The music that Boston-based producer Thatcher May makes under the name Sports Coach is, in a word, confounding. Judging from his off-kilter social media presence, one could brush it off as yet another local Bandcamp in-joke gone too far. But there's a strange allure to his homespun electronic recordings as well as his absurd means of presenting it. His sound approaches some of the same sonics of chillwave architects like Washed Out, but with a harsher, much more aggressive approach to rhythm. That May has also logged time in Boston's incestuous music scene as a drummer makes sense: his music often sounds like an indie rocker carefully dipping his toes into dance music.
Yet, to hear him tell it, electronic music was actually his first entry point into the Boston scene, having been a semi-frequenter of the city's less-heralded underground dance community. Since 2014, Sports Coach has been his outlet for exploring more dance-related ideas. It's decidedly separate from the guitar-driven and adenoidal sounds that typify music from America's most well-known college town.
In that time, Sports Coach has mutated from an over-the-top lo-fi conceptual venture—see 2014's GRAB YOUR BALLS AND GET ON THE COURT—to a warped, yet emotionally affecting pop project in miniature. His output has waned slightly in quantity recently, and naturally accrued a bit more depth. The tossed-off vibe of his early material has given way to more assured songwriting and production. May's new tape Wallace and Flora covers a lot of ground across its thirteen tape-hissed tracks, balancing this newfound maturity with his increasingly infamous humor.
Ahead of the its release today on Spirit Goth Records, THUMP is excited to premiere Wallace and Flora in full along with the self-produced video for "Dream City." To celebrate the release, we spoke with the enigmatic producer about his place in the music world, and his peculiar way around a metaphor. The below interview combines conversations we had over the phone and via email, and has been edited for length and clarity.
THUMP: Sports Coach is pretty prolific. How often do you write songs?
Sports Coach: SPORTS COACH—I AM COACH OF ALL SPORTS! When I've got time, in between the team, the field, the gym, or whatever, I write a lot of jams. Back when I wasn't on varsity and had more time, I used to write like one or two songs a day. That's when I put out like 10 albums in a row. But now, I've got other stuff going on—got my team, got my J-O-B— so now I only make like one or two songs every two or three weeks? But it's good because they're a lot better, a lot less rushed, thrown together. Calculations, brother—we're doing heavy math around here.
With all the releases and your various other projects, do you consider Sports Coach to be an ephemeral thing?
Man! I just had to look up the world "ephemeral." You know how much training time that cost me? I remember that word, though, from a Bibio song called "The Ephemeral Bluebell" or something that I used to listen to a lot in like, middle school. Crazy that all these years later, I now understand the title. As I stand atop my throne of trophies, I gain knowledge!
But yeah, man—NO WAY! Sports Coach is the thing. It's the jam, the cornerstone, the expression. Sports Coach will exist in someway, somehow—team or solo, skate or BMX. This is that dude—the dude at the surf shop. He's there every time you go to that surf shop, the only employee behind the counter. Gives you a heavy head nod when you come in. Gonna be at that surf shop 365 24/7 forever. My soul is the surf shop, and Sports Coach is the one behind the counter.
Based on your social media presence, Sports Coach seems to go beyond a moniker. Would you consider it a character you invented?
I AM A JOKE. One hundred percent. I've always been a joke—not in a bad way, just a big, walking joke. The music is serious, but everything else is just fun. I want the people that listen to have a good time. Just relax you know?
So yeah, it's definitely some kind of persona. And I don't mind that. I've always been making jokes like this—forever, all time! Sports Coach had been around long before the first recording was recorded. Sometimes I've lost sight of it, but then I say, "Easy man, it's cool right now," and then me and my team take it easy again. Calculations, man.
How much of Thatcher is in Sports Coach, and vice-versa?
WE ARE ONE! We're both leaders of a common team, to the moon and back. The field is all we know. The struggle, the hustle, the win, the loss. I don't exist without Coach, and Coach doesn't exist without me. Snow, Surf, Skate, or…BMX—we do it all.
What's your songwriting and recording process like for this project?
If I didn't know you, I'd think you were trying steal my playbook with this one—my strategies, my Muscle Milk. But I know you, I know you're on my side. Everything is done at home, at a desk—a white desk. My girlfriend got it from her friend who moved away. It's from Ikea. Sleek design.
On that desk I have two monitors—Yamaha HS5's. I got them like two years ago—cost me a lot. But yeah, I have a bunch of keyboards and stuff—mostly Yamahas from the PSR series that I've found at thrift stores. This whole album in particular is basically all those. I like their sound—like a toy but also kinda real. Most keyboards go one way or the other; I like the in-between.
For this album, halfway through making it, I got a Tascam tape machine and that changed a lot of the process. Mostly everything is done live, in one take. Gives the music a lot of life, I think. But that's really it—it's all done in my room, from start to finish, endzone-to-endzone. As for writing songs, I just remember: if it sounds cool, roll with it. If it doesn't, don't. Before you know it, you've got the calculations going.
In the past, you've messed around with different recording fidelities. Was it a conscious choice to go back to lo-fi on this release?
Oh yeah. 100%. My team and I went way back. LO-FI LIFE. I don't really know why, though. I just love the sound: the crunch, the snap, and the warmth of lo-fi. My cleaner albums I made more so because I was being a punk probably. Trying to be like, "If I clean it up, more people will dig it." But then, that doesn't matter. I like the lo-fi more, so I went back to it. Some elite athletes would maybe think it a step backward, but I think using analog gear and getting your head out of Ableton or whatever is a lot more challenging and fun and neat. Not that computers aren't cool—but for this album, the tape machine really changed the lo-fi game for me.
When you play live it often seems like you play almost entirely new and unreleased songs, and it's never the same set twice. It that a conscious choice to throw off crowds, or is that how you test out new material?
When it's live, it's truly game time. The old songs—I've heard them so much and worked on them so long, I get tired of them. So when it's live, usually it has to be all new jams.
I don't really test out new material that way—I just play what I want. And when the crowd is vibing, so am I.
Where does the album title Wallace and Flora come from? Is there a story behind it?
It's a tragic and beautiful story, one for championship pre-game speeches. It was a winter day, sometime in March. My girlfriend and I drove to the pet store to buy my best pal Beau new dog food. I was looking at all the different animals, as I usually do. I was into the parakeets, or "budgies." So I did the calculations, and I said, "I've got enough money, I should scoop two of these pals." So I bought two of them. They were named Wallace and Flora.
We hung with them for about a week, and already got to the point where they were out of the cage and cruising around. Then disaster struck. My girlfriend came home from work and Wallace had died. It was real sad, so sudden and unexpected. Flora wasn't doing too well, either; she passed away like an hour later. We did our research and couldn't figure out what had happened. But life has to go on, and we buried them at a nice spot by the sea. There were a lot of other birds there, so we like to think they're in a place they would've liked.
A few weeks later, we adopted these two new parakeets from the Animal Rescue League of Boston and named them Marigold and Fern. It's been a few months now, and they're great! I'm listening to some music now and they love to chirp along with it. You can actually hear them on the album. In that mess of a song, "Catch Wavezzz," I do a speech thing, and at the start of the speech thing you can clearly hear them chirping, and I have to stop to let them finish. Calculations.