The first time I heard Skating Polly, Justin Hogan was playing their first album, and I thought to myself,Why are chipmunks singing in the other room?
Concluding our Skating Polly interview, stepsisters Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo talk about meeting musical heroes, music as a career, and balancing life and work.
We’ve also got pics from their Record Store Day concert at Guestroom Records in Norman, plus some images from their Blackwatch Stage set at the sixth annual Norman Music Festival — you can view both galleries by tapping either of the “Gallery” tabs, above.
Mercury Photo BureauSXSW — you just played there. Pretty exciting. But, I’ve talked to other bands who’ve played down there, and I know it can also be a real crapshoot, because there are so many other bands playing, and getting noticed is really hard. How do you think you were received?
Peyton BighorseI feel like people liked us a lot, who saw us. We — it was really busy. We had, like, seven shows, and we actually forgot our equipment, like, more than once. It was — we lost our drum seat down there; we didn’t lose anything else, which was cool, but it was — it was really busy, and it was exciting. It was really tiring.
MPBI was listening a playlist of recently acquired music, a couple of weeks back, so, of course, Lost Wonderfuls was on it. And it was set to shuffle, so I didn’t know what song was going to come up next. I was actually in my office working with the music playing in the background, and your song Kick started playing, and I thought,
Oh, a Kimya Dawson song I don’t recognize. And then I realized it wasn’t a Kimya Dawson song; it was you guys. So, was that a deliberate nod to the Moldy Peaches?
BighorseNo, it wasn’t. It was more like — I don’t know; whenever we first recorded it, the demo version — which still sounds like the album version, but not exactly the same — it was more like an Elliott Smith thing, but I did my vocals differently. I feel like I did them softer on the demo version than on the actual version. So, it was originally supposed to be like an Elliott Smith thing, but it changed on the album because we didn’t record it in the same, exact way.
MPBYour vocal production — your singing style. It takes a lot of energy to do that, but, if you don’t do it right, you can really wreck your voice. Are you guys taking any precautions to prevent blowing out your vocal cords when you sing, or are you just taking your chances? [laughter]
BighorseNo, we’re kind of just taking our chances. We sometimes —
MayoWe drink tea, a lot. It’s pretty much all we do.
BighorseSometimes after shows, we’ll like, be like, sore … for a couple of days.
MayoBut, like, when we’re on tour, we have to, like, not do that; like, a good rule of thumb whenever we’re singing is try to sing, like, from down here [gestures to abdomen], and not from, like, in your throat. That’s how you can, like, scrape up your vocal cords. Exene [Cervenka] said she never knew exactly how to not, you know, lose your voice; she says,
It’s not like you can sing less on some songs, […] and you should just sing from down here instead of your throat […].
MPBA lot’s been said about how young the band is (Sidenote: Kelli is thirteen; Peyton is seventeen. The band started when they were nine and thirteen, respectively.) , and, so, you’ve got a lot of years ahead of you of doing this. What are you doing to protect your hearing during the shows?
BighorseUm, we really haven’t done anything.
MPBWell, maybe now that I’ve put the thought in your head, you will. I want to be able to keep listening to you for years to come, and that’s gonna depend on you guys being able to hear yourselves.
It’s been a long time since I heard really young musicians with such energy, attitude, confidence and social consciousness. What a breath of air.
MPBDid I read somewhere — I think I wrote this in my notes this morning — didn’t Rosanne Cash have something nice to say about you guys?
BighorseShe said, basically, that she just really likes us. [turning to Kelli] Do you remember the exact quote?
MayoShe said, in summary, she called us
a breath of fresh air.
MPBAny idea how she found out about you guys?
BighorseThrough Exene. Her and Exene are friends. And then, Exene’s ex-husband, Viggo Mortensen said we were just, like,
MPBI have to tell you, after having you send me your song lyrics — because it’s not always easy to hear them during a show — I have to agree. [laughter] There’s some brilliant stuff in here. […] There are a couple of lines in [the song] Lost Wonderfuls that really struck me. This is Kelli’s lyric:
So once you’re sick/yeah, I’ll nurse you well/and once you’re well/yeah, I’ll be in Hell. And then this:
So once you’re lost/I’ll take you home/and once you’re found/I’ll be alone. What was going through your head when you wrote that?
MayoI really don’t know. Sometimes, I try to just tell stories, and other times, you know, it just sounds good, like how it just comes out of your mouth, and it sound smooth, and it sounds nice, and you put it out there. And sometimes, whenever I’m writing songs, I’ll just give it a theme, like, I won’t necessarily have a story, but I’ll just have, like, an image in my head, and I’ll try to put that into words.
You know, we try to make our lyrics interesting, and not typical — what you’d expect from a teen band or a kid band; we try to go more — we try to go beyond that, if we can. […] Sometimes, I really don’t know what I mean in my lyrics; sometimes I try to talk about what other people go through. […] And, then, other times, I don’t necessarily know what my lyrics mean until later, and then I’ll be like,
Oh, wow, I kind of understand this more; it could mean this; it could mean that. I think it was Kurt Cobain who said his lyrics might mean one thing to him, and then something completely different to someone else. [We searched for this quotation, but couldn’t find it — Ed.] So, I guess [the lyric] was kind of a scene of, like, betrayal, but it wasn’t really like I knew exactly what I was talking about or like I was […] going through that.
Hard to believe two so young have written and performed songs this strong and wise. Make way, make way, the future is here. Brains and heart to spare. Little geniuses.
MPB[…] I’ve heard from other musicians that they write like that, too; and those are the ones who — I find their lyrics a lot more intriguing than just straightforward, plodding narrative. I really appreciate that you go for this kind of poetic language; and you do that, too, Peyton. Is there a particular song that you’re really proud of?
BighorseOf the songs I’ve written, I really like Kick. Because, usually, I’ll write […] songs that sound angry […], and I like that, but it’s just […] refreshing to not do that, and that’s what Kick was for me.
MPBHow did you choose the band name?
Mayo[…] A lot of things […] went through my head, but, in the end, it was a really quick decision, but, it had … a lot of thought … I don’t know; it was a bunch of different reasons — I guess one of the reasons was because we wanted something that stood for both of us, you know, like Kelli and Peyton; so “K” for Kelli and “P” for Peyton. We were trying to, like, think of words, so … we thought, like,
Skating Polly; originally, we had the “K” capitalized for Kelli (and “P” for Peyton, obviously).
But that wasn’t the only thing that went into that. I also wanted something that would seem […] kind of juvenile, so that people would be like,
Oh, what’s this? It’d be like singing their ABCs or something, you know, but whenever they actually got [to our show], they could actually [see what we were about]. But I also wanted something that wouldn’t seem like it would just last for now, you know; it would — like, I didn’t want to put, like, oh, “The Kid Pollies” or something like that. I wanted something that would last […].
I love school, but this is our dream and a real goal. This isn’t just a lemonade stand. This is something we are going to be doing forever.
MPBIn an interview I read in the Gazette, Kelli said that the band was not just a lemonade stand for you 2; it’s a career. That’s such an adult way, not just of looking at it, but of phrasing it.
MayoI don’t know, I mean, me and Peyton don’t ever want to stop doing [this], because, this is really the only thing that we see us — you know, this is the only thing we really, really, really like, like this. I mean, we both love art, and we both love just making stuff […], but there’s something about making music, and there’s something about being on stage, and all the little … factors […] that […] make us love it […]. We love being on the road; we love recording and we love making art for it. […] We […] love every thing about it. So, yeah; this is […] what we’re gonna be doing, probably, for the rest of our lives. And seeing people like Exene and, you know, the people from Dead Moon, and the Flaming Lips, even; they just dedicate their lives to, like, art and music. And they just keep doing it forever and ever and ever, and they never stop. And that’s […] what we want to do.
I mean, it might seem weird that we’re saying this at such a young age — well, Peyton’s not really that young; she’s graduating this year — I mean, in seventh grade,
I think I have it all figured out, but I’m not necessarily saying that; I’m saying that, right now where [we are], I don’t see us doing anything else with our lives; this is really the […] thing we’re dedicated to.
MPBAny plans to continue with school after you graduate?
BighorseNo; not really.
MPBDo you see yourself stepping into some of the business responsibilities, once you guys are old enough?
BighorseWell, we actually are — we have an LLC, which our parents are on because we’re minors. But we do a lot of the business stuff.
MPBYou guys put a lot of energy and time into this. You probably are more … dedicated to this than … a lot of adults are. It mystifies me how you guys find the time to do that and keep up with school […]. So, do you guys reserve any time for things, outside of music, that might bring you pleasure?
Bighorse[…] Most of the time, we will go home, and if we have any homework, if I have time, I’ll do it before Kelli gets home. But, we like to practice, and then, we’ll stay up doing our homework. Except, on Saturdays, I always reserve time to watch Doctor Who.
We don’t really have a lot of free time to just do what we want; like, we — we get out of the house sometimes, but most of the time we’re just at our house doing homework and Skating Polly […].
MPBDo you get to hang out with your friends?
BighorseMy friends are pretty much, like — I have a friend in school, her name is […], (Sidenote: We’ve withheld Peyton’s friend’s name to maintain her privacy.) and I hang out with her every once in a while, but, other than that, my friends are pretty much Kelli, and then my family, and then Kliph [Scurlock]. I have other friends, but not really good friends that actually I hang out with. So, whenever we’re close in town, we’ll go and eat dinner with [Kliph], and then I’m always hanging out with Kelli.
MPBDuring one of the breaks, someone mentioned that the Indianapolis gig on your current tour’s final leg was cancelled because you were too young to be in the venue under Indiana law — so, do you want to tell me what happened?
BighorseI don’t know; I guess it’s just a law they have in Indianapolis that they don’t have in Oklahoma. Minors can’t actually play shows in bars even if they just, like, leave afterwards. So we can’t play that show, since it was in a bar.
The show [was scheduled for] this Tuesday. We’re just gonna have a free day.
MPBThank you guys so much for coming down.
The Video Interview
Presenting a new, and, we hope, ongoing feature, Mercury Photo Bureau teamed up with director Mike Walsh to video-record the Skating Polly Interview for his Rev Hi-Fi video series. See more Rev Hi-Fi here.
Gallery 1 (Record Store Day)
Record Store Day
Aweek before the sixth Annual Norman Music Festival, Skating Polly performed a short, but engergetic, set for Record Store Day at the Norman Guestroom Records. Fans crowded into the long, narrow space for a glimpse of the high-spirited teenagers. Local hip-hop artist Jabee Williams joined them for a couple of songs beforehand, having just finished his own set.
Gallery 2 (NMF6)
Norman Music Festival 6
Appearing on the Blackwatch Studios Stage for Norman Music Festival 6, Peyton and Kelli drew a large and enthusiastic crowd for their 10 P.M. show.