How Slow Pulp Drew on Both Lucinda Williams and ‘The O.C.’ for Breakthrough Album ‘Yard’

Music
The Album

Yard, out now on ANTI- Records.

The Origin

Guitarist-producer Henry Stoehr and drummer Teddy Mathews met as youngsters in a McDonald’s ball pit in their native Madison, Wis., and they’ve been playing music together almost as long. They formed a band with buddy and future Slow Pulp bassist Alex Leeds as preteens and kept making music as teens and, later, students at University of Wisconsin, Madison. That’s where they met singer-guitarist Emily Massey, who was in another band, but began writing with Stoehr for fun.

The creative relationship blossomed and Stoehr invited Massey to join the nascent Slow Pulp. Initially, Massey explains, she “was just kind of an auxiliary member,” helping with rhythm guitar and backing vocals. But while recording 2017’s EP2, Stoehr and Leeds asked Massey to sing lead on a couple of their songs. “They were like, ‘How about you sing this song as well?’ And then we started sprinkling in the songs that we had been writing together,” Massey, now 28, recalls. “It just kind of slowly transitioned into me kind of taking the frontperson role.”

The Sound

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“Lucinda Williams’ album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, that’s my gold [standard], like, this is how I like music to sound, production-wise” says Stoehr, 29, who produced Slow Pulp’s debut full-length, 2020’s Moveys, and its follow-up, September’s Yard. Massey shares the affinity: She wrote some of Yard‘s songs at a cabin where Williams’ Grammy-nominated 2001 album Essence was one of the few CDs on hand. “She’s just an incredible songwriter,” says Massey, noting the “production cues that [Slow Pulp] took from that Americana world for some of the songs” on Yard.

Stoehr and Massey also gush about the soundtrack to seminal ’00s teen TV drama The O.C., explaining the impact the set of canonical alt-rock and indie-pop songs had on them as younger Millennials. “Overall, on [Yard], there’s a little more earnestness and exposed emotion. And I feel like that [O.C.] era of music was all about that.”

And when it comes to the tried-and-true “Artist A x Artist B=Artist C” equation, one could do worse than encapsulating Slow Pulp’s emotional and vibrant indie-rock than “Lucinda Williams x The O.C. soundtrack.” On Yard, the band’s upped the rootsy quotient – like on late-album standout “Broadview,” a gem laden with steel guitar, harmonica, and banjo that sounds like Slow Pulp exhumed and rerecorded a lost demo from Neil Young’s Harvest.

The Record

Like many young bands, Slow Pulp’s rise is forever linked to the pandemic. The quartet finished its debut, Moveys, in the early months of COVID; around that time, Massey says her own health issues and a serious car accident involving her parents were among the factors that forced the band to “take a breather for a second.”

Writing for Yard began in earnest in early 2022, and by February 2023 the band had submitted the record – and signed with eminent indie label ANTI-, currently home to an eclectic roster that includes Fleet Foxes, Mavis Staples, MJ Lenderman and Japandroids. “They were very down for just letting us take a lot of creative control, which is something that was really important to us,” Massey says.

As she did for Moveys, Massey tracked many of Yard‘s vocals in her musician father’s home studio – “It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; we definitely are good at arguing,” she says with a laugh – and Stoehr ornamented tracks the band recorded with “sound candy type of stuff” to make them pop. The technical prowess helps Slow Pulp’s sharper-than-ever songwriting, chock-full of huge hooks and vivid lyrics, shine.

“Songs like ‘Broadview’ and ‘Yard’ have a different flavor than some of the music that we’ve done before,” Massey says. “And ANTI-, those were some of their favorite songs, like from the jump. That felt cool to have a label be excited about new things and new sounds that are kind of taking a risk.”

The Breakthrough

When Slow Pulp released EP2, influential YouTuber thelazylazyme gave its closing track, “Preoccupied,” a boost by sharing it. “That was the turning point of, like, ‘Maybe we should look into taking this a little bit more seriously,’” says Massey, explaining how the recognition prompted Slow Pulp to relocate to Chicago.

In 2019, the band opened for Alex G on tour – and noticed a pronounced change in the audiences compared to other support slots it had played before. “That was the first tour we went on where the person we were opening for’s fans were pretty receptive,” Stoehr says. “People were liking it.”

And when touring opened back up following the pandemic, Slow Pulp shored up its indie-rock bona fides with coveted slots supporting Alvvays, Pixies and Death Cab For Cutie.

The Future

In early November, Slow Pulp took the stage – to Phantom Planet’s O.C. theme “California,” naturally – for a sold-out show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, the third of three sold-out Manhattan club shows. The raucous Big Apple crowd has been the norm since Slow Pulp hit the road days after Yard’s release.

“One of our favorite shows that we played on this tour was in Minneapolis,” says Massey, recalling the band’s second stop this fall. “The album hadn’t even been out for a week, and the crowd sang every song. It was just like, ‘What?! How is this happening?’”

The band’s wrapping the year with a European tour – and is already booked for Spain’s Primavera Sound and the Netherlands’ Best Kept Secret in June 2024. Says Massey: “It feels like this big dream is coming true.”

The Piece of Studio Equipment They Cannot Live Without

Stoehr: “The AKG C414 [microphone]. The gold and black one.”
Massey: “My MacBook.”

The Artist They Believe Deserves More Attention

Massey: “Ratboys. They could be huge. The record they put out this year is really so, so cool.”
Stoehr: “They’re an amazing band. There’s this other small band from Madison called She’s Green that I think are really sick.”

The Advice Every Indie Artist Needs to Hear

Massey: “Have fun. That’s something that we like have to remind ourselves of sometimes. I’ve had a really hard time letting myself just fail and make things that are horrible. That’s OK! Make stuff that’s really bad. Make bad songs and it gets you to the good ones. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

The Most Surprising Thing About the Music Industry So Far

Massey: [long pause] “People listen to our music.” [laughs]
Stoehr: “Yeah, probably that.”
Massey: “That’s pretty surprising, always.”

The Thing They Hope Fans Take Away From Their Album

Massey: “Letting yourself have a certain compassion for yourself. That’s the big takeaway. We all have moments of a lot of self-doubt; there are a lot of things that we’re so hard on ourselves for. And to be able to work towards finding the places where you feel you’re able to care for yourself, outside of all the things that are happening. A lot of this record is about gratitude and reflecting on relationships and things that get you to the place you are now.”