“Late At Night,” Diversity, and Inclusion With Philadelphia’s Slowsie
By Brian Walker
I took some time to speak with Michael Pearson about his new record and his experiences with the Philadelphia Music Community. Pearson shares his story about how he transitioned from California to the Philadelphia scene and I got to take some time and ask him a few questions about his new record and his thoughts on mental health, inclusion and navigating the Philadelphia music community.
Slowsie’s romantic, guitar-driven songs harness the sunshine of LA’s beaches and the grit of Philly’s basements; meld them to create an unshakably charming sound. The artist’s influences range from the soothing harmonies of bedroom pop to the uptempo grooves of indie rock, resulting in a dynamic interplay between sonic elements which inspire slow dancing and head banging alike. Irreverent melodies and simple, heartfelt lyrics layered over a canvas of lush rhythmic elements implore listeners to close their eyes, take a breath, and have a good time.
Slowsie’s self-produced debut EP, Late At Night (2020), is a light-hearted collection of songs inspired by songwriter Michael Pearson’s lifelong struggle with insomnia, which came to a head after moving from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to attend university. The record features Brian Johnson on drums, Jacob Alappatt on bass, and Tomasz Tabernacki on lead guitar.
How did Slowsie start?
I started Slowsie in the Spring a couple years back intending for it to be a solo project; back then I was still playing with my first band, Peachy. I had a couple songs that I wanted to record right before the semester was over, but I wasn’t feeling up to tracking drums on my own so I got help from my friend Brian. Returning from summer break I had helped to organize a philanthropy show to raise funds for Juntos (a local Latinx rights organization) and I really wanted to take the stage. I asked a couple more friends to learn some songs for that show and we’ve basically been together ever since.
What has your experience been like coming from California to Philadelphia?
It has definitely been a wild ride, I think that life over here in the East has changed me quite a bit. More than anything else, I think that this transition has helped me embrace my creativity. I was a multiple-season athlete in high school and actually came into Penn on the roster for the lightweight football team, but soon after getting here I realized that I wanted to spend my time exploring other things. I got to Penn early to do the summer workouts and everything, and even got my sports physical and sickle cell test and all of that, then decided to drop off the team the day before the first practice. When my freshman year started I tried out for a few performing arts group and got rejected from all of them. Then I had no commitments and not much to get involved with besides spending a lot of quality time with my guitar. It didn’t seem ideal at the time but, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have to admit that, generally speaking, I like LA more than Philly. The weather, the beach, the mountains, the sprawling landscape and seemingly endless things to do – it’s hard to beat. Even so, Philly’s underground music scene is undoubtedly one of the best things in my life and has definitely made me who I am today. There’s something so beautiful in the idea of being able to go alone to a house you’ve never been to before and have friends and a community there to welcome you with open arms. Since I got started a couple years ago I’ve probably played, hosted, or helped to organize something like 75 shows; it’s become a big part of who I am.
How has being a black musician in Philadelphia been easy or difficult for you?
Just being a musician in Philadelphia is difficult enough, over-saturation is definitely the most salient issue. I suppose that’s just a consequence of the modern era though.
It’s honestly very challenging for me to have a productive dialogue when it comes to the intersection of music and race. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to deal with any overt racism, but I definitely wouldn’t say that I think it’s a problem that we’ve put behind us either. I, far too often for my comfort, find myself in situations where I feel like I’m treated differently by some people, either less warmly or just more harshly, than they way they interact everyone else there. Invariably I believe that situations like those are often a result of some sort of implicit racism or bias because, when it really comes down to it, most of the time I’m a very polite guy and try not to do wrong by folks. Maybe I’m wrong and race plays no role and I’m just a terribly annoying person – another one of those sweet unknowable things in life I suppose.
How have you made inclusion a part of your experiences in the Philadelphia DIY Community?
I haven’t brought much intentionality to the table when it comes to inclusion. I suppose I operate on a general philosophy of being very open minded and accepting; support other people in their truths even if they’re entirely foreign to your personal experience. As somebody who has hosted a lot of shows there’s one thing I’ve learned to help make a more positive and inclusive space: listen well be there to support people. I’ve had some less than ideal situations arise in my own home or elsewhere and, ultimately, what keeps things copacetic is being attuned to anyone being uncomfortable in your space. That and, of course, taking action to resolve these sorts of things when they are raised.
Another big element is giving other people room to be involved and take ownership of spaces/events. I happily let friends help run the door, artists display and sell their work, and whatever else that gets the most people involved. It’s all about community and connection.
I hear a lot of sleep/ insomnia references in Late at Night? Is this something you experience?
It definitely is! Every song on this album is about sleep and insomnia, although some are much more overt than others. This is something that’s been a part of my life ever since I was very young, I remember my whole family would just be up at 1 or 2 AM – definitely very strange. Sometimes I get my sleep schedule in order and I wake up at 6 and run and do everything I know I ought to but invariably I find myself up until 4AM within a few days or a week at best.
I’m the type of person to approach most problems very lightheartedly. Insomnia is a serious problem for me and plenty of people out there and I wanted to call attention to that. I like writing music that’s fun and danceable so I tried to create a juxtaposition between all of that frenetic energy and the idea of trying to go to bed. That’s how I feel most nights so it’s very fitting in my mind; really relates my personal experience.
I’m a big believer of the record as a cohesive unit so it’s important to me that everything fits to some sort of theme. I have three other records and a few singles in the works right now, the one I’m most excited about is a collection of sappy little love songs titled ‘Sweet Nothing’.
How have you recorded this album over the quarantine?
This project outdates quarantine by quite some time. My friend Vince Duong, an absolutely amazing engineer and even better person, helped us track drums at the UArts studio in the fall. We had basically just been sitting on those drums tracks until March, right before this apocalypse began in earnest. Things were changing and people were moving so I think that COVID-19 actually gave us the kick in the rear we needed to get recording. Jacob, our bassist, was just a couple months from moving out to Boston because he got into this amazing music and cognition program at Harvard. He came over for a couple sessions to record bass at my place and, from there, it was mostly just Tom and I tossing files back and forth between the two of us tracking guitar and then vocals. After Tom put his touch on it the mixing and mastering was done by my good friend Paul Marchesani, one of the most prolific and talented artists I know in the Philly community.
It took about 3/4 of a year but it could’ve been done from start to finish in about 5-6 weeks if we had that sense of urgency from the get-go.
What do you want listeners to get out of Late at Night and what were some of your influences?
I have to admit I’ve never thought about what I want a listener to get out of the record. In marketing we call that ‘customer centricity’.
If somebody told me that they listened this record and found a song that makes them think about their life a bit and rock their hips a bit… that would put a big smile on my face. Anyone who has insomnia or any trouble sleeping will definitely be able to instantly relate. Aside from that, I like to believe that my lyrics are very simple and relatable so there’s something there for everyone.
For my songwriting my two biggest semi-mainstream influences are The Strokes and Mac Demarco. Although I do wind up writing some of the parts for bandmates on other instruments – every person in the group brings so much of their own energy. I feel like you’d have to ask each member of the group about their personal influences to really understand where our sound comes from. My two favorite bands from high school that nobody has ever heard of are probably to truest influences on this personal record, they’re a couple UK bands called The Cribs and The Moog definitely go check out their older work.
How would you want to see inclusion practiced in Philadelphia and the music/arts scene?
I think that extremely intentional inclusion is a slippery situation. It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I think overcorrecting has problems that are worth considering. I’m definitely a proponent of recent movements to promote and support BIPOC artists. I also believe that, as with all things, balance is an absolutely crucial element. A lot of people dismiss all of the pushback against such progress as blatant bigotry or thoughtless racism but I don’t think it’s that simple. We have to find a way to promote and support artists who come from disenfranchised backgrounds without invalidating other artists or making them feel guilty or wrong for wanting to promote themselves even if they’re a straight white male or whatever else. Even with the best of intentions anything that pushes people aside and invalidates them is going to have backlash and harmful consequences.
So what’s the solution in my mind? Don’t make supporting and celebrating BIPOC artists a two news-cycle spectacle. Normalize it. In my mind it’s not about virtue signaling, it’s about living virtuously and influencing those around you to do the same.
Any upcoming projects or events after releasing Late at Night?
I have a lot of music in the works! I have a lot I can say but I’ll just keep it to a few things.
My friend Malhar tracked some drums for me just a couple days before he moved back to California in June. My guitarist Tom and I are working on them now. I’ll be releasing them as a two song single titled ‘Nostalgia’. After taking so long with this most recent release I though it would be good to try to do a rush job, just to prove to myself that things don’t have to take forever and that songs don’t need to live in song limbo.
I’m helping to produce a little collaborative single with my friend Kelly Liu, an amazing writer and musician in her own right. It’s my first time really working on somebody else’s song and I love it much more than I ever thought I could. I have no clue when that one’s coming but when the time comes it certainly won’t be a song that’s easy to miss.
Finally, and probably most significantly, I’m working on a full length collaboration album with my friend Josh Owens, one of the best guitar players I have the pleasure of knowing. We had an empty room in my house because a couple of my roommates are quarantining with their families in, so I invited Josh to move in and make a record with me. I’ve never really lived with another musician but for any others out there who haven’t done it, I highly recommend it. We’re hoping to have everything written within the next couple weeks and then find ourselves a drummer to record.