Fully Involved Announce New EP Participation Trophies, Releases 'Simmer'
Fully Involved has clearly come a long way since 2014’s 'Miracle Drought'. The Long Beach-based power pop project spearheaded by Mark Berman has been on a sharp upturn since last year’s Insulince. Coming off of two projects that were commendable, but simultaneously unexceptional, Berman created one of the best EP’s of 2018, full of rage and anger, while being a short concept EP about dealing with type one diabetes. Featuring one of the best pop songs of 2018 with ‘Tend to You,' 'Insulince' is excellent, but we're here to premiere the first sample of what’s next, and it’s definitely good.
'Simmer' is immediately bigger and grander than anything Fully Involved has ever done before, and yet it’s comfortable in tone for Berman. There’s something hypnotic about the different tones and sounds, coming from a mix of angelic guitars, synths, and sturdy drum work. While it may not be the best song that he’s ever made, 'Simmer' adds to the expectations for the upcoming EP 'Participation Trophies'. Working with producer David Antonio Garcia on the new project, it’s clearly one to look out for. Midline talked to Berman briefly about the forthcoming EP and asked him about what to expect and more.
Midline - Coming off of 'Insulince', which received a nice bit of buzz, what was the thought process heading into 'Participation Trophies'?
Berman - Basically I tried as little as possible to think of it as "the follow up to 'Insulince.'" Let me explain: I wrote these songs and most of 'Insulince' around the same time, between session delays on the previous project, 'Learned Helplessness'. I gradually saw these songs falling into two distinct categories: the harder garage-rock bops about healthcare and the more subdued sad boi-singer-songwriter cuts. As soon as I realized this, I knew when it came time to get these five laid down, and it's gotta have its own whole sonic aesthetic going on to compliment the writing.
Midline - And even the EP cover alone sort of suggests this - the 'Participation Trophies' cover reminds me of an Iron & Wine album cover if I remember correctly what that record looks like...
Berman - Well for the cover, I literally just sent the artist, Ethan Edward, a selfie against my dorm door and told him to draw whatever comes to mind when he listens to the EP. Not sure if he was feeling Iron & Wine as an influence, but I’d have no problem with that being the case.
Midline - How were the recording sessions different this time?
Berman - Bringing David on as a producer changed everything for sure. I did 'Insulince' in a home studio too, but Daniel Bourget, the producer there, had built a whole space with a sound-proof booth, console, Pro Tools, the works. Here, I was literally sitting on David’s bed to record most of the guitar parts. Much more of a homegrown Bandcamp-type feel. The biggest difference was how much of a role David played in the arrangements. Like I first pictured the title track with a basic 3/4 ballad beat. I sent David the solo acoustic demo. Then he plays it back to me the first session, and he’s programmed in this crazy skittering breakbeat that oddly worked. That’s how I knew this was gonna be a fun process.
Midline - I think the EP shows that - it’s a step away from the 90s alt-rock that your previous, and more towards the classic rock or songwriter stuff that you’re a fan of. We’ve talked in the past about music, but I really felt Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac influences here - along with jubilant 2000s indie rock on ‘If for Just a Second.' What were you listening to while recording?
Berman - Yeah, good call on those comparisons. There's one song, 'Gaslighting,' which I instantly knew I wanted to sound like if 'Breakdown' was ghost-written by Alex Turner. Then once David brought in his bandmate Aria for those backing vocals, that sealed the Mac vibes for sure. Otherwise, I'd say the influences changed from track to track, though it leaned way more indie this time around. 'Simmer' is basically my best Silversun Pickups impression. Definitely had Beach House and R.E.M. in mind while putting down some of those lead guitar parts. I also had David listen to some Ghost of Tom Joad-era Springsteen as a reference for some of the more atmospheric keyboard work.
Midline - You see, I also heard Tango in the Night-era FM on 'Simmer' as well, with the twinkly synths and such. Along with the backing vocals, which felt super Lindsey Buckingham. And more recently, I saw that you had played a live show with a drummer with you. Do you think that will continue in the future or was that more a one-off thing?
Berman - I honestly have no idea. The annoying thing about Fully Involved is that, since I do most of the instruments, there's no actual lineup. For the two sets I have done, I had the resources of my college's Musicians' Club to pull from. Going forward, I'd love to get a little live band together, but nothing's been totally worked out yet. I will say, the songs off 'Participation Trophies' are way easier to do solo acoustic than any of my other projects. So worst case, that's always an option too.
Midline - We’ve talked a bit about the thematic overlap between 'Participation Trophies' and 'Insulience', anything more you’d want to add about that?
Berman - This was totally unintentional at first, but I noticed a certain contrast between the situations talked about on these two EPs. With 'Insulince', the situation is thrust upon me, in the form of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and I spend the EP dealing with that. With 'Participation Trophies', the situations are goals you wanna strive for but have to overcome all these mental roadblocks to achieve. Everything from big artistic pipe dreams to the neuroses that keep you from just asking that girl out already.
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