yeah, that one was better”.
Dean: I think every idea at least gets a try and then we decide whether it stays in or not.
Alisha: I don’t there has been a time where one of us has shot anyone down. If someone’s like “I’m really into this bit” we’re like “Yep cool, let’s roll with that bit and figure it out”.
Dean: Everything generally starts with a beat that Sunny programs, or a synth part and that’ll be the back bone of many a song. That’ll evolve and all of us have input on structure from there. Nearly every idea at least gets one run-through and we’re all pretty open to being told “No” I think as well. If ever there are ideas that don’t make it, thankfully I don’t think any of us are too sensitive.
Alisha: Yeah, none of us are too precious about our ideas. If there’s been some things that are like “nah, that’s not really working”, we’re like “Yeah you’re right” and then we’ll go from there.
Dean and Nick have been playing in a previous band for fourteen years and before Potential Dean and I played in another band together for not as long as fourteen years. In some way or another we’ve played with each other for a bit prior to starting Potential and have been friends for years so it was a bit more intuitive about how the other goes about writing a little bit going into this.
Dean: I think as well, we had a good habit with our first two releases of putting something out and a lockdown hitting immediately after.
Alisha: We’re very good at that.
Dean: I think with the second release and this one a little bit –
Nick: We’ll see what that looks like on Friday.
Dean: There is a lot of remote songwriting that has happened as well, which has been a big part of the process. Not so much now; we can do it all together.
Alisha: We released our first release and then not long after Covid hit, and a lot of that first, more intense lockdown period was writing for Doggy. It started to ease up and we released it and played a show and immediately the second lockdown hit.
Ez: Well played.
Dean: Sorry everybody.
Alisha: I think that particularly for this release I found a lot of excitement and appreciation for playing in the same room with each other because we had a period where we would go “Alright I’ve written this” and then send it to the group. Then someone would write something to it and send that back, which was a really great way to have a collaborative project whilst isolated, so that in itself was a pretty good lifeline in that way.
But yeah, definitely getting back together and being able to get in the same room and collaborate in that live aspect, I think I was way more jazzed for after not being able to.
Ez: So basically it’s a very democratic process. A lot of support but also an understanding of the willingness of when you put an idea out there you have to be willing to let it disappear.
Dean: If something doesn’t work and you get told it doesn’t work, everyone’s accepting about it.
Nick: Everyone’s accepting but also I don’t know if anyone’s just like “MY IDEAS ARE FUCKING GOOD”. It’s like “Maybe this will work. Does it work?” And everyone’s like “Yeahhh!”.
Dean: Everything gets at least one run. Nick and I, our old band, it was a punk band and then it was a Bloc Party worship band, and then it was a math rock band and then it was slowcore…
We have pretty short attention spans, musically I think, so a lot of things get run. I think it’s how we’re used to doing things.
Alisha: Yeah, essentially, so we’re not really locked in genre or style-wise, but probably 90% of the time we’re like “chuck it in, we’ll make it work”.
Dean: Oftentimes if there’s two ideas, at first we start at either and then we wind up at both of them.
Nick: I feel like key to understanding why I’m hanging out with these cats…
Ez: Is that you’re given more excuse to play sax?
Nick: No, not at all –
Alisha: Nick hates the sax.
Ez: Wait how could you hate the sax?
Nick: I don’t hate the sax at all, I don’t know where that came from.
Nick: I think that straight out of DIY stuff is just the love of making it together and the aim totally not being “Lets make the BEST THING we can and make it HUGE!”. It’s just like “Yeah this is fun, yeah cool, chuck that in, yeah sick!”.
Alisha: I think that’s also a nice thing about playing with people who are just like “Oh, I just want to be mates and this is just also something we have fun with as well.” It’s a cool add-on to a friendship to learn how your friend’s brains work in a creative or in a collaborative way, so hanging out with your best mates who you love anyway, but then going, “Oh, that’s how you go about thinking in that thing” or “That’s an interesting way that you went about thinking about that”. That’s just a fun little bonus to primarily just an excuse for us hanging out and making noise, really.
Ez: Going into the first track, there’s something about, trying to find someone to crack your skull open?
Ez: Is that some kind of like darkly passionate-type thing, or darkly romantic thing going on?
Alisha: Yeah that’s probably the bleakest song. Initially a longer version of those lyrics was… I used to more frequently write and do readings of poetry which has fallen off given that I write lyrics now.
It was a poem that I really liked in regards to how much I liked the writing of it, but it’s probably from the lowest part of my life in regards to mental health and the situations surrounding it. I thought it could be interesting to sort of repurpose into a really bleak song in regards to how it’s written, so it’s just the one repeating kick and that’s it, and it’s pretty sparse musically.
I thought creating a really sparse claim to quite passionately talk about incredibly bleak things in a bit more of an abstract way was a bit more of something I hadn’t really done before and would be a really interesting way to expel that, I suppose. So it definitely is the bleakest song that has been written musically and lyrically, and it’s quite different to the rest of the album.
Throughout the writing process [we] thought it’d be a really solid opener because it just kind of punches you in the face. But it definitely is the bleakest.
Ez: So there’s no sort of like dark romantic-type thing in there then.
Alisha: Subconsciously likely from where it was coming from.
Dean: I think the lyrics are very you, very personal, a lot of “you” in there.
Alisha: When I’m writing I’m very rarely trying to write about a person per se. I might collate feelings or experiences that I’ve had more broadly and abstracted a bit, so with that one I think it is quite directional in more broadly who or what it is written about. But yeah, I can definitely see the point of it being quite dark and personal and passionate about it, because initially when I wrote it it was.
Ez: Are the lyrics collaborative as well?
Alisha: Nah, not really.
Ez: In that case, do you ever worry about putting too much of yourself in lyrics to a point where you’d be uncomfortable performing something down the track because you don’t relate to it anymore?
Alisha: No, not really. I think it’s more of.. a lot of ways if I’ve gotten to a point where I feel I can write it into a lyric I want it out of me. When working through things that can be quite difficult or be quite personal, I stew on stuff a lot. I’ll internalise things and it’ll be a couple of years down the track when I go “Right, I’m gonna talk about that thing”. By the time I’ve gotten through my process it already sort of has gone through my mental quarantine of getting out of the gates, so by the time I’m ready to write about it I just want it out.
Once I’ve written it and once I’ve sung it, it has less charge than when it was in me.