Sports Coach Checks-In Across the Pond Pre-Album Release
Sports Coach sings like a drummer. A popular connotation of drummers signing is a screeching, out of tune and late breaking addition to a full bodied song, but Sports Coach, the one-man band of J. Thatcher May, 23, instead takes a stripped down approach, mixing 80s nostalgia and modern synth pop on a cassette player.
May’s keen attention to rhythm and pace gives his tracks an energy and cohesion that allow him to safely experiment on the margins. Hailing from Boston’s South Shore, he attended The New School in New York for jazz drumming (no, he was not portrayed by Miles Teller in Whiplash. In fact, he’s never seen the film), and recently moved to Los Angeles to further his music career.
Approaching the end of production on a 20-plus track album to be released in 2018, Sports Coach is already sitting on a bevy of music released on Spotfiy and his Bandcamp page. His most recent EP, “Inversions,” has been making the rounds on Spotify playlists and on YouTube channels for a good reason. Without being ostentatious, it’s an upbeat 11 minutes of introspection and longing that makes a strong case for following this up-and-coming act.
Standout tracks include “Stretching” and “The Spirit,” which feature some of the best lyrics on the EP, especially the pacey stream of consciousness hook of “The Spirit”: “Someday I can help you / Someday I can help you / Someday it’ll change.”
Bridging a nine-hour time difference, May and I arranged a variety of communications techniques, several of which fell through, eventually settling on a WhatsApp video chat after a FaceTime call crashed. This interview has been edited for length.
Feel free to hit play below and listen to Sports Coach as you read the Q&A or go about your daily routine.
Jake Lahut: So my first question is kind of obvious and begged from the work: Why the name Sports Coach?
Sports Coach: Honestly just ‘cause it was funny at the time. That’s pretty much the only reason, yeah.
JL: Is there anyone who does the music besides you?
SC: Sports Coach is just a solo project, so yeah it’s just me.
JL: And were you with anybody when you coined the name?
SC: I was actually just working with my girlfriend, and I wanted to start a new solo project, so we were just brainstorming ideas, and Sports Coach is just funny because I’m not into sports [laughs]. And yeah, at the time I thought that it would be a really easy way to like make jokes. It’s just an easy name to joke around with and kind of make people laugh with.
At the time I wasn’t trying to make any serious music, I was just trying to have fun, so it just kind of suited the whole vibe of the project.
JL: I was also wondering about the sound. There’s a lot of energy in the EP that I found on Spotify [Inversions], and I was wondering where does that come from and what are the things you’re doing in the creative process to give the songs such an upbeat pace?
SC: I could definitely see that, because the energy I’ve always liked is that kind of energy where it’s not over-the-top, but there’s still a lot going on and growing up for me with bands that have that same energy level would be like Interpol, this band Black Marble that I’m a fan of is another example of an electronic act, but it’s all kind of like a “dark wave” or “cold wave” energy where the music is pushing it along but it’s not over-the-top or anything.
So for me it was a lot of listening to bands like that, and I think it comes from the fact that I want to make music that I want to listen to, music that I enjoy, so when I’m making it, the energy just comes naturally because it’s the energy that comes when you’re just doing something that you wanna do and you make something you’re really happy with. It feels more alive.
JL: And how old are you at this point?
JL: Oh word, same! As of last week. I’m a little curious about your musical background and the path you took to get here. Did you start any random instruments when you were a kid, did you study music at any level?
SC: Oh yeah, for sure. I grew up playing flute, that’s my first instrument, in I think fourth or fifth grade. I played that until like middle school, and in middle school I decided to switch to drums, which I actually got pretty serious about pretty quick, and I just started playing drums nonstop with like all of my freetime and everything until I went to high school, and then I went to college for—
JL: You there? I think the call dropped out.
*Narrator voice*: The call indeed dropped out.
SC: Oh nice dude the video chat!
JL: I kept hearing these beeps and then it went dead, so sorry about that.
SC: Oh no problem man, you’re all the way across the ocean, man!
JL: So we were starting with the flute, go from there. My apologies.
SC: The drums seemed more fun to play, and the flute seemed kind of lame at the time—middle school, you know—and so I switched to drums and got really into it, and I was super serious about it. I played drums all of the time as my main thing until I graduated high school and went to college for jazz drums for a year in New York City, and that was cool, but I kind of learned there that I didn’t want to play drums like as my main thing.
And at the time I was starting to make beats, like samples and hip-hop type beats. From there it just kind of got more and more indie-ish, and it sort of evolved to what it is now. But I still play drums with some bands.
JL: Which school in New York City?
SC: The New School in New York City.
JL: Oh word, have you seen Whiplash?
SC: The movie? Oh man, no I’ve never watched it.
JL: I feel like as a drummer it would hit home pretty hard, especially having gone to The New School.
SC: It looks pretty good, yeah. People say it’s kind of corny but it looks decent.
JL: One of the things JK Simmons gets across as a sociopathic jazz conductor is how much making it to a high level like that takes all of the fun out of it.
SC: Yeah one of the reasons why I left was that I felt that it was kind of ruining people’s creativity. Everybody was trying to already fit in musically with everybody else at this jazz school, and everybody was only playing jazz. It was like you couldn’t play anything else. And on top of that, a lot of the teachers and shit, they were super biased against any form of modern music or anything that wasn’t jazz. They were just like, “it’s garbage.” And a lot of kids really took that to heart… That kind of defeats the purpose, definitely.
JL: With Sports Coach, when you’re doing the lyrics, I’m curious about the writing process for you. Is there any space that you need to be in physically that you have to go to, do you have any weird kind of habits when it comes to writing lyrics? Or is it something that can happen at any time for you?
SC: Yeah with lyrics it’s definitely—I always write them last. So I always make the whole track, and then as the track’s almost done, I start doing the vocals, and for me typically, when I start a new song, it’s like a whole blank slate, so when I add the vocals, they’re just like the topping. The lyrics come to my head naturally because the song that’s already been made sets the tone…
I know one French band by the way, called Born Idiot.
JL: No way! Okay this is gonna be crazy but those guys are friends of mine.
SC: Dude! Yo that’s why I said I had a feeling man, this guy seems like he knows music out there.
JL: I did an exchange in high school, and those were the kids I was chilling with.
SC: No way man, they’re crazy. I know them just through this little label called Citrus City Records from Virginia, but I’ve just put out tapes with them… They seem like some funny dudes.
You can listen to all of Sports Coach's music on BandCamp here.
I wish Bill Hader were in more shows
Wait was John Goodman actually bleeding in last night’s cold open? That’s dedication.