For a guy who makes urgent synthwave music, Sports Coach mastermind Thatcher May leads an exceptionally chill lifestyle. When I meet him at the San Diego apartment where he and his bandmate Alyse Stuck are crashing with their dog Beau, the musical partners are in the process of putting the finishing touches on their new van home—you read that right. Tired of landlords and cramped cities, the duo asked themselves: “Why don’t we find a way this month to move into a van?” But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.
Sports Coach started as a solo project out of Boston in 2016, when May moved home after a year attending Manhattan’s The New School. May compares his introduction to music to the obsessive practicing that occurs in the film WHIPLASH, where a jazz-obsessed percussionist is emotionally and physically tested by an intense drum professor played by J.K. Simmons. After finding the academic pursuit of music wasn’t for him, May transitioned from making blissed-out beats in his free time to churning out taut, lo-fi indie rock records. Sports Coach’s early sound was defined by thrifted toy synths and cassette tape hissing that evoked a more danceable R. Stevie Moore. “It was mostly The New School that forced me in this direction,” May says. “I just wanted to make music happen on my own.”
May lived at home for a while, touring extensively within the East Coast DIY circuit. One of the most important experiences on the road occurred when he met Citrus City Records founder Manny Lemus. The two quickly struck a friendship, bonding over a shared love of the band Wakes, and Citrus City went on to help distribute May’s early records including TRY & TRY & TRY & TRY and I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT GOOD. Sports Coach’s early live shows were makeshift and experimental, May playing beatless instrumentals through the PA while he drummed and sang standing up. Along the way, Stuck became involved with the project and now plays secondary synth parts live, records bass, and helps with the project’s grainy artwork.
May’s primary musical muses these days are dusty YouTube bootleg albums and Japanese ambient music, especially the artist Hiroshi Yoshimura, who May describes as his all-time favorite musician. During the two hours I spent relaxing on his porch, he shuffled the back catalog of prolific Brazillian organist Walter Wanderlay. Although the project’s John Maus-y tendencies are often wintry and metropolitan, May thrives in Southern California. Boston’s music scene was often too hard-rocking and heavy for May to find a niche within, and the sprawling trippiness of the greater Los Angeles area was more in-tune with May’s tastes and ideals. “It wasn’t until I came to the West Coast that I was really able to find that groove that I wanted,” he says. “Now I feel like my music, whatever it is to other people, feels like I found a nice little thing of my own.”
Adulthood, and its many responsibilities, forced Sports Coach to spend less time on the road, but May fondly recalls those days as a touring veteran, especially the high-energy shows he played in Savannah, GA. Enter the van. One of Sports Coach’s main goals as van-dwelling transcendentalists is to once again play their music for audiences outside of Southern California. Once a mail truck, the wood-paneled house on wheels is going to feature a small kitchen, a hand-crafted bed, and a living space. Having been based out of Ventura for the past few months, the duo has been in the planning stages of getting rid of their apartment and most of their earthly possessions to live on the road and to experience more nature.
“Beginning of July everything was focused on finding a van,” May recalls. “We were like ‘We have nowhere to live so we have to figure it out.’ We found a van that was fully built out and we tried to buy it from the dude, and he sold it to someone else. But he said ‘If you guys can come to San Diego for a month with an empty van, we three can build one out.’” Due to scheduling complications, May and Stuck were forced to build out the van themselves, learning as they went. The hours of electrical wiring, interior design, and dog proofing that followed were strenuous but yielded rewarding and impressive results.
When I ask May how he thinks living in a compact and technologically minimal space will impact future Sports Coach releases, he isn’t quite sure. Sports Coach has previously recorded digitally, but sound at their most comfortable on projects recorded to tape. Although the lack of designated studio space may present unforeseen complications when writing on-the-go, if there’s one thing Sports Coach does best, it’s thrive in situations where many artists would let limitations cause artistic turmoil. Never having spent more than $100 on musical equipment, the synth sounds on Sports Coach records all surprisingly come from thrift store acquisitions.
Watching May and Stuck work on their van in North Park’s golden summer glow, skateboards strewn across the concrete yard, it was not hard to see why Sports Coach find creative and personal solace in the independent bohemia of the West Coast, but with their provisional and unpretentious attitude towards crafting music, it’s also not hard to imagine May and Stuck pushing the project to new levels far away from civilization in the mountains of Colorado or the Texas flatlands. “I’m all about nature, I definitely miss peace and quiet,” he says. “Cities to me are predictable. There’s restaurants, there’s bars, there’s the beach, but it’s crowded. It’s when you’re out in the middle of nowhere that things are not as they seem.” When I ask what slice of open country he’d like to live in, May pauses before thoughtfully daydreaming of travelling the undeveloped coast between Santa Barbara and San Jose.
“Your location geographically 100% is going to affect what you produce as an artist. That’s why artists go somewhere cool when they want to create something that inspires them,” May says, cooling down from a long day of working on a van that will allow him to experience limitless imagination.