Nolan Potter’s Surreal Psychedelic Soundscapes, Interview

The Harmonic Dissonance of Nolan Potter

Nolan Potter is a talented American musician active in the psychedelic and progressive rock genres. Influenced by bands such as Can, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, Potter has developed a style characterized by complex and elaborated musical structures and immersive sound textures. Each song paints surreal landscapes with psychedelic brushes, intricately detailed with Dadaist elements and psychedelic sound progressions. His notable works include albums like “Music is Dead” and “The Perils of Being Trapped Inside a Head.” Potter is based in Austin, Texas.

Nolan Potter’s site on Bandcamp

What initially attracted you to the world of psychedelic and progressive rock, and who were your main influences when you began your musical journey?

There wasn’t a lot of interesting music to be found in the small town I grew up in. I heard Yes’ “Roundabout” when I was about 10 and was captivated. Then I got really into punk (or what I thought was punk, this was around 2003) and started my first band. Completely by chance, a former roadie for Yes, Kansas, and similar acts moved his family to my hometown and took me under his wing. He gave me my intro to recording and progressive music. Mars Volta was also a huge gateway and a bridge from the popular music styles of the time to the heyday of 70s prog. Later on came Floyd, Zappa, Can, Magma, and more modern artists like Dungen, Tame Impala, and especially Holy Wave, who I can blame for bringing me to Austin. 

The musical arrangement in “Eggbound” integrates various instruments and vocals beautifully. Could you share the process you used to blend these elements so effectively?

The plan for “Eggbound” from the outset was A) it’s going to be a cassette and B) it’s going to be a collage. In the process of putting albums together a lot of bits end up going to waste or getting lost under the layers. Eggbound was a way for me to kind of resurrect a lot of these ideas and also show early versions of tunes that ended up on “Music is Dead”. Cassette was also ideal for this as it feels almost like a mixtape and can contain more music. I was working on it concurrently with Music Is Dead so a lot of the same production techniques (or lack thereof) are at play there.

“Music Is Dead” addresses themes of artistry versus commercialism. What inspired this theme, and how did you integrate your thoughts into the song?

The whole record “Music Is Dead” was a response to the pandemic; how it affected musicians and our livelihoods. In the title track there’s some of that loneliness: “I wasted half the day on a song we’ll never play onstage”. And poking fun at some empty, drunk conversations you might hear at a local show, which at the time felt like a thing of the past: “Oh you play the clarinet? Well we should jam”. I was really inspired by the writing on Soft Machine’s album Volume Two, which is incredibly self-referential while still surreal and Dadaesque. 

Nolan Potter Live Shot 2 hi res
© Nolan Potter

The stop-motion video for “Music Is Dead” is visually compelling. How did you choose this style for the song, and what was your role in the creative process?

The video for “Music Is Dead” was created by Taylor Browne, who had previously directed and done some great stop motion in videos for “Caberfae Peaks” and “Eggbound”. We’re both massive fans of Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That was the initial idea and Taylor just ran with it. I’ll always give him full creative control when we work together, and he’ll always go way overboard like I tend to do when creating music. We’re a great match. Go read his description under the “Music is Dead” video on Youtube. That’s all Taylor.

Could you describe the initial concept that led to the creation of your latest album, “The Perils of Being Trapped Inside a Head”?

In fall 2023 I got an offer to do an LP with Austin label Space Flight Records through their Try Hard Coffee imprint. This meant the record had to be finished and mastered in February ‘24 in order for the vinyl to be ready in time. I’d never worked with such a tight deadline before. That really pushed me to focus and listen to things in a way I never had. During that time frame I went through a handful of personal tragedies that left a big mark on the music. Spending time in solitude working on these songs was very cathartic and helped me deal with the losses and offset some of that emotional weight. Overall this led to a record that’s more personal than anything I’ve done before and maybe has some musical choices that I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

How has the creative process for “The Perils of Being Trapped Inside a Head” evolved from your earliest work?

Part of me wants to say it hasn’t changed at all, I just know more about the work now. Though if I listen back to the early Bandcamp releases or even “Nightmare Forever” I can hear that I had no clue what the hell I was doing in a technical way. But it all still starts the same, some kind of spark that takes off. Sometimes it fizzles out. There’s way more tracks on my hard drives than what’s been released, it’s just that most of it isn’t very good or isn’t good enough yet. The creative process itself feels very short to me. Most of the time is spent putting in the support beams and shingling the roof of an idea. All the boring but really satisfying stuff.  

What are some of your favorite pieces of equipment that contribute to your unique sound?

I will generally use whatever is close by. Whatever is the quickest route to get an idea into something solid. Since my budget for gear hovers right around nothing I’m not picky, but I’ve managed to get my hands on a few cool things. For this record I had access to older and better gear than on previous releases. A lot of guitars and keyboards were recorded or reamped with a 70s Fender Twin that I took on tour last year and fell in love with. My Jazzmaster and ES 335 guitars were used heavily. Flute makes an appearance. The Electro Voice 635 microphone I used on all kinds of stuff. Probably the biggest impact on the sound was my friend Dillon Fernandez’ Otari 8 track tape machine that we used in the final mix. 

Nolan Potter Live Shot 1 hi res
© Nolan Potter

How do other art forms, particularly literature and film, influence your music?

Before my teens, when I really got started with music, I wanted to be a sci-fi/fantasy author. Tolkien was everything to me as a kid and I always wanted to create something like that. Dune was another big one. I’ve referenced it in songs more than once. My early interest in music was kickstarted by John Williams’ score for Star Wars. I’d listen to film soundtracks in headphones on the school bus and start noticing how there were low parts in the music and different high parts and how to recognize instruments by their sound. If I wasn’t doing this with my life, film scoring is a path I would’ve loved to dedicate myself to. Part of the fun of writing and composing is creating little worlds for yourself to explore. I feel like I get to do that with this project. Another big non-musical influence is the art of Julie Wierd, my partner of five years, who creates most of the album covers and other art for me and the band. We have a little cottage industry putting releases together in our home. And knowing she’s going to create a cover for something tends to push my ideas in certain directions. 

How has the Austin music scene shaped your musical style? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you can tell us about?

Before I moved to Austin from Michigan, making a life out of music didn’t seem at all viable. When I got involved with Austin bands like Holy Wave, Lake of Fire, Annabelle Chairlegs, I realized how serious people were about playing shows here. Both the venues and the bands as well as the fans. For 3 or 4 years I worked the door at Hotel Vegas. That’s like 20 years in the Austin music scene years. I got to see just about every act in town as well as many touring artists, and get the inside scoop on how the whole venue system works. I don’t get out to see new bands as much anymore but there’s still great stuff happening in Austin. For the past year I’ve been producing a record for a new band called Grandmaster. They wear costumes and play funky, proggy, pseudo-religious music. I highly recommend checking out their music as soon as possible.

Nolan Potter
© Nolan Potter

Photos courtesy of Nolan Potter

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by retrofuturista

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