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 one of the interview is here.
Ez: So on to “Non-Zero”. Obviously it’s much more uptempo than a number of the tracks on Normal. It has kind of very straightforward and yet very abstract process to it, what with the high kind of buzzing, shimmering noise going on. You have this really aggressive beat…
What made you feel that that fit with the rest of the tracks?
Alisha: Nothing. I think that we don’t really think of stuff conceptually, so that was pretty much me going “I have a really cool arpeggiator. You guys wanna play with this?” and then it built form there.
Dean: We put it where it sounded best.
Alisha: We’ll write everything that’s chaotic and all over the place and then try to order it into something that sounds reasonable.
Ez: Are there ever any points where you get a track and it’s like “That doesn’t actually fit with anything else”?
Alisha: Not so far.
Nick: I doubt that we would care. For me it comes back to “Do we like this? Is this fun to do together?” The goal not being “Let’s create this holistic expression of art, that is going to mean a lot to other people” ’cause what this is all about is meaning a lot to us, expressing ourselves together.
Alisha: We like making a song sound the best it can be, but I guess we don’t look at it [in the context of] an album as a whole, so even lyrically for example, something might be quite serious, but how that fits with everything else, we kind of don’t care.
Nick: The way that it fits together is a picture of us, creatively.
Alisha: It’s a good reflection of us in how non-planned it is.
Dean: I think that anything that doesn’t fit – it doesn’t happen very often – it gets culled very early before we work on it very much. With these six songs, to say we don’t take it seriously or we’re not trying to make some… within the bounds of what we were saying, when we add these six songs, it’s like “What’s the best order for these?” We do want to make what we have work together as well as possible. It’s just not a focus going in so much. It’s more of a result.
Alisha: And then what happens after we haven’t kind of thought of. It’s not like “We want this to be relased and played on this radio station, and blank blank blank”. Anything like having an interview is a cool thing, but as an extra we’re not writing a thing for having a certain result outside of writing the best music we can as mates.
We don’t take ourselves seriously but we take songwriting seriously in regards to making it sound cool.
Ez: So essentially, a way of putting it, the reason why you don’t do the whole “Do these songs work together? Yay or nay?” is that you have no use for it.
Alisha: Yeah. We figure it out later.
Dean: We wouldn’t get to a point of finishing a song if we didn’t like the song, [and] we try to put them in an order that makes as much sense as possible.
Ez: It does have a good flow. You’ve got your opener, you’ve got “Non-Zero”, you’ve got your kind of darkwave-type thing next… it actually does flow pretty neatly…
All: Thank you.
Dean: And not to disregard putting together… I love concept albums. We definitely put thought into how the album would flow; It just was not necessarily intention to begin with. We always want it to be a cohesive listening experience ’cause we’re all people that listen to albums from start to finish. That’s certainly how I enjoy listening to music the most, and so trying to put out something that is a cohesive listen in that way is something I always try to do because it’s what I seek out.
Alisha: Yeah. Seconded. Nick’s unsure.
Nick: I put together playlists. I also really enjoy listening to good albums.
There are just a lot of songs that are on shit albums. What am I gonna do?
Ez: Tell me a shit album then. An album with a lot of shit songs.
Nick: I’m not gonna…
(At this point with a bit of pressuring Nick began extol the virtues of some of The Veronica’s songs, though a strong undercurrent of conflict regarding appreciation of their music did not go unnoticed. As Nick spoke he gestured passionately, often in a northward direction. From there dialogue spread to encompass Nick Cave, Metallica, and how bands change in terms of their understanding their music as they grow with age. Eventually it all tied into The Veronicas and the internal conflict of being a music fan. It was vigorous stuff.)
Ez: What is Zero-sum about?
Alisha: That song is about the Japanese concept of Karoshi, which is working yourself to death, so it’s about that, pretty much.
Ez: Do you reckon “Zero-Sum” will be the one that, as the kids say, goes hard, live?
Dean: I would describe it as our most chaotic song.
Alisha: In the recorded version there’s sort of a vocal break in the middle where Nick just goes batshit on a sax for a while, but that can evolve every time we play it live.
We played a show with our friends Loose Fit and they also have a saxophone as well. We got their saxophone player – Anna – to jump in and have a bit of a sax battle and that was a bit of fun, so that lends it self to be a bit more improvisational, at least sax-wise.
Dean: And vocally as well. It’s a big yelling track. There’s a lot of energy in that song, so hopefully it translates well. I’ve never seen us play so I couldn’t say for sure.
Alisha: But “Chronic Gains” too, so far with us playing it live has gone off pretty well, given that it’s that four to the floor dancy vibe.
Dean: I think “Non-Zero” might be hit and miss because it’s so chaotic.
Alisha: Depending on how well we control that chaos because sometimes it just gets chaotic and we’re just like “Oh, we did it bad”.
Nick: The other side of the coin of “Yes and” and the ideas and “Just have fun” is that maybe live it’s not for everyone, and that’s great. Next song’s gonna be different; hope you’re ready.
Our show that really made people happy was at The Union Hotel, and I was just so chuffed at how into it the crowd was. I was like “Fuck yeah, maybe we’re just making it to that point where people are into it. We’re tight; Fuck yeah!”
Dean: Everyone was on Ketamine.
Dean: So if you’re gonna come see us…
Alisha: Bring that energy!
Nick: It was a great vibe. Everyone was twenty and did not dress like they might like us, but I’m so glad though. They had a good time.
Nick: As a seague, we’re very happy to be putting music out on Blackwire Records. To be able to put music out on a label where the venue meant so much to us and the label put out a lot of music that meant so much to us is very special to us.
Ez: So track number three; it’s another minimal track, very bass-heavy, very cold… There’s also saxophone in it as well…
Dean: Nick’s the first deep voice you hear on that.
Alisha: That voice wasn’t me.
Alisha: I could do it.
Ez: Nick, did you feel with your vocal take, it was important to match the style of what was going on in the music to the extent that made it sound more classically darkwave, or was it another “I’ll just do this”?
Nick: In that other band that I used to sing in, I used to sing a lot higher in my range. I think that a couple of times I shifted in my writing to a lower range and played with it but it never really took hold for what suited and so I was quite excited to play around with my lower range in Potential earlier and in this track. It wasn’t really about “I want to channel what darkwave has set up for me in the past”. It was about “I want to sing low, I think it is a funny thing to put out of my body”. I had fun doing it there and in other spots.
Dean: It works for the song as well.
Ez: And a bit later on more vocal parts come in that are also deep, but there’s no seeming attempt to harmonise. A lot of it seems to be more disaffected voice.
Dean: There’s one verse in that song where all of us are singing at one time.
As far as vocal approach in that song, I think it was just we had space for three verses and we played around with the three of us in different ranges. I think in the third verse Nick’s down low, Sunny’s in the middle and I have a screech on top of it.
Alisha: I wrote all the lyrics and brought it along and said “here’s a structure of a song, let’s have at it” and then realised “Let’s have someone else sing this bit, and someone else”.
Dean: I think each bit doesn’t vary much in each line. The first two verses having different timbres and different ranges and then the third where we’re all in together, really exaggerating all of that, ’cause originally it was “Nick does a verse, Sunny does a verse, I do a verse, then we’re all together” and that just felt bloated and extreme. We cut out my solo verse which I was very happy to do.
I think it was kind of playing around with everyone’s different timbres and ranges , just ’cause like everyone’s vocals stay on one note, so having that variety of voices to mix up how the vocals move throughout the song keeps it more interesting.
Ez: Let’s talk about the fourth track.
Alisha: “Constructed Normality”.
Ez: It has very subtle melody. It’s there but it’s really not trying to push forward. Very faint.
Dean: The church song. The piano start of it sounds like the start of a sermon.
Ez: And then you go completely elsewhere, and that one also has a sort of livelier beat to it.
Dean: Four to the floor kind of sound to it, yeah.
Ez: Which is interesting as the tracks that are perceived as livelier are the even-numbered ones.
Dean: That makes sense, actually.
Oh, that was deliberate.
Nick: As the band numerologist, I instructed them to do that.
Dean: It’s probably in the ordering of it we were like not wanting to put things too similar right after each other.
Ez: Tell me about “Destructive Normality”. The song, not the concept.
Alisha: Lyrically that was kind of… In the past sort of year, two years I’ve become quite chronically ill and been diagnosed with fibromyalgia so it’s pretty much daily. It’s not fun.
Pretty much on a day-to-day basis I have some pretty intense chronic pain and hectic fatigue situations. I was in a super, high powered job before that that I can’t do anymore and there was a lot of my life I had to completely start from scratch and had a different set of abilities that I have now. Capacity to do things can change quite quickly, so a lot of that song is primarily about that and the loss of self when it comes to illness, and I guess the loss of autonomy a lot of the time when it comes to being part of the medical system more broadly.
So yeah; that’s the first sort of abstract, more poetic way that I’ve written about it, or explored my feelings about the grief and loss and, I guess helplessness of it, in any sort of writing and capacity, so that’s a bit more, my first sort of raw exploration into becoming sick, really.
Dean: That was the first song we wrote [for Normal]. Intentionally or not, I feel like that became a bit of a recurring theme, lyrically for you as well.
Alisha: I think this is probably the closest we’ve come to it being a concept record more lyrically, which I didn’t intend to start out to do. Upon reflection a lot of this is an exploration of different feelings when it comes to illness and disability and loss, primarily, which was unintentional. At the end I was like “Oh, you’ve been going through some stuff. Interesting”.
Dean: It was the first song we wrote of this batch of songs.
Alisha: I think it came in chunks. I know I wrote that synth line and then there’s a sort of distinct ridgy bit in the middle that’s a bit different that I think we worked in a bit later on, and then had a weird little floaty interlude.
Dean: I don’t know if it was one of the later ones as far as being locked down, but I remember sending stuff back and forth for this song a lot. Whether that influences the sound or not, I’m not sure.
Alisha: I think we worked on this a lot longer. Some songs come together quite quickly. “Destructive Normally”, we spent quite a lot of time working on. How that affected how it turned out, who’s to say?
Dean: I think for how I was approaching writing bass for it, I wanted a big, aggressive sound, especially at the start to counteract what was like a church song. That was one I really focused on as the bass as this big distorted reverberating thing to start with against the piano and synth stuff.
Alisha: It’s just finding all of our places. “Oh cool, Dean’s playing super heavy and low and I’ll try to make my synth higher”.
Dean: The dynamic range in that song was kind of… the middle part being a bit more calm-sounding, build that up to what is like a louder third section that is similar to the opening section, but a bit more girth.
Alisha: When I passed it on to Josh, our engineer, I was just like “Sorry”. He had to figure out how to balance it all. There’s a lot going on which is probably why it took so long.
Dean: It’s dense.
Alisha: It is thematically and musically dense.
Nick: Dank, dense and thicc.
Alisha: And ready to rock.