‘Blanket of Calm’ marks the third appealing and assuaging release from this seven-man act Healing Potpourri, and Atwood Magazine spoke to them on the album’s creation.
The craziness of 2020 will seemingly never cease, so why not have a go at some calm and multi-textured tunes that are all but guaranteed to ease your mind in the midst of these turbulent times? Blanket of Calm, the new record by San Franciso indie-rock group Healing Potpourri, may be just what the proverbial doctor ordered in such a context.
Healing Potpourri is largely the brainchild of Simi Sohota, who attended the University of California at Davis and has largely remained put in that region as a molecular biologist for Genentech. His devotion to science has gone hand-in-hand with his love of music: he was active with the community radio station KDVS for several years and formed a band in the early 2010s with several local musicians who collectively called themselves Healing Potpourri.
The group released its first record, The Way Water Bends Light, in 2014 and followed up two years later with My Eyes Never Really Adjusted to the Light. Both of these records demonstrate Healing Potpourri’s musical versatility — guitar, saxophone, flute, and saxophone are just some of the many instruments that are given space here — and they also share the goal of soothing their listeners’ senses. As Sohota has explained, “I want the music to have this feeling of comfort and healing… [and] to bring those elements of new age and ambient music to pop songwriting.”
Blanket of Calm, Healing Potpourri’s third shot at achieving that goal in their music, couldn’t be more timely with the state of the world being what it is. It is also a milestone release for the group, being their first album under their new label, Run For Cover Records. Atwood Magazine caught up with frontman Sohota to hear more about the group’s recent history and how they’ve kept their artistry and team ethic alive throughout this trying period!
Listen: ‘Blanket of Calm’ – Healing Potpourri
A CONVERSATION WITH HEALING POTPOURRI
Atwood Magazine: Six years and three albums in, how would you evaluate the group's current career standing? In what ways does Blanket of Calm make a statement as to how far you guys have come as a band?
Healing Potpourri: Healing Potpourri started closer to nine years ago in my bedroom in Davis, CA. It was much more primitive and experimental back then. I was using a Casio SK1 and other cheap keyboards to make ambient loops. Each album has been a new experiment in growing as a songwriter.
In my early days, I would bury my voice under layers of reverb and delay because I was shy. Now my songs are bigger, with more moving parts, and the vocals are front and center. At first, I was sort of fucking around – having fun with sound and experimenting with things so that I could open for cool bands at house shows in town. I take music a lot more seriously now and am trying to craft beautiful fully-formed songs, but it’s still just as fun.
Have you always been based in San Francisco? How has navigating the city and its musical landscape influenced your own act?
Healing Potpourri: I started in Davis, CA while I was in college. Being part of the vibrant DIY house show scene there and in neighboring Sacramento had a huge influence on me. It made me fall in love with music in a deeper way, not only as a consumer but an active participant. Booking shows at my house made me realize, “Hey, I could do that.”
I started a bunch of bands at that time, all radically different from one another. After I graduated, I moved to San Francisco. I already had a bunch of friends in bands that lived there from my days booking in Davis, so I just went to shows all the time. I lived in the Mission District and there were several bars within walking distance where all my friends’ bands would play. I met so many new people and started recruiting a live band to play my songs.
The city has such a rich history of music and there were big shoes to fill. As garage rock was finally dying, everyone was trying to find a new identity and a new community to rally around. A bunch of really cool, weirdo pop bands started at that time. It was a really fun, vibrant time to be making music and playing in bands.
Watch: “Think About Us” – Healing Potpourri
Healing Potpourri is a seven-man band whose members play a variety of instruments. What's it like to be in a band with that many different sonic components? When you're working in the studio together, what steps do you take to make sure everyone's contributions factor well into the finished record?
Healing Potpourri: I usually will write a stem of a song, chords, lyrics, and a vocal melody and bring it to practice. We’ll jam on it and everyone will contribute ideas, adding and removing parts. It’s very collaborative. It can be challenging trying to juggle all of the ideas and make a cohesive song, but it’s part of the fun.
Oftentimes a finished song will be completely unrecognizable from the voice memo it started with. All of my bandmates are songwriters, too, and I love their music. I trust them, and we can be honest with each other when something isn’t working. And I love when they contribute an idea that I would never have thought of but just works. It’s those magic moments in the practice space that I absolutely love!
Recording is a different thing. I get most of the input and collaboration on the songwriting in the practice space, but when it comes to recording, the major decisions were between me and my two co-producers, Jason Kick and Jack Brown.
You described your music as not being ''an escape from the problems of the world but more of a refuge or something to help restore the listener.'' How do you achieve one outcome while avoiding the other? In light of recent events, how might music of this nature be especially therapeutic to listeners?
Healing Potpourri: The way I see it is, there’s a difference between escape and a healing refuge. Escapism to me sounds like apathy to the struggles of the world we’re facing today. I don’t want to escape those truths; I want to confront them. On the other hand, protesting police brutality, marching to defund and demilitarize the police, educating myself and others on these issues– these things are hard work and we need to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to fight. That’s where the healing and restorative power of music comes in for me. Black Lives Matter or get the fuck out.
So far, three music videos have been released from the new album, and stylistically, they're all very different. What sort of artistic experimentation do you aim for in your music videos, particularly in these recent releases?
Healing Potpourri: I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain style or aesthetic. I want to grow and try new things and make different kinds of art all the time. The “Think About Us” video was really great because we were able to show the nostalgic beauty of living in San Francisco. We were also able to showcase some of the quieter moments of walking through the park or sitting with friends on the beach. It was great working with director Curtis Z. Austin because he was able to perfectly complement that beauty with his experimental overlays.
We flew our friend Vic Blandon out from SLC to work on the “Blanket of Calm” video with us. He plays in a band called Cool Banana that I love and makes incredibly cool animations on his @vhsvic page. Our friend Chris owns this amazing tiki bar in Oakland called the Kon-Tiki, and he gave us the keys to shoot a video in there while they were closed. The idea for the puppets came from my bandmate Jack and sort of snowballed into this crazy huge production of like 20 puppeteers. It was amazing to see and be part of a world like that for a day.
Watch: “Blanket of Calm” – Healing Potpourri
How did you guys come into contact with Run for Cover Records? In what ways is releasing your debut album for this new label a significant career move?
Healing Potpourri: I was playing a house show a few years ago with another band. Austin, a member of the band Turnover, came to see us perform. He liked us and invited us to open for Turnover in Europe the next year. I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of them before, but we were all so excited to be able to spend a month playing music all over Europe.
The tour was one of the coolest experiences of my life: playing to huge, sold-out crowds night after night and seeing the world. On that tour, we used to play one Healing Potpourri song, “Laney,” and the Turnover guys really liked it. We became fast friends and kept in touch afterward. When I started recording Blanket of Calm, I sent a few songs to Austin and Danny. They liked them and sent them to Run For Cover, who asked to get in touch with me. We started talking and they really believed in my music. It was the first time I felt like my music was going to reach people outside of my circle of friends, and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.
Where does the name ''Healing Potpourri'' come from?
Healing Potpourri: I was at a thrift store in Sacramento in 2011. It might have been Thrift Town, which actually just closed, but I can’t remember. There was a skylight with a ceiling fan in the window, and the light was pouring through and shining on this bag of potpourri. It was shimmering and I was mesmerized. I took a quick video on my phone and uploaded it to YouTube, and I called it Healing Potpourri.
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