The sharped dressed pop auteurs out of Madison, Wisconsin are one to watch in 2020 as they prep their first new LP in three years
One of the most fun aspects of listening and relistening to different kinds of music in 2020 is being able to hear certain genres you might not have agreed with in its early stages but manage to find a new respect for some of its key principles as they got older and grayer.
One such sound of the last 25 years that has indeed grown increasingly more genuine as its principles lurch towards middle age is emo. And if most groups from the genre’s heyday managed to properly acquire their proper druthers as they head into their advanced adulting years, with luck they might emerge out the other end with music as seasoned and soulful as Madison, WI’s The Racing Pulses.
It’s been three years since the band released their debut LP Nothing to Write Home About, to popular and critical acclaim, peaking at #15 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, #43 on the Independent albums chart, and #1 on the East North Central chart. Highlights of the tour included a Sofar Sounds session in capital city Sofia, a concert at the Varna Sea Garden, and a performance in front of hundreds, including dignitaries, at the 125th Jubilee of Pirdop by the 6th – century Elenska Basilica. Returning to the USA in the fall, The Racing Pulses continued touring and working on new music. Frontman Kristian Iliev also announced his first book, a collection of poetry, was scheduled for release. Glyphs from the Apparatus arrived in December through publishing house Stiks & Monida.
In late April of 2019, The Racing Pulses shared a new single. The track – “Go, Forward!” – was written for Wisconsin’s new professional soccer team, Forward Madison FC. The following month, the group performed at Brat Fest and at the historic Breese Stevens Field before a Forward Madison FC game against South Georgia Tormenta FC.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Mr. Iliev recently as the band looks ahead towards the rest of 2020 (once we get out of quarantine, that is).
VIDEO: The Racing Pulses “Go, Forward!”
You called your first album Nothing to Write Home About. Call me a nerd but the music fan in me sees that title as a sendup of the Get Up Kids album. Is that the case? If not, is there a story behind that title?
You are not the first person to ask about this! Tony Esposito from White Reaper made the same association when we were chatting before a show once. The answer is no, and I am not sure any of us in the band are very familiar with their records. That album came out in 1999, so I was quite young when all that was happening.
The title is a phrase summing up the discouraging nature of trying to prove your art matters. You can see a humblebrag in there, too, especially if you end up liking the music! My lyrics on those songs detail problems many of us face growing up, so I think the title also communicates with listeners in that sort of self – deprecating, Midwestern way. A third interpretation of the title is this undeniable apprehension, even if just momentarily, that creeps in prior to putting a major part of yourself out there. On the cover of Nothing to Write Home About is a photograph of the building where we used to travel hours just to rehearse. It was built long ago and has this aura of resilience for us. I like to think of those songs as resilient.
How much of a fan of emo were you growing up? Who of those late 90s/early 00s bands do you feel have evolved the best as artists and why.
I had bangs, Ron. I hear some Paramore in my guitar playing because of the trebly tones I like and my heavy attack. The lyricism of Panic! at the Disco and My Chemical Romance certainly influenced me as well. You’ll catch us listening to older Fall Out Boy songs, too, and our drummer Mike is also a big New Found Glory fan.
Fall Out Boy and Panic! pivoted more towards pop, a change which made both bands more popular. I remember my older sister making uncomplimentary remarks about emo music I liked when I was younger. Just a few months ago, she randomly mentioned how much she loves “High Hopes” while we were on a phone call. That song is probably far from being confused with rock, but Brendan Urie’s theatricality holds the composition together nicely. Continuously appealing to new audiences, while simultaneously not sacrificing or diluting those qualities that attracted fans to your older music is a difficult goal to achieve. Weezer is another act with a habit for reinvention. They’ve endured lots of criticism, but I enjoy much of their catalogue. Writing the same songs over and over can get boring. You’ll always lose some people, and so I think these bands are the bands from that scene that do their best, not only to make fresh art, but to manage any expectations. Of course, these are decisions – and there are many ways of looking at such a question.
What are you working on now in terms of new music?
Just a few weeks ago, we wrapped up recording what will probably be the first track on the next album. I have been writing whenever I can, exploring my voice, learning more about the guitar, and just letting it all blossom from there. We’re sitting on at least twelve to fifteen songs that form a concept that means a lot to me. Quite a few tunes are living in my head and we’re experimenting with new instruments, and musical effects, so that will add some new dimensions.
There are a few other songs which might be released prior to the next album as an EP or as individual singles. They simply do not belong with the very particular concept album we are making, and I feel like they should precede rather than follow the next album.
What was the tour of Bulgaria like? How was it traveling through that country?
Bulgaria has stunning natural scenery and this serene energy in many places. We journeyed by car, train, and bus, through both vibrant cities and historic, quiet towns. Some of the best beaches in the world can also be found on the Black Sea, and my grandma lives in a town surrounded by mountains covered in lush forests. The food is just heavenly, too. These new friends we made invited us to their garden several days after a show, and it was just unbelievable. The climate allows them to grow seemingly everything, and you could not dream up tastier fruits and vegetables.
However, my favorite part was interacting with people there. Centuries of cultural prominence and powerful folk traditions have imbued the Bulgarians with an immense appreciation and curiosity for the arts. I am Bulgarian, I was born in Bulgaria, I was raised in a Bulgarian way, and I knew the Bulgarian language before I knew English, so it will always be a precious place for me.
What was being on Bulgarian TV like?
Right before hitting the stage in Varna one night, we received a call from bTV editor and journalist Kostadin Filipov. He wanted to book us after reading a nice article about the tour in this paper called Trud (Labor). The program we were on, “Преди обед” (Before Noon), is a very popular show akin to “Good Morning America.” It has a high level of production and airs in a coveted time slot and we felt a bit of pressure because we knew many people would be watching. I’d like to thank everyone involved with the show for making us feel welcome. Sasho and Dessi are proper hosts. They were respectful and lots of fun. I was most worried about breaking a guitar string on national television during the “Bookends” performance, because the show is filmed live. Thankfully, all went smoothly and we were able to enjoy being on the show.
VIDEO: The Racing Pulses “Intricate”
Being from Wisconsin, where do you stand on Violent Femmes and their place in the state’s rock history?
Oh, the Violent Femmes are adored in Wisconsin. They are important to the history of music, not just Wisconsin’s rock history. Violent Femmes songs can be heard all the time, in stores, sports stadiums, and other places – which is a testament to how their unorthodox sound conquered the world and still appeals to many. I’ve met Victor DeLorenzo and he’s kindly praised my music and poetry, so I may be a bit biased!
It would be nice to work with him someday and I should mention he has this fantastic musical project called Nineteen Thirteen. On their Facebook page, “chamber rock” is the term they use to describe their sound. I think that is an apt description of the music, which is created by Mr. DeLorenzo and a wonderful cellist named Janet Schiff. If you ever get a chance to catch one of their shows, do it! They are phenomenally mesmerizing performers who really understand how to build and release tension in their music.
Same question about Bon Iver.
Justin Vernon and his ensemble have made a massive impression on both music fans and musicians. I sincerely believe they are just getting started, even though I cannot say I frequently listen to their records. Justin possesses a fantastic falsetto and the ability to craft novel arrangements. His work with Kanye West and Francis Starlite will be remembered for a long time. I would describe Bon Iver’s music as peaceful, and perhaps this is part of the appeal. Many people I know greatly enjoy both their earlier songs and the electronic elements in their newer material.
They have also invested in Wisconsin’s music scene, which is admirable. People love the Eaux Claires festival they put on, and local musicians often get chances to perform alongside national acts there. Frequently we’ll meet artists in various mediums that either have a connection to Bon Iver somehow, or are greatly influenced by them.
So, I would say Bon Iver is a very influential collective.
What are The Racing Pulses plans for 2020 once we emerge from lockdown?
We have this new album I mentioned planned for release in 2020. I cannot wait to share it with the world because it already feels superior to our first record in several ways, and I genuinely believe people will appreciate the songs. Expect new music videos and other content to be released, as well as the creation and integration of more stage design in our live shows. There will be some surprises, even for those who do not like surprises!