Skating Polly, at Their “poppiest and slickest”

It’s hard to imagine many people are having a cooler year than step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse (along with recent addition Kurtis Mayo, Kelli’s brother), better known as...

It’s hard to imagine many people are having a cooler year than step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse (along with recent addition Kurtis Mayo, Kelli’s brother), better known as Skating Polly.  The post-riot grrrl, alt-rocking power-poppers recently wrapped a batch of dates supporting X, they’re preparing to join Kate Nash on her tenth-anniversary celebration of Made of Bricks tour, and last month they released their New Trick EP, which was written and recorded with Louise Post and Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt.  And, lucky for us, in-between some of these gargantuan experiences, they have found themselves on a relatively intimate US tour, that will have them at our very own, extra-cozy, extra-punk Kung Fu Necktie this Saturday, May 20th, their first Philthy show since supporting Ms. Nash at Union Transfer close to half a decade ago.  I recently got a chance to catch up with Kelli Mayo to talk about all of these ridiculously amazing things they’ve been up to.

Izzy Cihak: The last time I talked to you was in March of 2016, right before the release of The Big Fit.  What have been some of the highlights of Skating Polly since then?

Kelli Mayo: Since then we’ve done a couple of headlining tours of the states, played our first shows in Canada, went back to the UK for a short run, had an epic tour with the lovely people in Deerhoof, and wrote/recorded New Trick with Louise Post and Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt. I acted in a pilot that we filmed back in April.  We spent a month in Atlanta doing that and then got to do to Sundance with it in January, which was quite a trip. Right now we’re driving to the last show on our tour with X. It’s been a great experience for us because they’re one of our all-time favorites. We even have two songs that directly reference them. In “Cosmetic Skull” I have the line “I wanna dance with Exene ’cause she can lead, treat my ADD properly” and then on our second record, which Exene actually produced, we have a line in “Kick,” “X said the world’s a mess, but man who wants to admit that.” I look to them for lyric inspiration quite often. In fact, I have a collage I made of their lyrics in my room.

Izzy: How was working with Louise and Nina?  I mean, I feel like that would just be like the coolest thing ever.  What was that experience like?

Kelli: We had a blast! Almost immediately we were cracking jokes and sharing music and by the end of it we were sharing dreams and tearing up with each other. I heard so many stories from the two of them and the producer, Brad Wood, that I will store and cherish forever. Musically, everyone brought an essential element to the table and everyone’s voice was heard. I think we ended up with a really great collaboration.

Izzy: For that matter, while we’re at it, do you have any particular favorite Veruca Salt tracks or records?  I totally love their whole catalogue, but “Spiderman ’79,” “With David Bowie,” and “Shutterbug” (especially because of the Philly reference) all hold an extra special place in my heart.

Kelli: Yes I love all of those! My favorite songs of theirs are “All Hail Me,” “Seether,” “Lost To Me,” “Sleeping Where I Want,” and their Sex Pistols cover of “Bodies.” But if I’m gonna watch a music video of theirs, hands down my favorite is “Shutterbug.” That’s one of my all-time favorite music videos and they both look amazing in it.

Izzy: How do you feel like your new EP, New Trick, compares to The Big Fit, or previous releases in general?  The last time we talked you said that The Big Fit felt like, by a lot, your most advanced and thoughtful album yet. Do you feel like you’ve continued to evolve at the same pace on your latest release?

Kelli: I would say it’s by far the poppiest and slickest. And we definitely came back from recording and writing it as better musicians with many more tricks up our sleeves. I will never be able to thank Nina and Louise enough for pushing our vocals the way they did. Not only did working with them open this entire world of harmony up for me, but the parts of ours on New Trick ended up being my favorite vocal performances of mine and Peyton’s thus far. And I love doing those songs live because I get to push myself to hit harmonies that the masters of harmony were singing with us on the record. It’s always an exciting challenge hitting the “yeah yeahs” on the third chorus of “Louder in Outer Space.” Nina hit those so effortlessly in the studio and it blew me away.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?  Were there any things that you’ve especially spent a lot of time listening to or pondering recently?

Kelli: On New Trick we talked a lot about the Pixies. I think that definitely shines through, but we also would look to Young Marble Giants, Slint, My Bloody Valentine, and Neko Case for inspiration. The chorus to “Hail Mary” is a little inspired by Case’s song “Star Witness.” I decided before we went back into the studio with them that I wanted to refrain from all out screaming on this EP. I wanted to restrict myself to make the writing process more interesting and with the hope that taking a route I’m less familiar with would spur more creativity. And I think it definitely did for me. We weren’t scared to turn the pop up all the way because some of my and Peyton’s favorite songs are poppy to the max. Lyrically I was inspired by things we experienced last year on the road and musicians I’d become really close with. Although Louise wrote 90% of the lyrics to “Black Sky.” Peyton and I just helped write the bridge on that one.

Izzy: You’re just kicking off a tour.  Are there any venues you’re especially excited to play, or just cities you’re especially excited to visit or revisit?

Kelli: Oh so many! I’m super stoked to play Cat’s Cradle again because we played there with Kate Nash back in 2013 and the room sounded fantastic. I’m excited for 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis because we have a great fan base there and I get to see the wonderful gals in Babes in Toyland when we stop through. Montreal is beautiful. NYC is nerve racking. Detroit is loud. Chicago jumps around and smothers you with love. DC is punk as hell. Lawrence is warm and welcoming. Mesa has such hospitable fans. LA is always a party, and Norman’s our home town so possibly the most exciting and nerve racking. We’re actually playing the same venue in Norman where we played our first show ever so that’s going to be a very special show. And of course we are so stoked to be coming back to Philly. I’ve had so many people ask us to come back for years now and we’re so happy to finally do it! Last time we played there Kate came onstage to sing “Blue Obvious” with us and it was a highlight of the year for us.

Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you play Kung Fu Necktie?

Kelli: We’ve only played Philly once, back in November 2013. My brother Kurtis is playing with us now, so we are a whole person louder! There’s an extra element to the “solo jam” portions of the set. On top of that you can expect to hear New Trick live.

Izzy: And what’s next for you?  How do you hope and plan to spend the second half of 2017?

Kelli: Writing and touring!!

Band InterviewsLive EventsMusic

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.