In our latest interview, we caught up with Sports Boyfriend to talk about the separation her stage name allows, her personal DIY style, her sentimental performances, and much more. Indulge below and make sure to follow Sports Boyfriend on social.
Hello Chicago! My name is Sports Boyfriend, I am 24, a producer and musician.
You perform under the moniker Sports Boyfriend because of a Varsity letterman jacket that your sister used to playfully make fun of you for wearing. As a solo artist, what is the reasoning behind releasing music under a stage name instead of your own?
When you do something under your own name, it takes on a representation of who you are all the time. I don’t feel that my music is that to me. It is a part of me and it reflects the different experiences I have had, but it doesn’t define my whole self. The things that I talk about in my songs aren’t necessarily things I still think about or still do. My songs feature very snapshot emotions and where I was in that particular moment in time.
Doing it under your own name has a certain energy. It feels like escapism. You can create this character to perform under and not have to live in that headspace or mode every second of your life. A moniker forces someone to think about it. You hear someone’s name and it’s just another name, but when you hear a unique stage name it makes them wonder why it is what it is. Also, when I was first releasing music I was doing it more as a joke and to see what happens, so a stage name gave me the distance I needed to feel comfortable.
Chicago is known as a unique hub for music. What have you noticed as the most unique part of the scene and how would you say being an artist based in Chicago has helped you grow?
It is a very diverse music community. It is cool because it has this neighborhood band feel. There isn’t one community or style, you can go neighborhood to neighborhood and hear completely different music. There is room here to grow within that and there is a lot of work that goes into it, but it is much more attainable to get to a level of recognition and success here, even independently. I don’t think it would be as easy in a place like New York or LA because there is an infrastructure there and the demand for an agency behind you. Here, that plays a role eventually but you don’t need to start out with representation. I was able to go from house shows to playing larger Chicago venues like Thalia Hall pretty quickly and on my own.
As a leader of the DIY scene in Chicago, you are known for making music in your own personal space within your apartment. What does producing music in this space offer you compared to a formal studio?
It is cool because you don’t have to pay for that space, with that there is a little less pressure to make sure you are using every precious second wisely when recording. It took me so long to figure out how I like to work. Before I knew that I wasn’t always comfortable or confident enough to approach a studio and ask for recording time. Coming up with ideas on the spot isn’t really my style or what I prefer to do. I realized going to a studio doesn’t really fit me and isn’t really the way I prefer to do it. I consider myself experimental and I will try a lot of things and end up deleting them. I wouldn’t want anyone to look at me and think I’m wasting time because there are moments where I will write a whole song and play it back and go, “Oh no, that one is staying with me.” I like to work at my own pace in my own space and take my time figuring out what works well. Overall, I find it very luxurious.
You release your music song by song. What is the significance of releasing your songs separately compared to an album?
So far, where I am in my career, releasing music song by song is based on the time it takes me to get them to a level I am happy with. I also work full time so it can take me a whole month to write a song that I love and feel comfortable releasing. Since I compose everything, sometimes I have to take a step back and teach myself how to play a certain aspect. For example, I’m not really a piano player, when I want to switch from guitar to piano I have to figure out how to do that on my own. There are days where I spend 3 hours figuring things like that out and I enjoy the challenge, but it undeniably extends the time it takes to create my music. Being self-taught isn’t as hard as it sounds though because trust me, there’s a person on YouTube somewhere that wants to teach you how to do it.
I also get bored easily and enjoy exploring other music. I will hear something new and try to teach myself how to accomplish that sound. I think that variety makes it hard to release 10 or 11 songs that all sound cohesive. However, right now I am working on an EP that will have about 4 songs on it that were all written in similar fashion.
When listening to your lyrics they draw a listener in and are clear, catchy, and even poetic. I know you write from your emotions, but do you have a specific writing process for each song or do you do whatever feels natural?
I listen to a lot of traditional pop and classic Mo-town music. I love songs where they fit as little packages and anyone could play them because they are catchy. I like to write phrases or little hooks in my songs that people will find interesting and remember easily. I also try to avoid writing to one emotion. I don’t want anyone to hear one of my songs and go, “this is a sad song.” I want my songs to have layered emotions where each verse or line brings a new perspective. In real life, it is hard to experience anything that resonates with a single emotion, especially in relationships, as a result, I try to keep it honest by writing to many emotions.
My particular perspective stems from how accessible emotions and information is in our generation. No one is a mysterious person anymore because we can look them up and learn way more about them than they may ever share with us. I try to write from that perspective. We know more about each other more than ever before, therefore I write almost a fantasy space where I am honest, but leave room for mystery on what I am exactly referencing and how I want to envision this person. Even if their social media shows the exact opposite. My emotional writing stems from the ambiguity of it and everyone can relate to it because everyone has been in that position.
Your music has also been compared to a modern-day Bob Dylan for writing such personal songs about specific people. How do statements like this make you feel?
That is crazy. In high school, I went through a phase where I only listened to Bob Dylan songs. I really liked him because he was this weird curly-headed guy and that’s what I am. I knew I was never going to be a pop diva because it wouldn’t make any sense. I had to come up with a musical identity that matched me as he did so well.
His songs too are very personable, almost to a point of uncomfortableness. It is kind of fun to take things there every once in a while and shock people with really real truths. I am a big fan of music that is written super specifically, but still relatable. I walk on the line of questioning whether this is something someone should be saying or if it will be palatable to people, but over the last couple of years I have grown into that and embrace it. I am not trying to set an example. I want to be honest. It is a great way to connect with people and engage. I try to focus on anyway to make day to day life more poetic and provide a fun little escape.
Going back to the concept of writing from your emotions, when I saw you perform live you had so much passion and rawness in your face. I could feel you truly connected and hanging on to every word you sung. How are you able to still deliver such a sentimental and emotional piece every time you sing a song over and over?
It is weird sometimes, especially when I have some songs where I do not feel that way anymore. I find it interesting to have to find ways to tune back into the emotions of the song. It may not always be healthy having to reach back into that moment in time, but it feels cathartic and a nice reminder that you did feel that way at one point and where you are now. Sometimes I channel that particular time because it’s not going to be fun for me or anyone else if I am singing it without any expression. Some of my songs are modular too so even if I wrote them based off a specific point, I can channel them to match what I am going through now. It helps you see your own patterns as a human being too and realize that even if you wrote it 3 years ago, it includes a message that you could use right now. Not to say I haven’t grown in 3 years, but my basic instincts are definitely still there.
Chicago has an endless amount of performance venues and you have made your mark performing in many of them. You recently played in Thalia Hall for your first time as an opener for Grapetooth. How did that opportunity present itself and how did it feel to play in such a historic Chicago venue?
Chris actually asked me to open for them and I have always been a fan of his productions style. It was so cool to be invited by him to join the show’s bill. We played a show with Grapetooth last December along with Jimmy Whispers and I really enjoy playing to their audience. The fans are all really nice and genuinely excited about music.
I’m used to playing in venues that are half bar, half venue or are smaller. Playing in such a formal space was wild and amazing. The sound system is incredible there.
You began making music in your dorm room while you were majoring in economics and art history. What would be your advice to current college dorm making musicians that are hesitant to post their music online and pursue art outside of their college studies?
You should do it because you are never going to feel ready. People seem to be always waiting for the perfect timing to do it, like me, when I was telling myself in high-school that once I get my braces off, I would do a show. It never happened because I kept waiting for that special moment and feeling. It is hard to feel that confidence in creative projects, especially for women. It is important to allow yourself to do it and know it will be okay. Let’s be honest, if it is bad no one is going to pay attention to it and if it’s good, well then there you go. Either way, it is fine because you can make more music and try again. I kept telling myself just one more. Post a song and regardless what the reaction is, do one more.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy
Great interview questions, felt like I really had insights into this artist when I finished reading. Well written, seemed really authentic. I plan to find Sports Boyfriend’s music and listen with this interview in mind, thanks to Colleen Kennedy!