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Taste Profile: Slow Pulp’s Emily Massey
The songwriter talks about ‘Hocus Pocus,’ Jimmy Eat World, Frank Lloyd Wright, and her band’s fantastic new LP ‘Yard.’
Welcome to a bonus edition of No Expectations. The regular weekly newsletter will still hit your inboxes at 9am cst Thursday. This week, it’s a Taste Profile interview with Slow Pulp’s frontperson and guitarist Emily Massey.
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One of the year’s best albums arrives Friday with Slow Pulp’s sophomore effort Yard. The Chicago-based band has consistently made soaring alt-rock that always sounds effortless and welcoming but here they infuse warm hues of Americana and pristine pop hooks. The album wastes no second across 10 tracks that come in at just a half-hour. While “Cramps,” “Slugs,” “Doubt,” and “Broadview” were all excellent singles, the other six songs on the full-length could’ve easily been singles too. It’s all-killer, no-filler.
I remember exactly the first time I ever saw them play in April 2018 opening up for Post Animal, whose guitarist Javi Reyes attended middle school with Slow Pulp members drummer Teddy Matthews, bassist Alex Leeds, and guitarist/producer Henry Stoehr (Massey met her bandmates later on). Their set absolutely floored me. At that point, Slow Pulp were based in Madison and their songs had a really explosive shoegaze flavor that really stuck with me. They moved to Chicago later that year and I’ve been lucky enough to see them play several gigs across all the local venues and even caught them in Nashville while on tour with Strange Ranger in 2021. They’re all lovely folks—I helped them with the press bio on their 2020 debut Moveys—and Yard is their best work to date.
Slow Pulp have toured with some great bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Alex G, and Alvvays but they’re set to debut Yard by bringing opener Babehoven on the road for a headlining North American jaunt, which includes a Chicago show on Nov. 11 at Thalia Hall. (Click here for all dates). Before they embark on that run and release Yard, I called singer Emily Massey to talk about three of the most formative pieces of pop culture in her life and the three things she’s into now for this installment of the Taste Profile interview series.
Formative movie: Hocus Pocus (1993)
It's definitely that time of year to watch this movie. Why did you end up picking the 1993 Disney film?
It was my favorite movie when I was a kid. My parents were always disturbed by the fact that I liked it so much because there's this part of the end where the guy's head gets cut off. I've always had an affinity for, I wouldn't say scary movies because I don't love all true horror movies, but the kitschy Halloween children's movies. To this day it’s one of my favorite genres. When the middle of September or October 1 hits, I'm probably watching one of the classics a week. It just fills me with so much joy and comfort. I'm a big Halloween fan—less so the actual holiday but more all the things associated with fall and quote-unquote spooky things that get me excited.
What are some other Halloween classics for you?
Practical Magic is probably my other favorite one. It's got Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock who are also so hot in that movie. The Halloweentown movies are really great. I've definitely got a rotation. I have The VVitch in there too, which is a more traditional and more modern horror, but that's a favorite.
I’ve said before in these interviews that I’m not good with scary stuff—Bette Midler’s Hocus Pocus character even spooked me as a kid—but The VVitch is such a good movie. What else sticks out to you about Hocus Pocus?
Hocus Pocus definitely makes it in my regular rotation at least once a year. I haven't watched it yet this year. There’s a character who is turned into a cat and at the end of the movie he reunites with his sister named Emily. When I was a kid I would say, “That’s me: Emily!” And I also know that there's a sequel coming out.
I haven’t seen it but it came out last year. It’s on Disney+ now and has Hannah Waddingham, who played Rebecca on Ted Lasso, joining the cast.
I don't even know if I will. I mean, I feel like I should watch it but the nostalgia of the characters is just too good. I don’t want it to be ruined for me.
When I interviewed you and the band a few years ago for the bio for your album Moveys, you mentioned that School of Rock got you to start playing guitar. Why did you pick Hocus Pocus over that?
Hocus Pocus is maybe more of a movie that is really more personal to my own interests kind of outside of music. School of Rock is the most formative movie of my childhood in terms of my job. This wouldn't be my job if I hadn't seen that movie in some way. Maybe I would have still come to music because my dad's a musician. That probably shares the top spot though. It's Hocus Pocus and School of Rock really. That movie is the reason I started taking guitar lessons and that movie is the reason that Alex, the bassist in Slow Pulp started taking bass lessons. Because he was playing cello in school and there's a line in the movie where Jack Black goes, "Cello?!? It's a bass." That was eye-opening to him. We all love that movie.
Formative song: Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”
Mike White, who created The White Lotus, wrote School of Rock which obviously starred Jack Black. Those two collaborated on a different movie called Orange County, which, guess what, featured Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle.”
Damn, nice segue. You nailed it.
I feel like everyone who is our age has dear memories of this song.
I can't even remember the first time I really heard the song. I think it was playing on the radio. It was always a really rare occasion when the radio was on in the car with my family. My dad being a musician and working on music every day was at a point in his life where he just could not hear music. It was too overstimulating for him. I was always really mad about that as a kid but now that I'm a musician, I totally get it. On tour, I rarely listen to music.
This is a real thing, especially with musicians who’ve been doing it for a long time.
I read your interview with Julia from Ratboys. I loved that MeTV radio came up because I was almost going to put that for my recent pick because the only music I listen to now is the MeTV station.
Wait, really? Did Julia get you to listen to that or did you arrive at loving MeTV separately?
MeTV is something that I've been doing the past year and it's the only station that I have on in my car. It slaps. There's a good mix of familiar songs that are classics and some songs I've never heard of—deep cuts from the early 60s or something.
That’s wild. You and Julia are the only two people I’ve heard bring it up and you are the last two people I’ve interviewed for the newsletter. One more and it’s a trend piece.
It’s so funny. But going back to “The Middle,” for whatever reason I was listening to the radio with my dad that day. He wasn't up to date with what was happening in the 2000s for music, but we both heard that song and we were both saying, "This song rocks." It was this fun thing where we got to share a new song together that we both liked. I was a big Green Day and Avril Lavigne fan so when I heard "The Middle," it was a new aspect of that genre of music I was just starting to like. It was the very first song I performed on guitar too. I took lessons but my dad taught me how to play that one and we played it at a neighborhood block party.
I remember learning that one too.
The solo’s hard!
It really is. The first show I went to that I wanted to go to at the time was Jimmy Eat World opening up for Green Day.
My bandmates went to that tour—I think they had a different opener at the time. I wanted to go to that so bad.
Did “The Middle” make you become a Jimmy Eat World fan? How did your musical journey progress from that song?
I was 10 when I heard it and the only way I listened to music was either the radio or my hot pink Walkman. I never actually bought that album. I only dove into Jimmy Eat World probably in the past five years. But that song specifically, when you're 10, music influences you in such a tangible way. A lot of songs that you could pin back to influences for this most recent Slow Pulp record, relate to those radio hits that kids who were 10 in the early 2000s could hear and obsess over.
There's definitely this really nostalgic lane for this new record. How intentional was that?
I don't think it was because I was in my period of not listening to music. I think there was just a subconscious understanding of what music is and that is coming from those formative years indirectly, not really on purpose. The album I probably listened to the most when I was making this record was Lucinda Williams' Essence, which isn't her most popular record but it’s still great. The cabin where we recorded Yard didn't have internet but there was that Lucinda Williams CD. I just played that over and over again because it was the only music that I wanted to listen to in the CD collection there. That's how a lot of the more Americana realm kind of peeks in on our most recent record.
Formative activity: Building Fairy Houses
I'm pretty sure I know what you mean by building fairy houses but can you explain?
I was talking about all the things I picked for this interview to my bandmates yesterday, and they were like, "What do you mean? What is building fairy houses?" They could not compute. I was big into fairies when I was a kid. To me, they were real. I was gonna fight to the end to let that dream stay alive. So fairy houses, at least for me when I was a kid, are dwellings that you build for these small mythical creatures. I always imagined them to be maybe the size of a small hand. I had a book called Fairyology, which talked all about fairies in a way that made it feel like real life or some sort of scientific study, which I thought was really sweet. It also talks about fairy houses. You can build them for fairies made out of natural materials like sticks or moss. They're tucked deep in a little forest or wherever. Sometimes we'll come across them around a mushroom ring or something like that. But I got really, really into building them with one of my childhood friends. I got a hot glue gun and I remember it was a big deal when my mom let me use a hot glue gun. I would forage for sticks and leaves and build tiny chairs and tables and couches. I remember we built a pool for the fairies at one point and a diving board. We would just do it in our backyard. My parents had this backyard that had a lot of trees and a little overgrowth area that we'd tuck in between there and build our houses.
How was did this influence you later on?
I love interior design. This fed into my love for furniture, furniture design, and any sort of functional thing that has to do with my art. That also leads to one of my more recent interests, which is architecture tours. I was building fairy houses until I was 12 or 13: way too old. I know that there was kind of a little exhibition at the Garfield Park Conservatory that has fairy houses, it might even still be there right now. I've been meaning to go with my friend.
Are you still pretty crafty now?
Less so now. I was in college for ceramics but I dropped out. I’ve dabbled here and there but that was the most hands-on craft that I’ve done. I’d love to tap back into ceramics. Beyond that, I’m constantly moving the furniture around in my house finding the best scenario of how things look or finding art or whatever it may be. I wish I had more time to do that.
Recent song: Robert Lester Folsom, “See You Later, I’m Gone”
I love this one. He’s a really phenomenal songwriter.
Spotify, believe it or not, was my introduction to him. "See You Later, I'm Gone" was the first song I heard of this. I was just blown away at how beautiful the guitar playing is on it. I love the way it's recorded. It sounds like it's just recorded to tape with one microphone in an open room. It sounds airy, there's all this kind of background noise that's happening or some sort of fuzz that's, that's happening on the recording. I just love how it captures this really specific type of energy. It also feels very autumnal. I cried the first time I heard it. I was so taken aback. With music being so constant the past few years for me, hearing that song opened up a new sense of discovery I found a lot of other artists, who released records in the '70s that were reissued lately, that I just adore.
It reminds me a bit of Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.” When I first heard it, I assumed Folsom had some sort of tragic backstory. But he’s alive and so overjoyed that people are finally discovering his tunes decades later.
Is he still making music?
He is and he’s still playing shows. What else sticks out to you about this song?
I first heard it around this time last year: early fall. It was right before going on going on our tour that we did with Alvvays. It perfectly summed up the mood I was in. It really touches on this theme of grief and whatever that may be: grief for someone who's passed or grief for the ending of a friendship or a relationship or the ending of a season. It's really reflective in that way. I almost listen to it too much. Another person on that note that I just thought of is "Chimacum Rain" by Linda Perhacs. She has a really similar story where she put out this album called Parallelograms in the 70s, and then she worked as a dental assistant for most of her life. Then somebody found the record, reissued it, and people started listening to it in the past 10 years. She just made another album of new music too.
Recent movie: Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray) (Eric Rohmer, 1986)
I’ve only seen the first few films from Eric Rohmer and I'm not quite at his 80s run yet. Tell me about this movie.
This is the only movie of his that I've seen. My boyfriend is really big into films. He had heard a lot about this one and we just watched it. I don't know if it's the best film I've ever seen. The storyline is about a French woman who lives in Paris who went through a recent breakup and was supposed to go on vacation with some friends. Some plans got changed and in the entire movie, she's just moping about how she cannot figure out her vacation plans. I love how it just leans into, to kind of something so mundane or something that shouldn't be a big deal really, in the grand scheme of things but they let her kind of just have this like existential crisis. It feeds into this sense of loneliness and longing. But the styling in this movie is incredible. The clothing, the '80s French style, and the apartments. It's all really beautiful.
My favorite part of the film is when they have this really long dialogue where this group of older people are discussing what the green ray is. It's this optical illusion where the atmosphere has to be right—there can't be any haze or fog and it needs to be like the right temperature outside and the right time of the year—but the sun when the sun sets over water you can see a refraction of light that comes off that shoots out this green ray. I don't want to give the movie away but she's hoping to see the green ray at the end. It becomes this potential affirmation that she's on the right path or whatever in her life. It's very dramatic. Now I have to see the green ray in the real life. I'm on a mission for that. I thought the movie was really fun and it's been a while since I've seen a movie that I liked and didn't love but I took away things from it that I didn't expect.
I haven't seen this movie but with some of his earlier films, it seems like he's a director who is interested in stories where not a ton happens. He's more interested in character and dialogue and the mundane than plot and propulsive motion.
I don't know if his other films are like this, but I loved how dialogue-heavy it is, and how there are these larger vignettes of conversation. He really lets those conversations play out without too much interruption. That can make the pacing feel slow at times, but I tend to like those movies. Going back to School of Rock and Richard Linklater, one of my favorite films is Slacker. It has that complete style and it really reminded me of this. I could see Linklater being influenced by Rohmer for sure.
My friends who've talked to me about this movie really identified with the main character.
There's a lot of guilt that I feel for complaining about things that are in the grand scheme of things not that important. I always feel like I should just get over it so it was really refreshing to see a woman character just be honest about having a bad time. It's okay to say things are bad even if you have the necessities in life and people who care about you. If life is not going the way you want it to, it's okay to just let yourself feel that disappointment.
Recent book/activity: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan / Frank Lloyd Wright architecture tours
You have a novel and an activity here for your final pick.
I've always been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's work. It's really beautiful. There's a tie to him being from Wisconsin. He's from a small town called Spring Green and my parents now live 20 minutes from there. So I've definitely spent some time there. I actually found this book at Treehouse Studios in Chicago. It was just sitting there and I didn't want to take it because it must be someone else's. I gave it a few weeks ago, and nobody picked it up so I just took it. This is my book now, I guess. I haven't finished reading it. I'm in the middle of reading it. So I can't give you the full review of the book yet. So, here’s what it’s about. Before I explain it, do you know anything about his personal life and his affairs?
He had a very dramatic personal life but it probably makes more sense for you to explain it here.
I didn't actually know about this part of his life until I found this book. So he was living in Oak Park and designing houses there in the early 1900s. He met a woman named Mamah Borthwick who was married to another man. She and her husband hired Frank to design a house for them but Frank had an affair with Mamah and they ran off to Europe together. The two were exiled from the community in Oak Park once news broke of their affair. They eventually moved back to Spring Green where he built the Taliesin for them to live in peace. When Frank was away on a work trip, one of his workers ended up setting the house on fire. As everyone ran out of the house, he murdered Mamah with an axe, which is so dark.
So the book is, from Mamah's perspective. It's historical fiction. There are some of her real letters that are kind of interspersed throughout the book. She was a writer in her own right, and a translator, and her letters that are in this book are just beautiful. She's an amazing, amazing writer. She's doing things that are that are pretty contemporary for the time in her style of writing.
That sounds fascinating. Tell me about the FLW tours you’ve been on.
I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago bouncing around the city and I saw that there was a Frank Lloyd Wright house. It's called the Hollyhock House. It's built on this big hill and it's inspired by the Hollyhock flowers, which are these big tall stalks that have pink, almost bell-shaped flowers that come out at the sides and taper into a point at the top. I ended up having a free day on this LA trip s on a whim I went to take a tour of the house. His style is so distinct and so beautiful and he has this thing where all the hallways feel really small and compressed but when you go into a room, there's this expanse, this release. It's almost anxiety-relieving. It feels really refreshing being in his houses. Fast forward to actually last weekend. For my dad's birthday, my mom got us tickets to go see Taliesin, which we had never done before. We'd never actually taken the full tour, which was so much fun and so beautiful and just really inspiring.
Frank Lloyd Wright, as a person, seemed very intense and maybe narcissistic, but there's something there’s something really undeniable about his work and the style that he developed. It's really fun being in the spaces that that he's made. His whole philosophy of tying architecture to nature. It feels almost mystical in a certain sense: real-life big fairy houses. Childhood me feels some fulfillment being there.