We chat with Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse of Skating Polly, the rising stars of the post punk/grunge sound
You know the look, … the smile. The one given with great pride by a parent, teacher, or mentor when they realize their child or student has chosen the right path and is ready to move on to bigger things. It’s an unmistakable look, a look of love.
Let me backtrack a second. After working the normal first three songs from the pit as a photographer for Artist Waves, I’ll normally retreat to the dark side-stage, find an area to relax for a few minutes, grab a water, make some gear changes, basically regroup.
For this assignment I was in Oklahoma City to photograph X for— Interview: Exene Cervenka — Reflecting on 40 Years of X
After shooting the standard first three of opening band Skating Polly, I exited the pit area and found my “happy place”, dark side-stage. Instead of the typical fumbling for gear, I found myself admiring this young bands performance.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t alone in the shadowy side stage area. As I slowly adjusted to the light, I recognized Exene Cervenka of X watching the Skating Polly set just behind me.
Exene was unmistakably displaying that earlier mentioned look and big smile.
I smiled at Exene and said,”Wow!!, They’re really good live!”
Exene responded with big smile on her face and said,“I’m so proud of them, they’ve worked so hard and it shows.”
There was no need for her to say the words, her face already expressed it clearly.
Who is Skating Polly?
Skating Polly, originally a duo from the Oklahoma City area, now calling Washington State home. The band began with step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse, formed in 2009 after playing together at the girls’ Halloween party. They were 9 and 14 years old at the time.
After recording their debut album Taking Over the World in their living room. Their sophomore album, Lost Wonderfuls, (produced by Exene Cervenka of X and mixed by Kliph Scurlock of The Flaming Lips) was released in April, 2013. Their third album, Fuzz Steilacoom, released March of 2014 was tracked by Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening at Dub Narcotic Studio.
Raised on ’70s punk and early-‘90s alt-rock, Mayo (age 15) and Bighorse (19) mine inspiration from artists as disparate as Johnny Cash, The Ramones, Nirvana, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Bikini Kill and saturate their own songs with a raw energy reminiscent of their musical heroes.
In 2017 the band announced the addition of their brother Kurtis Mayo to take over duties on the drums.
Interview — Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse
Artist Waves — Thanks for joining us, I caught your May 3rd show in OKC. Wow! You guys really put on a great show that night.
Kelli Mayo — That was a really special night for me! Got to see so many friends and family that I hadn’t seen in ages. Also, I had turned all my best friends into X fans a long time ago so they were just as pumped as I was to see them live. After our show we squished our way to the front and danced and jumped and sang along to all the songs. It was true magic playing our hometown with our idols.
Peyton Bighorse — Thank you!! We had so much fun!
Artist Waves — Has X had an influence on Skating Polly?
Peyton — X has been a major influence on us. Not only have we been listening to them forever, but Exene has been a huge supporter of us from very early on. She produced our second album and has been a mentor to us since we first started.
Kelli Mayo — Their lyrics, harmonies, and heaviness are what make them one of the greatest and really unique punk bands ever. The biggest direct influence on our music is probably their lyrics though. They have so many lines that really stuck with me. The first time I heard their record “Under The Big Black Sun” I went through and looked up and saved all their lyrics to my favorite songs of theirs. I was blown away. They have so many clever turns of phrase and they have a way of writing that’s very relatable but also profound and poetic. That’s the stuff that sticks with you.
Artist Waves — I’m guessing the line in your song Cosmetic skull — “I wanna dance with Exene ’cause she can lead” is a direct reference to X’s legendary Exene Cervenka?
Kelli Mayo — It absolutely is. Her son Henry Mortensen (one of my best friends in the entire universe) once told me a story about a time she brought him onstage to dance with her at a show and he was trying to lead but she was in complete control of where they were going. He said, “So there ya have it. If you dance with Exene, she will lead!”. I remember thinking that would be a great lyric. What I meant by that was that I want to consume real art and real experiences and less of the electronic social media crack. It’s really easy to fall down that rabbit hole. Exene is the epitome of real art and real moments. She has amazing insight and she’s electric, you can’t take your eyes off her!
Artist Waves — Not just opening for X that night, but back to old stomping grounds, OKC. Anything special in the set list that evening?
Kelli Mayo —Haha.. actually it’s funny you asked because we were so incredibly nervous that night we just went with the same set as the night before. I put so much pressure on myself for that show since I was playing in front of all my friends and family for the first time in years. I didn’t want to take any chances and I wanted everything to be perfect. Right before I went on Exene tried to convince us to play an old one since it was our hometown and we didn’t BUT we have a very special version of an old song ready for our Norman show on 5/26!
Artist Waves — The thing that impressed first was your live performance. Is that something that’s important to you guys? Something you strive for?
Peyton — It is really important to us. We always try to put on the best live show we can because it’s a representation of who we are. We try to leave all of our energy on the stage every time.
Kelli Mayo — I try to make them as energetic and engaging as possible and I strive for my vocals to me just as good as on the records or hopefully better. And after touring with X a band that sings all their songs a little different each night it really inspired me to do the same. So I’ll change lines here and there to keep it fresh.
Artist Waves — I got a hold of your “New Trick” EP last week, so it was fresh going into the show. The live version of “Hail Mary” was memorable. That song hit the crowd hard! Where did the inspiration for that song originate?
Kelli Mayo — At the time we wrote Hail Mary my favorite song was ‘Star Witness’ by Neko Case. I loved the layered vocals on the chorus. So I really wanted to write a chorus with counter melodies that worked together and supported each other and instead of writing it like I normally would (write a vocal part, record it, write another) I heard both these melodies in my head at the same time and immediately I was like “Peyton come here and try this!”. Another special thing about that song to me is it’s pretty heavy with hardly any screaming. I let out one half scream on the very last chorus but other than that I’m singing very softly and I love how that pairs with the drums and distortion.
Artist Waves — What was his like collaborating with Louise Post and Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt on the “New Trick” EP?
Peyton — It was amazing! They’re wonderful people. We have such different writing styles too, so it was a great learning experience. They introduced us to so many ideas and writing tricks that would have never crossed our minds, but now we use them all the time in our songwriting!
Kelli Mayo —They are amazing singers, songwriters, and guitar players. They have their own code and their own language and blend so perfectly with each other yet they have so many differences as well. Everyone brought a different element to the songs and we all worked together ta make the songs live up to their full potential. Had a couple mega fan girl moments and we got to ask them about Steve Albini, The Breeders, and Liz Phair.
Artist Waves —Who are some of your other Musical Influences?
Peyton — So many! My all time are Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel. Punk was a big influence for me and was actually what got me into music and made me want to seriously start a band. I love The Replacements, Big Star, The Beatles (obviously!!). And Perfume Genius is endlessly inspiring in everything he does.
Kelli — Screaming Females, Lou Barlow, Nina Nastasia, Babes in Toyland, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, The Breeders, Neil Young, Harry Nilsson,` Deerhoof, Prince, Sleater-Kinney, X, St. Vincent, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Fleetwood Mac, Patti Smith. I could go on and on. I have a couple favorites for every mood and genre. Don’t we all?
Artist Waves — What Inspires you as an artist, to keep creating, to look forward to the road?
Peyton — Other art, music, books, movies. Creative people I get to meet and know and spend time with. It all drives me to keep on making music. — Peyton
Artist Waves — What are you listening to now?
Kelli — I’ve been listening to The National and Silver Jews a lot. I’ve recently gotten back into Pulp. I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet, but I’m sure as soon as I do I’ll have the new Perfume Genius record on repeat!
CHARLY BLISS!!! Other than that I love the new Orwells record, Mitski, Samantha Crain, I’ve been listening to lots of The Chiffons, Ronettes, Carole King, Irma Thomas, Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, Nancy Sinatra and then also lots of 70s singer songwriter stuff like Townes Van Zandt, Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, and Lee Hazlewood. I just got spotify premium lately so I’ve been more song oriented lately.
Artist Waves — 7 Shows opening for Punk Legends X, then off on your own headline tour. What excites you most about this tour?
Peyton — It’s our first headlining tour with Kurtis on drums! I’m excited for everyone to get to see that because we sound fuller and heavier than we ever have before.
Kelli — Well we’re really really stoked to see Charly Bliss live and meet them, which is what we’re gonna do on our off day between Brooklyn and Montreal. But honestly most of the towns we’re playing on this tour have something that I’m excited about. Right now we’re bringing this really amazing band Kitten Forever on tour with us and they’ve been putting on the best shows. It’s really exciting for me to have our fans come up to me and be like “You were right! These gals rock!” We’re playing our last show with them tonight in Chicago and I really pumped because the crowds are always so energetic in Chicago but also sad cus I wish they were playing all the shows!!
Artist Waves — Can we look forward to a full length Skating Polly album soon?
Peyton — We’ve been working on writing songs, and we definitely want to get back into the studio soon, but I don’t know how soon it will be for the next LP. Not too long, though!
Kelli — Oh it’s coming and I can’t wait for you all to hear how our writing has developed!
Artist Waves — Thanks for joining us and good luck on your tour.
PostScript — While I was putting this article together the news of Chris Cornell’s passing hit me like a truck. The loss was devastatingly emotional for me. Feeling without direction, I found myself coming back to this as a possible distraction from the swirling thoughts and pain. As I dived back into it I found relief in my soul that young bands like Skating Polly will carry the torch into the next generation.
I’m confident we’ll be hearing a lot more from Skating Polly over the coming years.
For more on Skating Polly and Tour Information Please Visit — http://www.skatingpolly.com
While there, grab the Etched Vinyl version of “New Trick”
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Photography by — Michael Young
See ya on the road — — Safe Travels!
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