The Power of Potential
Potential. Chances are, you've heard that term applied to yourself at some point. It's an overused and double-edged word, implying lack of present-tense success and the possibility for future failure.
"Potential" is a word that was used, quite accurately and frequently, to describe what the band Mineral had. The group released but two full-length albums, The Power of Failing and EndSerenading, during its brief run from 1994 to 1997. Splitting up halfway through the recording of EndSerenading, two of Mineral's former members, singer/guitarist Chris Simpson and bassist Jeremy Gomez, seem ready to get past the loaded expectations of the "p" word with their new band, The Gloria Record.
It's not that Mineral's muse was ever stunted by the expectations foisted upon them. As Simpson notes, "It's kind of hard to talk about Mineral's sound without talking about the difference between the two records, 'cause the first record was very heavy and abrasive, and the second record was a lot duller and more subdued."
The Power of Failing was a blast of cold water in the face of the mid-'90s indie-rock scene. Filled with effusive, dynamic instrumentalism and beautiful interweaving melodies matched with lyrics about searching, suffering and the aesthetics of beauty and its appreciation, it unintentionally offered post-hard-core scenesters a different definition for their new favorite genre label, emo.
EndSerenading furthered Mineral's legacy, but through a newly contemplative musical context. Much of Failing's bombast disappeared; the songs were slower, lusher and occasionally duller. Nonetheless, the two records and the handful of seven-inch singles the group released created a legacy that its members still have trouble escaping -- a fanatic following who hung on Mineral's every chord progression and Simpson's every utterance. The band was the anchor for the now phenomenally successful Crank! Record Company, which also released many of their stylistic contemporaries' efforts, and the imprint that The Gloria Record calls home.
Crank! owner Jeff Matlow explains that "the success of Mineral definitely broadened the reach of the Crank! name and further established an identity for the label that we had been building with our first few releases. The fact that I got four great, close friends out of the deal is all the more special to me."
Despite the fans' enthusiasm, Mineral broke up because its members wanted out of the band's shadow. "I feel I really had some sort of -- not that it was like any revelation or anything -- but I had some sort of a creative awakening around the end of Mineral. I know I was creatively involved in Mineral, but I just don't feel I was exercising any creative energy," Simpson explains. "It just seemed like the songs came out and that's how they were, and that sounded fine to me at the time. I didn't really question anything. I just started feeling the need to push things in different directions."
So, shortly after Mineral's split in the summer of 1997, Simpson began writing songs for his new project, originally conceived as Gloria (the name was changed after the members' continual references to "the Gloria record" they were readying struck a chord). He reconvened with Gomez, as well as another guitarist, Brian Hubbard, and drummer Matt Hammon (no longer with the band), and the foursome recorded The Gloria Record's debut, a self-titled, six-song EP. For a young man trying to escape the trappings of his former band, collaborating with the same bassist may not have seemed the most logical decision, but sometimes chemistry overrides such conventional assumptions. "For he and I, it was a very simultaneous thing when we quit the band. We had our own reasons, and some of them overlapped a little, but we were both ready to try something different," says Simpson.
Less rock-minded and more orchestrally minded, the EP set the course the band would take. Though differences between the two bands weren't obvious to some fans who wanted The Gloria Record to be Mineral Part II, the similarities end with the fact that Simpson sings for both bands. His ethereal, sensuous voice is the carbon base of both outfits; his syllables stretch like strings of saliva between lovers' mouths, held until every drop of emotion is wrung from them.
As Crank! honcho Matlow explains, "The Gloria Record definitely continues with the same philosophy. The only comparison I make between Mineral and The Gloria Record is that there are two members in common. The Gloria Record's sound, vision and goals are quite different from Mineral's -- neither better nor worse. They write great music, they love playing music, and they are determined to work towards increasing the exposure for the band -- a label's wet dream."
This week sees the release of The Gloria Record's second EP, A Lull in Traffic. Forged by a different lineup, the addition of drummer Brian Malone and pianist/organist Ben Houtman has thickened the band's sound and pushed the aural allusions to Mineral completely out of the picture. Though two years after the first EP, many, including the band itself, expected to follow it up with a long player, the group felt it necessary to document the songs written in the interim between the lineup uncertainties and the solidification of the current unit.
"We decided at some point after the first EP that, "Wow, this is really something we want to do seriously and really build towards a career with,' and do it with one band and not keep breaking up bands every three years and starting over. So we just felt like we had to wait to find the right people to do a full-length. At least the skeletal beginnings of these songs (on A Lull in Traffic) were written during the transition period, and we wanted to get these out there as something separate," explains Simpson. "We convinced ourselves that even though it had been a long time and people were probably expecting a full-length, that we were still a fairly young band as far as what we've done, and it's okay for young bands to put out singles and EPs for a while before they get their footing and are ready to put out a full-length."
Despite when the songs were written, the cohesion of The Gloria Record's permanent lineup is thoroughly evident on the new disc. The songs are symphonic in places, spare in others, often more atmospheric than melodic. But most striking is the newfound maturity of Simpson's lyrics. While the wordplay on the Mineral discs and the first Gloria Record EP were consistently intelligent and literary, their focus was primarily angstful and full of hand-wringing exploration. "The first EP could so easily be tied, era-wise, to Mineral, 'cause it was pretty much right after Mineral broke up, like six months after," says Simpson. "There's been a lot more time to change personally. It's really remarkable, since Mineral broke up -- the last two and a half, three years -- I think I've changed more personally in that period of time than I did my entire life up until then."
On the title track and opener, Simpson sings, "Just lonely, baby/Doesn't mean I'm looking for a friend/I've got plenty/I'm still learning how to lay down my life for them/Don't want to find yourself alone at 35/Spending half what you make on your car (and hating that drive)." It's hard to reconcile such wizened sentiments coming from the same young man who three years ago sang "When I was a boy/I saw things that no one else could see/So why am I so blind at 22?"
The four other tracks are as mature, yet no more upbeat, than the rest of Simpson's body of work. "The Arctic Cat" offers comfort and assurances to a young woman over a stuttering bassline and soaring organ tones, but its successor, "Tired and Uninspired," is a pessimistic self-assessment -- soft guitar strumming while Simpson sings, "I shouldn't be hard to find . . . I'll be the one with my big mouth moving/My big words, saying nothing." The difference these days is that Simpson has enough postadolescent conviction to hope he can one day utter and mean the song's final words, "I'm fine."
"Miserere" is the same discontented realities faced -- "The world goes on without my faith in anything" -- with hints of the disappointment that comes with trading youth's assets for the responsibilities of adulthood: "Don't you ever feel the weight of all the things that make you happy/That float around you, pull you down?" Similarly wistful for lost naiveté, the final, all-electronic track, "A Bye," contains only one verse: "Sing me to sleep/Underneath a blanket of stars tonight/Where all my hopes and fears/Look childish in the light."
Though much of the newly released material, and much of the interview content, focuses on Simpson's maturation and personal evolution, he remains a 25-year-old artist just beginning to find himself, and that's the true essence of The Gloria Record's latest effort. "I don't know, I've just in the last couple years been going through these massive changes in my life and how I view the world and myself and everything -- I hope it comes across, but I hope it's not sad. 'Cause it feels kind of sad to me sometimes, some of the changes," Simpson says pensively. "Like, it would be nice to be a very emotional, sweet, nice person for your entire life, y'know? And that's not always reality."
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