Slowsie: Mike Pearson’s Songwriter Project

I first met Mike Pearson my freshman year, in his room at St. Elmo, where he lived at the time. Instruments stacked on a guitar rack, and he and his friends were taking song requests, jamming away. Now, I’m sitting on Pearson’s porch, and he’s wearing a white Mandala t-shirt (a band from Connecticut that no one’s probably heard of, he tells me), denim jeans, and blue sneakers. Hailing from sunny California, Pearson sits back leisurely on a recliner chair, all LA-chill and groove.

Last summer, Pearson’s songwriting project Slowsie released its debut EP Late at Night, and closing track “Bedbugs” has since picked up over fifteen thousand streams on Spotify. It also earned a spot on the coveted Spotify-curated playlist “Fresh Finds,” which, in the music world, is practically every indie artist’s dream. “That was really astonishing. I was hopeful to be placed on a playlist, but I wasn’t expecting this.”

Effortlessly catchy in a head-nodding kind of way, “Bedbugs” is a breezy surf-pop gem that casually breaks your heart. Opening with, “Everything I’ve ever owned / It always breaks,” Pearson sings without pretension. There’s a basic immediacy, a truthful and artless charm, that easily wins us over. Like many of the other tracks on the EP, a warm, fuzzy rhythm guitar is at the forefront of the track. Pearson explains that in terms of his songwriting process, the rhythm guitar usually comes first, though lately he has been challenging himself to experiment with using the synth or the bass as the starting point. The lyrics, he tells me, is usually harder for him, but almost each one of his songs tells a story.

“It’s nice to me that ‘Bedbugs’ is the one that has the most critical acclaim, as it runs the deepest,” Pearson explains. “I was having really bad insomnia beginning of my sophomore year.” The song speaks to those late-night moments, and it has always been the band’s favorite to play live as well. Other tracks on the record, like “Sunrise,” are similarly infused with nighttime energies. “I went to see a show at Temple, a house show.” Afterwards, his phone died before he could make his way home. “I just started walking back to West Philly. My goal was to make it before sunrise, and I took an Indigo Bike for parts of it. I saw some cursed things.” High-energy and playful, “Sunrise” chronicles the affair in the form of pop-rock melodies and lush harmonies.

Having played instruments since sixth grade, Pearson started more seriously experimenting with music toward the end of high school, when he began recording music on his own. After coming to college, he formed his first band, Peachy, with fellow Penn musicians, before transitioning into his current Slowsie project. “Basically every Peachy song we’ve ever played was about me and my ex from high school,” he says, laughing. And since coming to Philadelphia, Pearson has also been actively involved in the music scene at Penn and beyond.

“I don’t know, I never really got nervous around performing. I get more nervous talking in class, by far,” he muses. “I just go there, do my thing.”

He calls himself a “die-hard” support of Kelly Writers House open-mics and helped organize fundraising shows at Elmo. “Those were really fun. It’s really crazy to blast music super loud in the middle of Locust Walk.”

But beyond Penn, Philadelphia boasts a lively DIY house and basement scene as well. “It was hard to break into,” Pearson explains, but it became easier once he started hosting shows himself. After performing at a Temple house show and being exposed to the culture of house shows in general, Pearson started hosting shows under the name The Tide Pool in the sailing house he was subletting in. For the first show he hosted, Pearson raked in a hundred, two-hundred bucks, and the opportunity to book shows allowed him to meet other Philadelphia musicians and producers. Paul, whom Pearson played alongside for the musician Georgey V, would end up helping with the mixing and mastering of the Late at Night EP.

The Late at Night record features Penn students Brian Johnson on drums and Tomasz Tabernacki on lead guitar, as well as Jacob Alappatt on bass. “The whole process of releasing Slowsie’s debut EP was exhilarating, but I will say it really affected by ego in a terrible way…I would wake up every day, check the streams and stuff, and honestly that was so destructive. That’s not the best way to live a day-to-day life.”

With the pandemic and the pause on live shows, Pearson took a West Coast trip after the release to relax. “I’m glad I’m able to take this little two-week trip, and not touch an instrument. It was good to have some distance and realize that I actually like writing songs.” Since then, Pearson has been working on various collaborations and a full-length record. Today, Slowsie releases their newest single “On My Mind,” a collaboration between Pearson and his friend Rosie Ryden (after whom Slowsie is named). “It’s somewhere between what you would expect from me and a Clairo energy.” The track, following Pearson’s personal challenge to shift his emphasis away from the rhythm guitar, is a dreamy, synth-pop tune underlined by a budding bassline.

“For the rest of life moving forward and after I graduate? I have no fucking clue. I fell in love with Colorado on this trip, and I kind of want to move there now. I also kind of want to move to San Juan, maybe because I’m forever in spring break. I do appreciate Philly, I do like it a lot. I would say there’s nothing I dislike about Philly, but it also might be time for me to move on at some point soon. Ultimately, I would love to work with music, if the opportunity arises, but otherwise, I will do whatever it is to make a living and have enough resources and time left over to do music, and that will be my life.”