The Anxiously Sovereign Sports Boyfriend and Her Resonating Brand of Pop

Photos by Kristina Pedersen

Photos by Kristina Pedersen

2016 saw the emergence of some great Chicago artists, many of whom had been incubating in the scene, paying dues and developing their craft.  Among those bursting forth from their artistic shells is Eileen Peltier, a solo artist known as Sports Boyfriend. Peltier began popping up at shows, quickly creating a reputation for tightly crafted music. While most of the national focus on Chicago is centered around its vibrant hip-hop scene, Peltier amalgamates rock, electronic, and pop into something off the beaten path, but equally enjoyable to listen to.

Peltier is kind and easy to talk to, with a fierce intelligence slightly softened by sporadic self-deprecating remarks – it all draws you in. Despite the appeal of her demeanor, she shies away from groups. And when it comes to her creative outputs, she grabs the wheel and sets her own course. She demands a high level of control with her music and is rarely interested in collaboration. She makes music in her apartment close to Wrigley Field, and never enters a studio except for the few occasions she has laid down vocals on someone else’s track. When asked whether or not she would ever produce an album for someone else, she is open to the idea but adds, “Never [working together] in the same room. That would be a lot for me.”

This controlling nature is not a fault though, and is likely the result of broad technical skills and an analytical mind that put Peltier in a place where she can identify exactly what she wants in terms of sound. She welcomes challenges to improve her craft whenever she finds a technical flaw that prevents her from getting to the place she wants to be. This instinctive self-reliance runs contrary to much of the conventional wisdom around collaboration and expanding your network, but it suits Peltier just fine. Because of this rigorous, self-correcting nature, she’s consistently improved her music, developing her own style that appears more and more ready to transition from the underground into the mainstream. 

Of live performance, Peltier says, “I’ve always felt more comfortable talking to 1 or 2 people at a time rather than addressing a whole room of people as myself.”  While other performers may experience nerves as they take the stage, few tackle it better than Peltier does.  She projects an imposing, confident persona when she performs, gazing out into the audience in a deliberate way. She draws the attention of the room and brings the focus in on the personal feelings that went into each song. Her music is danceable, groovy and melodic with a mainstream feel, but her performances reveal the emotional underpinnings of her music, showing a serious artist that wants to explore her anxieties and her relationships. 

The music of Sports Boyfriend is concentrated solely in Peltier’s SoundCloud page, and the three-year-spanning catalogue contains a treasure trove of material. She’s only released 17 tracks, but it’s fascinating going through her catalogue and following the sharp, quick progress and exploring the fusion of her eclecticism into a unique sound that attracts thousands of plays per release. At present, Peltier has found her sound and sharpened her abilities to the point where her music is both interesting and accessible. Tracks like "Pop Psychology" and "Like I Left" are fun and involving at the same time, fulfilling her desire to make “more invested pop-music.”

Her production banks off of the 80’s driven sounds that propelled the Chillwave craze, without piggybacking or trend hopping. There’s a authenticity to her work that sits in the lyrics, but becomes palpable in her vocals. While she credits the popular Canadian artist, Grimes, with inspiring her to create music all on her own, stylistically she takes in more, it appears, from influences like Angel Olsen, Bob Dylan, and Allison Mosshart. 

Peltier is anxiously reflective, and loves the “super personal and kind of petty songs about specific people” that are a signature of songwriters like Dylan. She releases her music song by song because each track presents a particular real-life struggle that she directs to a specific address of an as yet unknown person. She admits that sometimes these are specific people, but more often she is directly speaking to herself, or to anyone. She is the kind of person that will listen to one song she loves 50 times in a single week and listen to nothing else. She brings that philosophy to her own music. She invests time and energy to a single track and lets it stand on its own, not risking its being lost in an album, or even an EP.

Her latest single "Jasmine in the Summer" (premiering today below) is the kind of rock track that is both delicate and raw, and 100% fantastic. The beat has an authentic percussion sound in which the string parts sit in perfectly. Her guitar disrupts and thrashes when she hits it, only popping out when the effect seems necessary. Her voice truly shines on this track, brought more forward in this mix than in most of her other work, and for good reason. She delivers a series of crushing lines, singing with power on the chorus, and coupling both with breathy sounds creating a vulnerability that is the lynchpin of her unique brand of pop.

The rapid development of Sports Boyfriend is an exciting prospect for the city because she represents the kind of fortitude and persistence that one needs to make great music. She is conscious of the necessities of self-promotion in the business, but keeps her focus sharply on her music and presentation. Her style of music is rare in the city, and because of this she’s seen a lot of attention. But don’t make the mistake of passing her over on the basis of genre; her music has a fresh, distinctive feel to it that is meaty and dynamic.