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.