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Skating Polly: Coming Of Age With 'The Big Fit'

Friday, 08 April 2016 Written by Laura Johnson

Skating Polly formed just over six years ago, when Kelli Mayo was nine and her step-sister, Peyton Bighorse, was 14. They recorded their debut album, ‘Taking Over The World’ in 2011 and since then have done their best to make its title a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Though it may be a grab at low hanging fruit to begin things by discussing their age, it is the elephant in the room. The creative evolution these young women have gone through since Skating Polly began becomes even more impressive when you realise that the glorious noise the band makes is the work of musicians who aren’t old enough to drink in the majority of venues they’ve been playing in for the last half a decade.

They’ve gone from recording their debut in their living room on a 24 track home recorder to having X’s Exene Cervenka produce their sophomore album, ‘Lost Wonderfuls’, and Kliph Scurlock of the Flaming Lips behind the boards on ‘The Big Fit’, their new record.

Due to label issues on ‘Lost Wonderfuls’ the duo formed their own, Chap Stereo, for the release of their third LP, ‘Fuzz Steilacoom’, in 2014 and ‘The Big Fit’, which is out now, is again hitting shelves under their own steam. One of the best albums of 2016 so far, it displays the calibre of band Skating Polly have become and shows why, despite being relatively unknown on this side of the pond, they were chosen by Babes in Toyland to support them on their UK reunion tour last year. We caught up with Mayo and Bighorse to put ‘The Big Fit’ under the microscope.

Having grown up alongside the band, do you look back on the earlier albums fondly or with a slight cringe?

Petyon: A few years ago I would have probably said that I was really embarrassed about our first album, but I liked everything after that. And now, I even like the first album. I’m not even embarrassed about it anymore. I just think it’s cool that we did something at such a young age that’s not even as bad as I thought it was. It’s pretty cool.

Kelli: Yeah, I even like the songs on the first album. A lot, actually. I remember when we worked with Exene on ‘Lost Wonderfuls’ she said this really cool thing, she was just like: “You’re always gonna wanna change something, you’re never gonna get it perfect.” If you do think it’s perfect then a week later you’re gonna wanna change something and you’ve just got to let it rest sometimes and remember: “I thought it was good enough at one point.”

Just the other day actually we released this mix of Protective Boy, and it’s the one that’s on Spotify, not the one that has the music video. I love the music video version we did and I felt like we perfected the song, and I love the mix of it, but then this guy from Luscious remixed an older version of it, when it had a different chorus, and I don’t like my vocals on it, I can’t stand my vocals on it. So it’s cringeworthy for me, but I’m like: “It’s ok, it’s a b-side and I’m glad people get to hear this other side.” And it’s a really cool mix. I don’t know, but it’s still like this weird thing for me that I’m insecure about.

The other albums I’m really proud of, maybe because I can associate my age with them. I’m not embarrassed at all. But like, this mix of Protective Boy I’m like: “This is our year where I’m turning 16 and I sound young and weird, with my voice.”

Has the way that you write changed as you’ve matured?

Kelli: The very first one [album] I would just write stories and the songs wouldn’t be so much about my life. It would just be about stories I created and songs would just be these little images that I came up with in my head. The second album was a lot of that for me, but also I started incorporating personal experiences that I was conscious of. But now, looking back at those albums, it seems like these things were subconsciously about something different, even though I wasn’t thinking about them. But it does seem like it was personal, like it predicted things.

‘The Big Fit’ is the first album where a lot of it is personal. I’m not hiding all my words behind metaphors or symbolism. It’s more honest and it’s the first thing that I’ve really done like that. So, it is kinda scary in a way, but also you don’t really have to share any more than you want to share. So, if I killed a person and wrote a song about it I could just never tell anyone that I killed a person. That’s what cool about art, no one knows if it’s a metaphor.


How was it the first time you visited a recording studio?

Peyton: The first time we ever went into the studio we were just tracking drums for that first album and we were just kind of enamoured with it all. We didn’t really know what was going on, we were just doing what we were told and getting the drums down and we weren’t making any noises. We were totally silent and it was fun, because it was a new experience, but we didn’t know about anything that was happening. Now whenever we go into the studio…

Kelli: ...We know about all the tricks and we think about so much more. Like on the first album we were just like: “OK, let’s record these songs just how we’ve written them.” I think it was a mixture of “Wow, we actually wrote songs” and  “Wow, we’re actually going to get to record”.

So what was the frustrated screaming about at the start of Carrots on ‘Lost Wonderfuls’?

Kelli: Oh my gosh! We were going [into the studio] with Exene and me and Peyton are taking it so seriously. We just practised non-stop before she got there and as soon as she landed her plane I just started rattling off song ideas, because I wanted her to know we were taking it so seriously. The first track we recorded on the album was Carrots. Peyton counts us in and then she starts playing drums and I start playing along and I’m just like: “Woah, why can’t I hear this?” And I look down and my bass isn’t plugged in. It was this completely ego-shattering moment.

You’re known for changing instruments. How do you divvy up the songs?

Kelli: It all kind of works out as it should. Sometimes Peyton will be playing guitar and I try to write a melody…

Peyton: She tries to steal the song.

Kelly: I do try to steal her songs, but I can just hear the melody so clearly.

How was the recording for the new record, ‘The Big Fit’?

Kelli: Every single song on this [‘The Big Fit’] I remember wanting to try something that I hadn’t done before. I wanted to push my musical capabilities. I know, ‘cos I’ve been doing this for six years, even though I don’t know all the technical musical theories and stuff, I can still play my instruments well. I can play my instruments really well for a member of Skating Polly. For the Skating Polly sound, I’m the best at that, of all the people I know. Well Peyton, too, we’re on the same level.

We had all these finished songs and we’d take them into the studio and Kliph [Scurlock] just gave us so many drum ideas. He would push us and it just brought all these songs to a much bigger sound and we didn’t even really imagine that, or picture that, or know we could do that. I listen to some of these drums tracks, or even when I’m playing them and I’m like: “Holy fuck, I can play this!”

Peyton: Working with Kliph really taught me that I can push myself. Before that I had three or four drumbeats and was like: “Well, this sounds good and I know how to do this.” And after that I was like: “Well, I’ve got to do something different now.” I have to teach myself something more interesting than the drum beats I used on the past three albums. I knew how to be a songwriter and I knew how to come up with melodies and guitar parts and drum parts, but I wasn’t as creative with my instruments as I was with the actual songwriting part. So he taught me to be more creative with the instrumental parts.

Kelli: He made it all so tangible, too. I like drum parts that are melodic. I like Babes in Toyland because I think their drum parts are fucking melodic. They’re not just a beat. To be able to identify a band by the drum beat/melody, and with a two person band, that’s a benefit. I’m really happy with us right now. I think we’re just gonna keep getting better, but not turn in to Rush, you know, be like: “Now that I can do this every song needs a solo."

Are you nervous about playing the new songs live?

Peyton: For this tour we’re just gonna switch up the setlist night by night I guess, and we’re gonna be playing a few older songs and a lot of the new songs. So we’re gonna play every single new song, probably, by the end of the tour.

Kelli: A little bit, but I’m really excited. Like, really, really excited. Our set has been pretty similar since the Babes in Toyland tour. We didn’t have any keyboard songs. Our set for a while was just my loud songs, and Peyton’s loud songs pretty much. There was this loud, kinetic, energetic show and now we’re bringing the keyboard and it’s going to [be] so much more dynamic.

Even if people don’t like the keyboard songs I don’t really care. This is what we are, we’re an ugly pop band. We’re excited to do something new. We’ve been practicing so much I’m not that nervous, but I’m sure I will be. I kind of have stage fright at every show a little bit.

The first show, the icebreaker is going to be the hardest. And then also, in Minneapolis, all [of] Babes in Toyland, like Michelle Lyon - who I’ve never met before - is gonna be there. Kat’s gonna be there, her son’s gonna be there, Laurie’s gonna be there. I’m really nervous about that.

Has touring with the likes of Babes in Toyland, La Sera and Kate Nash helped you? Any wisdom bestowed?

Kelli: Kate just had a lot of really good points about feminism and just girls in music and recruiting girls to make music. That made me feel more like I had this mission purpose instead of just making good music. It was more like: “Yeah, I wanna inspire girls, I wanna help girls and I wanna be this positive role model, and I wanna spread feminist messages.” It made me comfortable with that.

I was always teetering back and forth between: “Well, do we just wanna be another feminist band?” And then I decided: “Well, I think we should be feminist but I don’t think we should feel like all of our songs have to be about that.” All feminist means is you think you should have equal rights as men. So, yeah, we’re feminist.

There were 5 x 7” paintings offered with the pre-orders for the new record. Are we likely to see an artistic project from you guys anytime soon?

Peyton: There’s no official project, nothing as big as Skating Polly. But we’ve been painting a lot. We’ve been selling our paintings, just as a way to make money to fund the tour and fund other things we need. Anything that’s artistic or creative we can’t get enough of it.

I love taking photos. I have Polaroids hung up all around our room that I’ve taken over the past few years. We spend hours just painting and playing music or writing. Or, if we’re not doing a certain thing that we’re creating, we’re doing something that will inspire us, like reading about our heroes or watching a documentary, or even just a film that’s a piece of art itself. We’re either creating or being inspired to create.

Do you think you’ll always make music together?

Kelli: Nothing really gets me and I can’t really express myself with anyone else like with Peyton. Probably because we grew up together and probably because we’re closer to each other than we are to anyone else. But, honestly, I do think we’re gonna keep making music forever. Even if we don’t put out an album every year, I think even when we’re in our ‘60s we’re still gonna be hanging out at our house and playing guitar and shit.

‘The Big Fit’ is out now through Chap Stereo.

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