This story appears in the Fall 2017 issue of EMMIE Magazine.
One-half of Slow Pulp slept through their alarms the morning the photos accompanying this story were taken.
After guitarist Henry Stoehr and drummer Teddy Matthews snoozed through a few calls from the lead singer, Emily Massey, she went over to their house and woke them up.
“They were like, ‘We have to shower,’ and I was like, ‘No we’re supposed to be there five minutes ago!… I was so mad. It was also really funny,” Massey laughed.
You’d never really know from looking at the photos. The four of them look relaxed, goofy, upbeat and effortless, but — as if by happy accident — fairly put-together. Those descriptors also easily apply to the band’s sound, but they extend beyond that. It’s just the band’s MO.
Matthews, Stoeher and bassist Alex Leeds — who now Slow Pulps remotely from Minneapolis — recorded the band’s first EP, EP 1, before the addition of Massey. She originally joined because the band needed another rhythm guitar, which is hard to imagine when you hear her dreamy, coasting voice at the forefront of their pop-y, psychedelic garage-rock songs songs.
With the addition of Massey, they released EP 2 in March this year, and received a surprising amount of attention. “A friend of a friend” passed it along to someone at Stereogum, who decided to premiere their single “Die Alone.” With absolutely no contact or effort on the band’s end, some YouTube blogs picked the EP up.
“Someone just listened to it, liked it, put it on the Internet, had a lot of followers and it just was luck. I don’t know how to do things on the Internet. I don’t think any of us do. Most of don’t even have Facebook. It was kind of a lucky little thing,” Massey said. “We’ve been getting Facebook messages from people in Mexico and Chile who are like ‘We love your music!’ It’s so crazy.”
Reflecting on gaining attention in a smaller scene, Massey said, in general, there’s a certain amount of traction in smaller-yet-vibrant scenes. Places like Madison may not have been historically massive hubs for music, but that doesn’t make them bad places to be a musician.
“The Midwest is definitely starting to kind of be an underdog. People are kind of realizing that there’s more bands that are not in New York or in LA. The Internet helps with that a ton. You can be anywhere and making things and putting things out. People can listen to them from anywhere,” she said.
She also noted that less bands in the area rids the scene of competition, because no one has the same sound. “A lot of bands are so different from each other, or filling a niche that the other one isn’t attempting to do.”
After their successful release, they noticed the attention, and put the EP on Spotify. “Preoccupied” garnered an impressive amount of streams — over 33 thousand — which is funny, Massey noted, because they weren’t going to put it on the EP in the first place.
“Preoccupied” is the only song Massey wrote on EP 2. It’s an excruciatingly relatable song about sitting on the sidelines of your own romantic desires. “I just want to be in love, but I don’t want to try/ I’m preoccupied with you,” she sighs over breezy guitar, plodding drums, and an apathetic bassline.
“That’s a song that I guess comes out of the confusion factor of relationships, and wanting to be with someone or wanting someone but not being confident enough or want to try hard enough to do that…Two years ago I wrote it, and it’s still true two years later,” she laughed.
Like Slow Pulp as a group, the tracks on EP 2 are refreshingly void of self-seriousness, but they also aren’t void of the insight into the more difficult aspects of self and relationships that listeners can connect to. Massey said, although she didn’t write the other songs, performing them live has allowed her to connect to them, and eventually put her own twist on them.
“One of the lines [on Houseboat] is “I said a lie,” and I think it might be like protecting yourself from further heartbreak or putting yourself in the position to make yourself vulnerable, but you lie in order to save yourself or save the other person.”
While much about Slow Pulp is fun, pop-y and all-around effortless, Massey said more difficult emotion often arises as a natural part of the songwriting process. While she connects to songs with positive emotion, and doesn’t think hardship is always necessary to make great art, there’s something to be said about turning to art as a vessel to work through your shit. Grit and ease might seem inherently at odds, but, when you’re making art, there’s something effortless about grit itself.
“I think that some of the most authentic and best art comes out of struggle and comes out of heartache and comes out of confusion. That becomes the most honest…whether that’s dealing with other people or dealing with discoveries that you’re making within yourself,” she said. “Sometimes you force yourself to make something, and to find meaning in something, but when you’re being really emotional, it kind of just flows out of you without you having to think about it, becoming its own separate entity almost.”