On “Get a Life,” the title track off his debut album as Human Barbie, Christopher Leopold wrestles with the futility of the artistic grind. “Suck it up and get a job / ‘cause that’s what everyone else does,” he sings over a bed of jangly, melancholic psych pop. The LA singer/songwriter comes by the disenchantment honestly; when he wrote the album, following the dissolution of his band The Fuzzy Crystals, a solo record was in no way a sure thing.
“I was playing in an epic band with some really beautiful friends that I love, and I was in a leadership role. But the energies and dynamics shifted–I made some mistakes that led me to drop the ball, and things slipped into hiatus. It must have been really hurtful and confusing for the other people involved.”
It was a turning point for Leopold, and one that almost led him to quit music altogether.
“I was pretty gutted and I felt like I had let everybody down,” he says. “I felt like I either needed to make something of my own or just stop and forget about recording music and being in bands.”
So began the making of Get a Life, and in keeping with that last-ditch, all-or-nothing origin, Leopold adopted one of the most labor-intensive methodologies possible, recording the entire album on an analog tape machine. It was a process he adapted from his time with The Fuzzy Crystals, when he’d had the opportunity to work with producer and multi-instrumentalist Gus Seyffert on the band’s 2017 sophomore record, Crystal Magic.
“His place is an analog dreamland. Recording with him was like traveling through time,” recalls Leopold. “We did everything live to tape and mixed directly to two-track master on his console. It really blew my mind, and I knew I wanted to bring that workflow into my own production.”
Enter the Fostex B-16, a 16-track reel-to-reel tape machine given to Leopold by a friend. Even more than the unique sound of tape recording, he found the basic mechanics of analog tracking to be the biggest influence on how the project came together.
“It’s absolutely grueling, especially if you’re doing it on your own,” he says. “You only have one shot to record each instrument, or else you have to start over from the beginning. And if you want to change anything, you have to record over the previous take–you lose it forever. It’s savage.”
But though it was challenging, it was also a cathartic opportunity for Leopold to exorcise his musical past and inaugurate something entirely new.
“Hours and hours of doing takes, teaching myself guitar and percussion, obsessing over vocals. It became a kind of initiation, in a way. It was an opportunity for me to burn through the emotions and memories I was experiencing and conjure a kind of excruciating production bliss. It was unlike anything else I’ve worked on before.”
“Justin and Ed are great friends. I’ve known Justin for many years, and through several musical incarnations,” says Leopold. “He’s a Renaissance man–actor, writer, director, even filming and editing on this project. I met Ed through him, and we’ve collaborated on a few things over the years. They’re both really dynamic, beautiful people, and I’m super happy to be working with them on a project this epic.”
Possenti says he started work on the film back in January. Even before the concept of a visual album for Get a Life took shape, he hit on something special in pairing up clips of Mattiuzi and Jessie Rabideau wandering around the bay area with the wistful pianos of “Don’t Run Away.”
“Life Of Ed was birthed in the middle of the night during a feverishly delirious spontaneous editing binge,” he says. “Footage shot during an aborted Christmastime screenwriting experience found its way into an experiment for ‘Don’t Run Away’ after an editor friend suggested ‘there was something there in the material.’ I sent the rough piece to Chris, Ed, and Jessie as a surprise music video at the end of the night of cutting the clips together, well after the sun rose.”
One pitch meeting later–over drinks at The Prince in Koreatown–and Leopold, Mattiuzzi, and Possenti agreed to expand the project with a chapter to accompany each track from the album. Along with “Don’t Run Away, videos for “Get a Life” and “The Truth is Coming” have already been released. Leopold says he’s pleased with the way The Life of Ed turned out.
“The film captures the feeling of the music so perfectly and adds an entirely new layer of meaning and resonance as Ed navigates the challenges and madness of making art and existing in 2020. I’m really excited to share each piece–really curious to hear what people think!”
As with most things in 2020, the future of Human Barbie is up in the air; with Get a Life out now, Leopold is almost back where he started. But he also says he’s still not ready to walk away from music altogether.
“Honestly, it’s been pretty brutal since I finished the record, and I’m basically back at the point of burnout. But I’m really proud of how the album came out, and I’ll keep chipping away on music for sure. I don’t know what the pace will be, but I have another EP and a full-length written in my head, so I’ll have to record them sooner or later–time will tell.”
Get a Life (Poor Man Records) is available to stream and download now, with more installments of The Life of Ed coming soon.