Practice’s Michael Tapper Proves Trying New Things Can Be Worthwhile [Buzz + Watch & Listen]

Not A Game, Practice’s debut record, drops February 19, and in all of it’s synthesized, sports-referenced glory, it’s a beautiful outcome of full circle events.

Michael Tapper was knee deep in the indie rock world when he decided he wanted to branch out and try something new. The We Are Scientists and Bishop Allen drummer wanted to keep doing what he loved (make music), but wanted to do it in a most immersive, well rounded way. Therefore, he began dabbling in songwriting, recording, mixing, and soon enough, building an entire album. Through years of falling in love, yearning to learn more about his craft, and experimenting with his art, Tapper became a DIY solo act called Practice, a band whose debut album is about to be released into the world. The multifaceted musician chatted with AQ about this years-in-the-making piece of music and all the intricate details found within it.

Not A Game is right around the corner from being released into the world. What do you hope listeners take away from Practice’s full length, debut album?

You know, I really just hope that people can enjoy it in whatever way they want to. The way I like to think about it is, if someone wants to sit down and listen to the lyrics and sort of relate to what I’m saying in the songs, , I hope they can do that…. But, if people just want to put it on and dance or put it on in the background while they do something else, like work out or they’re at a party and not even pay attention to it, then that would make me happy, too. I just wanted it to be available to a person in kind of the same way that I like to listen to music. You know, sometimes I like to turn the lights off and close my eyes and just really listen to every sound on a record. Sometimes I just want to put it on in the background while I’m doing some work or running or something. I had all those things in mind when I was making it. I just want it to be the thing that you can enjoy in the way that it makes sense to you.

Music truly is the soundtrack to so many events in people’s lives – big or small.

Exactly, totally. 

You kind of just touched on this yourself, but I, too, was thinking this while listening to the record; much of your songwriting allows for fans and music lovers alike to almost insert themselves into these imagery laced and emotion filled stories that are actually quite personal. Why do you think being honest and relatable in music is important?

I think that it’s something that I appreciate about the music that I like. We all sort of have shared experiences, personally and emotionally, even if they’re not the exact same literal experiences, and so what I was trying to do was write something that’s from my own personal experience, but in such a way that it can be related to it. Even if someone doesn’t have the same experience or even know what I’m talking about in terms of the exact same event or something that made me feel a certain way, they can relate to it just from shared human experiences and emotions that make you feel a certain way, whether it’s this feeling of loneliness or uncertainty. It’s just a way to connect with other people who, without them needing to know you or know anything about you, you can still just connect with another human on that raw human level. Thinking of emotional thoughts, maybe you experienced the emotion differently, but hear it in a song of mine and are like, “Oh, I’ve thought that before.” That was what I was trying to do: make something that someone could connect with without actually having to know me specifically.

Of course. I found that wholeheartedly. Like I said, I was able to almost insert myself into a bunch of these songs that maybe I didn’t understand fully in like the story sense, but I understood the feeling it gave me while listening to it.

Yeah. That’s great. That’s exactly what I was hoping people could do, so that makes me happy.

Wonderful. You know, Michael, one of my favorite tracks on the record is “Failure of Imagination.” It’s a lovely, romantic, warm-toned track dedicated to your wife. I’d love to know a bit more about the process of writing and recording that song, as well as your wife’s reaction to it’s sweetness.

I started writing that song a long time ago – probably over 10 years ago, which was sort of at the beginning, the first couple years, of our relationship. Then I kind of went back and worked on it, revisiting it over the years a couple of times, before finally finishing it for this record. It kind of started with a feeling that I had early in our relationship that I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe that I wasn’t looking for a relationship before this.” I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I was just not even thinking that it was possible or something that I wanted before I met her. We met, though, and I was like, “Oh my God, I am in love with this person.” Then it actually turned into a relationship. It was like this thing that I wasn’t imagining or wanting, but then once it happened, I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this. I almost missed this because I was not even paying attention, but I’m so glad that I did because it turned out to be something so meaningful and important to me.” That was the feeling that I had early on in our relationship… and then it has only just continued to be true. Every time I went back to revisit that song until I finally completed it and put it on the record, it was kind of like a prevailing feeling that I had, but musically, it evolved over the years as I sort of figured out what I wanted to do with this project. I think it started out on acoustic guitar or something a long, long time ago and then eventually migrated over into the underwater synth world. It’s sort of like an underlying song to me, the oldest song on the record that I started the longest ago. My wife likes it, though – at least she says she likes it, anyway.

Oh, well, I hope so! I love this story that you’re telling me about it, too. It’s the oldest song on the record, but one of the loveliest. Now you just mentioned that you have been kind of working on this solo gig for a while and there are 10 songs on this record. May I ask how these 10 tracks were the lucky ones chosen for this album that was so many years in the making?

When I first started, and for a long time, I didn’t write any songs. I wasn’t interested in songwriting in my musical career. I was a drummer for a long time in different indie rock bands. That’s what I did. I thought that I really wanted to do it. I was happy to just be the drummer and I loved bringing songs and bringing ideas into the songwriting process – not only drum parts and rhythm parts, which I did love. That was what I felt like I was good at, too, like being able to say “Oh, you know, this song should go in this direction or let’s make it more like this kind of a thing and that kind of thing.” But I never was like, “I’m gonna come up with these chord progressions and melodies and words and stuff like that by myself.” That’s not my forte. I really liked collaborating with other people. And so I was like, “I want everyone to be able to bring their best to the group and it’ll make the whole thing better.” At some point I realized that I had been doing this for awhile as just a drummer, so I guessed that I wanted to try songwriting. Like, “What’s it all about?” I had never even thought about it. I came to songwriting and working on this record as sort of the culmination of that sort of a migration to the experimentation of songwriting and stuff. When I first started the songs were half-assed and incomplete, just sort of sketches of ideas, because I didn’t know what I was doing or even really had an outlet for it. It wasn’t like I was going to put out a record then. I was just like, “I want to practice experimenting with songwriting,” so that song started in that phase of what I was doing. Over the years I kind of just kept doing that off and on, but at some point I decided that I did want to make a record. I want to do a solo project. Then I started writing and thinking about this stuff in earnest and also figuring out what kind of instrumentation I should have and who I wanted to be in the group with. Finally I landed on getting this group of synthesizers together and just making all the songs on this, like one group of synthesizers that sort of gave it a cohesive sort of idea, sound, and outlook. I was getting more into like dance music and stuff –just sort of exploring the senses, the different kinds of sounds, different drum machines, and all the ways that you can layer rhythms and all this stuff. Most of these songs came from that period of time, but I had gone back and listened to these older things and was like, “Oh, maybe I could adapt this into this new synth work.”

Obviously a lot of people know that you are a drummer and a multi-talented musician, so it was on your own accord that you fell into songwriting and this new approach to music.

Yeah. I still like collaborating. That’s kind of really what I want to do. It’s not like I really want to be making all the decisions and writing all the songs and stuff. It was just an experiment to be like, “I’ve never done all of these things before. I want to understand the whole process and every part of the making music,” whether it was from the lyrical standpoint or arranging the songs to just coming up with all the aspects of writing the songs themselves, but also then getting into the recording process. You know, I had recorded many records before, but in a studio with engineers and producers and stuff. This was the first time I was like, “I want to like try to understand this and force myself to learn every aspect,” through the recording and even into the mixing of everything. It’s a whole world of knowledge once you get into it. That’s when you’re like, “Oh my God, there’s so many decisions to make, there’s so many things to know, to do, and to learn.” I wanted to just force myself to get into that and experience and learn all of these aspects to sort of like get a more well-rounded understanding of this thing that I’ve been doing – making music – my whole life.

So you made this whole stellar album from scratch as a learning experience, which makes me want to know about all the intricate details of it. What is the meaning behind the title, Not A Game, then? Does it play into the band name of Practice, which I think also has somewhat of a sporty connotation?

No, it does. It actually is a sort of a very specific reference and it’s a play on the meaning, which one of the songs on the record talks about, which is called “Practice.” I think of it as my band’s theme song. It has a sample of this rant by the basketball player Allen Iverson that he did during a news conference a long time ago. He had been missing a lot of practices and all the sportswriters kept asking him about missing practice and people missing practice. He went on this rant talking about practice, “We’re talking about practice!” He was one of the biggest stars in the NBA, one of the best basketball players at the time, and he was like “I get here, I play these games with my heart, I win games, and you guys want to come to this news conference and just kept talking about practice?” Something like that, and he kept saying it over and over like “Practice, we’re talking about practice? We’re talking about practice!” He kept saying it so many times that by the end of it, everyone was laughing in the room. It just became this absurd thing and it also became a legendary rant that people talk about. I always thought that was funny ever since I had heard of it, so I was like, “I’m calling my next thing, next project, Practice.” So I went and gone to sample that rant, but made it sound like he’s talking about the band, you know, my thing, so that he’s not talking about what he actually thought he was talking about with the word “Practice.” That was sort of the idea for that song, and then my band, in the sense of just recontextualizing words. Then one of the things he says in that rant is, “We’re talking about practice, not a game. Not a game we’re talking about practice.” I just took that specific reference even within that rant and put it in that song and called it the record, because it also makes it seem like it sort of flips it the meaning on its head a little bi. The rant is saying, “We’re talking about practice, not a game,” like a game is important and practice is not. Then I made it be like it sounds like I’m not playing, this is not a game, this is serious. 

That is such an Easter egg. People are going to love to find out how much detail and thought was put into this record, all the way down to the title of the record and the name of your band!

For sure. It rewards people who have that very specific knowledge of that thing. They can recognize it, but also, it’s fun for someone who doesn’t know about the rant to learn about it and think about it even in terms of my music… at least I hope.

Practice’s NOT A GAME drops Friday online on all streaming services!