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Never Bored: Ugly-Pop Band Skating Polly Discuss Life On Tour

Monday, 10 September 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

Wanderlust is a word usually associated with gap years and middle aged people who want a fancy way of saying they’re bored with the life they’ve made for themselves.

Its actual definition is ‘a strong desire to travel’ and it’s something that Kelli Mayo felt from a young age. Fortunately, she is one third of the self-described ugly-pop band Skating Polly, alongside her siblings Peyton Bighorse and Curtis Mayo. And they tour. A lot.

As a duo, Kelli and Peyton hit the road before either of them were legally allowed to buy a drink in the venues they were playing. They spent their formative years acquainting themselves with the best rest stops along American highways, enjoying a staple diet of cookies and french fries while others their age were still only dreaming of the possibilities that lay beyond their hometowns.

In May Skating Polly released ‘The Make It All Show’, their fifth album and first with their brother, who officially joined the band in early 2017. It features a guest appearance from Exene Cervenka of punk legends X, a long-time collaborator and supporter of the band.

We caught up with Kelli and Peyton at the start of their European tour to discuss how it feels to have spent a large part of their life on the road, how their approach to touring has developed and what it’s like to have achieved more than most before their 21st birthdays.

Kelli, you recently posted online that you’ve visited all 50 states in the US. You’re only 18. How did you do it?

KM: I’m the only one in my family of seven to have done it. It’s because I’ve been lucky enough to take random vacations and also I’ve been touring. We went to Alaska for my grandma to go see giant vegetables at the Alaska State Fair and that was my 50th state. It feels pretty amazing.

Travelling was always such an exciting thing to me. When I was younger I had a billion places I told everyone that I wanted to live one day. I was just looking through messages from when I was 13 and trying to sound cool to a boy, I said I wanted to live in Seattle one day and now I live right next to Seattle [in Tacoma]. So that’s cool.

We came from this really small red state town and a small music scene. Getting to see all these big places that were really rich in music history, or just places that have been there for so much longer, or places with buildings that were so much taller, it was huge to me. It was hope that one day I could go do something else and not be part of this weird Republican town.

We grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. It’s funny, we had a music scene and at first they were super supportive. They really embraced me and Peyton, but the second we started getting opportunities outside of the town they started turning their back on us and getting bitter. Just being like “It’s only because they’re young and girls.”  They’d get really competitive and then all the politics of the small town music scene started coming out. So we were just like, “Screw this.”

When did the band start touring? Were there, or are there still, restrictions because of your age?

PB: We were 16 [Peyton] and 11 [Kelli] when we went on our first tour. So there were definitely restrictions.

KM: They’d put giant Xs on your hand and sometimes you couldn’t go into the venue until it was time to play. But sometimes they just make you wait in the green room. Sometimes they were chill with you, because obviously I’m 11 years old and I’m not going to get served alcohol.

PB: It was dependent on the venue how we were treated. They were never outwardly rude to us, they were just more strict in places.

KM: I think there were condescending things, sometimes. I think people just assumed we were a novelty. To me I always felt like an adult so I didn’t understand why people thought it was a novelty, and I was just like: “God, when are people going to stop asking about my age?”

Has your approach to touring changed the more experience you’ve gained?

PB: There are always surprises but we’ve fallen into a routine at this point. We just work so well together so it’s not too hard anymore.

KB: I think there are things that I’ve gotten better at dealing with over time, that I used to be more scared to deal with. When there are creepy fans, or just rude fans, I’d always be on the side of like, “Be really sweet to them because they’ve paid money to come to your show.”

Now I’m just...what is one Facebook like? Don’t be rude to me, don’t be creepy to me. So that’s something I’ve got a little better at. Also, as soon as the show was over, going out and running the merch, we’d always do that. But sometimes I’m exhausted or I’m hoarse and just can’t talk, so I can’t go out there. That used to really upset me. I was like “People are going to think that I think I’m too good for them.” Now I’m like, if I don’t chill tonight I’m not going to be able to sing for tomorrow’s people.

How do you spend your time in between shows? Do you prefer or enjoy having time to yourself? If so, is it hard to reconcile that when you’re stuck in a van for weeks with other people?

PB: I guess it just depends on how we’re feeling. We spend a lot of time talking to each other and listening to music together. But then we’ll also spend a lot of time with our earbuds in listening to our own music, or reading, or writing, or drawing. There are a lot of ways to stay entertained in the car. And if all else fails we can go to sleep.

KM: I’ve never had a problem with staying entertained on tour. I don’t ever really feel lonely either, because my siblings are my best friends. Of course we fight on tour, because we’re siblings and because we’re a fucking band. That’s the one thing about tours, I don’t think you’re ever bored. You’re constantly entertained. There’s always something to do. Even if you don’t have leisurely things to do you can just work on something. I feel like there’s always an email to respond to, or something you need to get back to or a website that needs to be updated. Or if your phone’s dead you can talk to someone, play music or you can sleep.

I recently figured out how nice going on walks with headphones in is, just choosing music that maybe everyone around me would hate or maybe everyone’s heard a billion times, and I can just unapologetically listen to. It’s very therapeutic and meditative. It’s been this thing that I’ve been doing at home and brought over to tour.

Do you ever have time to explore the towns you visit?

PB: We try to as much as possible, especially with museums. It’s one of my favourite things to do on tour. We’re actually going to try and go to the Louvre when we’re in Paris this time, which I’m super stoked about. I actually saw my favourite painting ever on tour [Carnival Evening by Henri Rousseau]. We make it a point to see things like that whenever we have time because it’s not going to do anything except inspire you and make you feel good.

How are you feeling about your upcoming dates in Europe and the UK?

KM: The funny thing about all the Europe dates we have is that I don’t think we’re playing a single place that we’ve played before, I think they’re all new cities. I’m really excited to go to France. I’ve been wanting to go there forever. When we released our record ‘Lost Wonderfuls’ in 2013 La Blogothèque - I’m sure I said that wrong - did this really cool review of it and we got all these French fans messaging us. I’ve always romanticised the idea of France and had crushes on French boys at my school.

As far as the UK goes, most of those places I think we have been before, and they’re all lovely. We love the UK. We love Glasgow, London, Leeds. I’m just naming the big ones but the UK’s awesome. I feel like the crowds down here mosh, dance and move around. There’s more audience feedback. They’re so much funnier than in America. They think I’m funnier and I’m not that funny. It’s really loving and a great community.

I remember having my gear break down the last time we were here and instead of people getting pissed off, as I was on the ground trying to fix my gear and make it work, they just sang my back up vocals for me. It was in Mannheim, Germany. We’d never played Germany before. It was really magical.

Skating Polly Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon September 10 2018 - LONDON Sebright Arms
Tue September 11 2018 - NEWPORT Le Pub
Thu September 13 2018 - BRISTOL Thunderbolt
Fri September 14 2018 - LEICESTER Firebug
Sat September 15 2018 - GLASGOW Broadcast
Sun September 16 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Hare and Hounds
Mon September 17 2018 - GRIMSBY Yardbirds Rock Club
Tue September 18 2018 - PARIS Olympic Cafe (France)
Wed September 19 2018 - ORLEANS Blue Devils (France)
Thu September 20 2018 - CHAMBERY Le Brin De Zinc (France)
Sat September 22 2018 - SIEGEN Vortex Surfer Musikclub (Germany)

Click here to compare & buy Skating Polly Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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