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Interview: Skating Polly’s sister act talk Veruca Salt collab and keeping it in the family

Directed and edited by Dave Smith

When the single parents of 9-year-old Kellie Mayo and 14-year-old Peyton Bighorse got together, they not only made a new family but formed a band as well. Mayo and Peyton took no time telling all who would listen, that they were in a band. They made business cards and began putting on shows in their living room. Seven years later and Skating Polly has released four albums. Their most recent release is a three-song EP, New Trick; which sees the sisters collaborate with reunited ’90s alternative act, Veruca Salt.

Skating Polly have been selling out shows at venues they aren’t allowed to drink at, for several years. And have opened for their heroes, femme punk band, Babes In Toyland and L.A. grunge rockers L7. Punk rock icon Exene Cervenka of X loved Skating Polly so much, she travelled to their Oklahoma hometown to produce Lost Wonderfuls; their second album, which followed debut Taking Over The World. When their record deal fell through, then-Flaming Lips drummer, Klip Scurlock helped mix the tracks and gave them the orange drum kit, they now use.

Currently on tour with a third member, older brother, Kurtis Mayo; Skating Polly will play at San Francisco’s Thee Parkside, on Saturday, June 10. We caught up with them while they were on the road, to discuss their Veruca Salt collaboration and keeping it all in the family.

AXS: Good morning! So we’re here to talk about your latest EP New Trick – how did the collaboration with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post and Nina Gordon happen?

Kelli Mayo: They actually heard our music before and liked it. We have a mutual friend, who runs El Camino, our label; and the guy who works for our publishing company suggested that we do a writing session together. Once they gave us the green light, we were entirely on board and just worked to make it happen.

AXS: What are the practicalities of co-writing, because I presume you live in different cities?

KM: We met up in Los Angeles, and had two days set up in a studio. We were incredibly excited. I was a little nervous too. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of these pros. They went out of their way to make us comfortable. Every idea we could put on the table, they were really supportive, writing with them came very naturally. For people, you don’t know very well, we had an easy time expressing whenever we didn’t like something. We had a very democratic stance and voted on things.

AXS: How wonderful it must have been to work with your heroes?

KM: It was surreal. We’re so, so grateful. I remember a couple of times Louise and I would go back and sing backing vocals together; I would get goose bumps. Anytime we would add something to a song and the four of us would play it back, we would be like ‘holy cow, this is a supergroup.’ It was magic.

AXS: My only criticism of New Trick is that it’s an EP and too short, do you have more tunes in the bag?

Peyton Bighorse: (Laughs) We actually didn’t know if we were going to even have one song. They didn’t really know either what a writing session meant. We wondered ‘are we going to write it with them, and record it ourselves? Are they going to want to sing on it?’ After we worked the two days, we had this demo, a scrappy version of “Hail Mary,” then we exchanged phone numbers. Once we had the song ideas we could go back and forth. Then we thought ‘yeah let’s do a song.’ That turned out to be three songs.

AXS: I love ”Black Sky,” it has hints of a darkness, depression, break-up, news headlines whatever it is…but juxtaposed with the sweetest of melodies and harmonies, how did that song come about?

PB: Louise had that one mostly written herself when we were in the studio. We pushed around the bridge and the lyrics. Kelli figured out how she wanted to sing it but the song was mostly written.

KM: What happened was when we started working together, and were texting back and forth, Louise told me she had a dream with the song in it. She thought it was the perfect Skating Polly song. It would be great for our collaboration. So she woke up in the middle of the night and recorded a glimmer of it. The next morning she fleshed it out and sent it to me. We changed the bridge, wrote some new lyrics and added tons of layers. I don’t know if you noticed it, but she sort of whisper checks the lyrics under my vocals. Then there’s Nina’s high beautiful harmonies. And extra guitar stuff we came up on the spot.

PB: We took one day to write the drum sequence. Louise thought that she could hear it in her head. Actually, we never could find the drum sounds that Louise dreamt but we were happy with what we came up with. It’s really different from my style, and pushed me as a drummer. It kinda reminds me of the Pixies or My Bloody Valentine.

AXS: Do you ever think when you’re writing, ‘Hey, we don’t want to sound like an imitation of whatever band it is we love, that people might say we sound like’? You are one of the few bands that can sound like a punk band or a grunge band, without mimicking one. Like “Louder In Outer Space” could sit neatly in The Empire Records soundtrack but without being a copy of any song?

PB: Peyton and I are drawing from of a lot of things all at once. Maybe it’s because we found our voices at a young age. Or we didn’t ever take vocal lessons to sound like someone else. We were happy and comfortable with our own voices. And that’s something I say to young bands when they come up to us, ‘just be you’. You can take classes, musicianship is so important but if you try to be someone else, your music will not be sincere. You also have a little bit of yourself in your inspiration, otherwise, it’s not very interesting.

AXS: Your dad made you a basitar early on, and helped home-record your first album – what role does he play in the band – Svengali or your biggest fan?

KM: He is no Svengali. He is not like Michael Jackson’s dad or Brian Wilson’s dad. He is driving our tour van right now. (Laughs) He is helpful and supportive; when we get to the venue, he will have to get the gear out and help us set up. Our whole family is always making sacrifices so that we get to our shows on time.

AXS: What is it like to have your brother in the band – it’s a real family affair now?

KM: He’s always been there helping, telling us about new music. Or some obscure recording technique that Brian Eno used a long time ago.

PB: We’re always after the Kurtis stamp of approval anyway. He’s been in other Oklahoma City bands. So when it came to looking for a third member to tour the Veruca Salt EP, we asked and he was up for it. We’re happy to have him in our band.

AXS: What’s the best and worst thing about being in a band with your family?

PB: Best: they’ve always been my best friends. Worst: … I don’t even know.

KM: We did an interview where Veruca Salt interviewed us and Nina who also has her brother in their band said, ‘the worst thing is how mean we can get.’ It is amazing how good family are at getting under each other’s skin.

For tickets to Skating Polly’s show at Thee Parkside, please click here.

Tour Dates
June 3 – Mesa, AZ – Underground at the Nile
June 4 – Prescott Valley, AZ – The Shop
June 6 – San Diego, CA – The Casbah
June 7 – Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Theater
June 8 – Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room
June 10 – San Francisco, CA – Thee Parkside
Aug. 25 – San Bernardino, CA – It’s Not Dead Fest