“I consciously try to not turn the guitar up too much!”: Slow Pulp on finding balance on new LP Moveys
The Chicago trio on how they channelled personal difficulties into their latest album, recording with your dad as the engineer, and why they unapologetically stan for Coldplay…
Image: Dallas Thompson
Slow Pulp’s journey towards their debut album has been an unexpected one for the Chicago band. Through personal tragedies and health issues, Moveys became something entirely different from what the band had initially planned. The initial blow being singer Emily Massey receiving a diagnosis of Lyme disease and chronic mono. To add further insult, one week before the pandemic loomed, Massey’s parents were involved in a serious car crash.
But out of this personal upheaval, their debut album was formed through the most difficult of circumstances and as a result is a telling testament towards the collectivism within Slow Pulp. Through these experiences and writing simultaneously Massey was able to find space to process her thoughts and undergo a healing process. That process is transcendent throughout the record and a key crux as to how their music can have such profound effect.
With some of the album’s material being recorded and written after lockdown, you would think that there would be a bit of a logistical headache when trying to piece an album together. Although an isolated experience wasn’t too different to their usual process as Emily explains. “We write separately from each other and usually send ideas through a Google Drive link. So, it wasn’t too crazy different, I did end up recording my vocals with my dad, which was really fun, he engineered my vocals”.
Writing with her dad Michael provided a mutual sense of healing between the pair. This is cemented on Whispers (In The Outfield), a wonderful instrumental track that merges piano and synth to create something which sounds texturally ethereal yet manages to maintain a very human level of wonderment and warmth. “That was the first piece of music that he played since the accident. Just the fact that he was able to work on the album with me was pretty special after an event where he almost lost his life” Emily said.
Shoegaze was one particular tag that the band were given after their earlier work, yet Moveys is much more dynamic in the genres it pays homage to. Their evolution was not planned as guitarist/producer Henry explained, “It was kind of an accident. We all kind of projected that it was going to be pretty heavy and blown out and it just didn’t happen like that. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I think we were following our gut”. One of their biggest achievements as a result of following this instinct is that Moveys has a consistent tone throughout yet each track still maintains a sense of individualism.
Drummer Teddy told of how he thinks they achieved this. “I think Emily’s voice has a really specific sound which helps create this cohesive layer that lays on top of all the instrumentals. There were a lot of consistent elements in these songs, particularly like acoustic guitar, shaker and tambourines throughout, quite textural layers”.
At it again
Midway through Moveys you’ll find At It Again, an emotional release of pent-up emotions and frustration. A perfect example of heightened emotions reaching their peak, the riffs let rip and break down any sense of composure or reflection, giving way for a breath of fresh air.
The song was brought to the band by Henry and expanded upon by Emily, “I heard the song and really liked it and was going through a lot of stuff at the time so lyrically, it was definitely an emotional release” Emily said. Bass guitarist Alex offered a bit more context behind the making of At It Again. “That was the only one that was written in quarantine and the other ones we’d worked out to some degree together, but this one we did entirely in quarantine and separately”.
The band have mentioned in the past that the acoustic guitar was the leading force on the album that they did not expect. It was key to stripping back some of their earlier demos said Alex, “I’m sure playing the chord progressions was even done on an acoustic guitar, but I feel that having stronger chorus’ just lend themselves to the acoustic guitar”. The instrument became integral as a building block. “We liked how the demos were and the quality that they were evoking with an acoustic guitar and it just felt right to keep that as an element as we were building other pieces of the songs”.
Most of the acoustic tracking for the album was done by Henry on a relatively humble instrument – a Martin X Series dred that he borrowed from his girlfriend. After “hogging” it he eventually went out and bought the exact same model. For bass guitarist Alex, building guitars is in the family, with him playing a model built by his dad. “I play a bass that’s modelled after a Mustang, but my dad made it from scratch, so yeah it’s a Peter Leeds original short scale”. Slow Pulp tend to shift and exchange with one another, with a lot of the rhythm guitar coming from a Jazzmaster that Emily borrowed from Henry.
As well as Henry being a guitarist, he also took on producing duties on Moveys, a decision that found him having to fight his basic instinct when trying to get the guitar sound just right. “I feel like we in the past have been a guitar-forward band. When I’m either mixing or producing something I consciously try to not turn the guitar up too loud and leave room for stuff because I feel like my intuition is to have guitars really loud! So, I have to fight that and add things that do work that the guitar can’t necessarily do alone”. Emily reinforces his statement, “I think that you’re really good at knowing what tone is right guitar wise and taking the path to get there”.
The main pedal used in the recordings was a Digitech Screamin Blues pedal belonging to Emily, which had a key influence on Moveys. “I think a lot of the tone we did on DI guitars and then through this practice amp that I have at home. A lot of the time it’s just gone from the overdrive on the practice amp and putting weird stuff on the DI track”. There are a couple of samples to be found throughout Moveys, which all come from a keyboard with a slightly unorthodox background.
“I kind of found it just before we started recording. It was last summer, and I was walking around our neighbourhood and found this keyboard in the garbage and took it home. I used it for pretty much every synth sound on the album. It’s got this great DJ section where it has like words and vinyl scratches, it’s pretty much all from that keyboard” said Henry. A vital lesson that there’s no shame in bringing in some kit from off the street.
You get the sense that Slow Pulp have known each other for a while, they are quick to back up each other’s points, give encouragement and most importantly have a laugh together. The three guys have known each other since a young age, but they met Emily much later after she’d become a guest vocalist for the group. Although, it wasn’t all too difficult to add Emily into their dynamic with them agreeing in unison that it was effortless. “I felt really connected to them right away and the first time we really spent a lot of time together as a group, we went on this really small tour” said Emily.
“There were so many issues that we ran across, like car trouble, which should have been a really stressful experience, but it was so fun. I was excited at the prospect of these people that could take mundane and sticky situations and turn them into just the best time ever. Keeping things light in the dark!” This interpersonal cohesion extends far into the band’s shared taste, contemporaries such as Big Thief and Alex G but a whole plethora of 90s bands ranging from oddballs The Smashing Pumpkins to Britpop icons Oasis.
Although, perhaps unexpectedly, they are universal stans of Coldplay. “We like, ride for Coldplay”, Emily laughs, do they feel as though Coldplay get a bit of a hard time? “They do but they’ve changed so much over the years like Parachutes and the earlier albums are so good” says Teddy. Henry continues by saying, “Through to X&Y that’s like one band and everything after that’s like Coldplay number two”. With Emily concisely ending this thread of thought with, “We are stans of Coldplay number one”.
Slow Pulp would have been forgiven for taking time off after the upheaval that they have faced but for Emily the previous year has only allowed them to grow stronger together. “I think there’s a huge level of trust not just musically but interpersonally. I hope this process isn’t as horrible in terms of life challenges and figuring out how to work together but I know it won’t be. Even if it is, I know I have a huge support with my bandmates which I think brought us closer together”.
Moveys is out now on Winspear.