Punk rock trio Skating Polly began as a duo in 2009 with sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse in Oklahoma at the ages of 9 and 14. They released their debut album Taking Over The World in 2011 which garnered the attention of punk icon Excene Cervenka of the band X. Over the years, they have continued to rise in the punk rock scene and releasing records Lost Wonderfuls in 2013 produced by Cervenka and Fuzz Steliacoom in 2014 produced by Calvin John of Beat Happening. In 2016, The Big Fit was released which lead to a writing session with Louise Post and Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt resulting in 2017’s EP New Trick.
Cover Photo by Angel Ceballos
With the addition of Kurtis Mayo on drums, the trio released The Make It All Show in May of this year produced by Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Sunny Day Real Estate). From their bio: “We have a really great rapport with Brad and this was definitely my favorite experience making a record so far,” says Bighorse. “Brad always knew how to capture the right tone because he understood the overall feeling we were going for.” Kelli agrees saying, “The record wouldn’t be what it is without Brad. He’d set something up and be like “this might work” and it would be perfect.”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0PaV2cQZJLbjYjnZRoYq2f?si=9lUWWqRLRn2JroqzvzP1ww
The band has performed at Bumbershoot, Riot Fest, and The Capitol Hill Block Party (just to mention a few), toured Europe supporting Babes In Toyland, and recently performed with X’s 40th Anniversary Tour.
Guitar Girl Magazine recently spoke with Kelli to learn more about the band, their new music video “Free Will At Ease,” and their upcoming U.S. tour.
Tell me about your beginnings as a band.
We just grew up in a family that really appreciated the arts and was really into music. My dad was in a couple of bands when he was in high school, so I have always had instruments. I just really loved singing when I was in fifth grade, that was my favorite past time – just like walking around the border of the playground singing to myself. Then Peyton decided at one point that she was going to officially up and start a band. She wanted to do it with a bunch of people she was in high school with, and I convinced her to do it with me instead – her 9-year-old sister. When I wrote the first song, I was like, “See? I promise I’ll be hardworking.” (laughs) I learned the drums and my weird two-string bass so that I could write songs and help Peyton with her songs that she wrote.
So, it started out as just you two with drums and bass is that correct?
Yes. Well, it started out with me playing this two-string bass that my dad made for me because I used to complain about guitar and about how it hurt my fingers. I didn’t think I could do the chords, and I really wanted to play bass when I was little, but it was always too long for me and heavy on my back. So, first, we made a Bassitar, which is what the guy from Presidents of The United States of America plays and the band Morphine. It has two bass strings tuned to G sharp and C sharp on a guitar body, and then I ended up kind of making it my own and putting it on a short scale bass and adding an E string to the top.
Peyton for her songs that she wrote, she was just writing on guitar. She knew the basic chords C-D-G and E, I think, and power chords, and that was enough to write songs with. We had a keyboard, so we wrote on that, too. We had a couple of keyboard songs, but I don’t think we broke that out till the second record.
How old were you when you released your first record?
I was 10. We’ve been playing almost nine years now and our anniversary is coming up this Halloween.
You recently released your fifth studio album; you have obviously gained a lot more life and musical experience during these nine years. How do you feel you have progressed during this time?
I guess like the obvious ways are the songs have just become more complicated, there are more parts to them, and then every single record there was a leap in songwriting – not just in the melodies or the catchiness or technical capabilities, but also the content of the lyrics. I felt like every record got a little bit more vulnerable and the lyrics were less abstract and cryptic. On our first record, I was just kind of writing songs that were a story that I made up, and they weren’t really some story of my own. I’d be making up stuff, just kind of abstract songs. Then sometimes I’ve written songs where I didn’t really think it was about much of anything other than like the surface level story. Later I found a connection to it like I think I was actually writing about this. Lately, it’s been like every time I write a song, I have the surface level story and then the story of my own that it’s connected to, like this is what it translates to for Kelli’s world and Kelli’s memories, so I think it’s been different for sure.
Tell me about the story behind the video “Free Will At Ease”?
So, Peyton had her first really serious boyfriend at the time. At first, we liked him, and we were all excited. Then as we got to know him, he just started being rude in public and making up stupid tall tales. Whenever he’d get caught in a lie, he’d be like “I was just joking” and we were like “were you planning on telling us you were just joking?” It got dark; we didn’t even touch on all of that. He’s way more than just a man baby – like a master manipulator. When Peyton first brought the song to us, Kurtis and I really hated her boyfriend at that point. It was kind of this love song to him, and the lyrics weren’t really solid yet. We didn’t agree on this person at all, but we could agree where the song should go. So instead of writing about him, we were writing about this scary independence of not having your parents control you, and not have your parents be able to say you can’t date so and so, or tell you when you have to come home, and there is a scary independence. Because you’re deciding what’s cool for the first time and all these different things, there’s this uneasiness with this new-found freedom, and that’s what we kind of made this song about at the time.
When we made the video, we tried doing this complete other concept that was just more about age, and it didn’t work. Then we were like “well, we could make it about Peyton’s boyfriend even though he’s a narcissist.” We made the whole thing about the giant man-baby because then he’d never be able to own up to that it was about him.
Would you say then that you take a feminist stance with your music?
You have a lot of punk influences, and you’ve worked with some very important people in the punk scene. For example, Exene of the band X produced your second album; how did that meeting come about?
We met her at her solo show and talked about music. She gave us her email and we just sent her a bunch of demos. There was something about that night and something about us meeting her that she believed in us, and she believed we were more than just cute little kids. She had faith in me that I was a real artist, and it gave me this real confidence like “I am a real artist, and this is my full-time job. I don’t care that I’m 11 or 12.”
So, X were a big influence; what other bands would you say were your biggest influences?
Personally, for me, Fiona Apple; Babes in Toyland changed my entire life for sure; when we first started, Peyton and I loved pop too like Tegan and Sara and Regina Spektor; but Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, and Dead Moon all had this thing about them. Nirvana to a certain extent, especially early Nirvana, like it was so raw and so simple, and it had this feeling of like it would fall apart at any moment – it was kind of messy and that was very tangible – and I felt like I could do that. It taught me this lesson that passion is way more important in music than technicality or capability.
Have you noticed any differences in the way you are treated as a woman in the industry?
When we first started, I didn’t notice any bias because we were young girls and that’s all anyone wanted to ask us about is that we were young girls and that’s still like a lot of what people want to ask me about. I was only seeing these positive aspects from it. I mean that it kind of annoyed me because I was like “well, I hope you like me because of my music too, and not just because I’m a girl.” I know there is a lot of prejudice, but I hadn’t really felt it yet because I think it helped us. I wasn’t really noticing it. But when we would go to a music store and I would bring my bass that I made, that I do play at successful shows and toured around the world with, and they’d say “well this just doesn’t work, this can’t work.” The people at music stores were telling me “I can’t do this thing, I can’t do that,” and sound guys were lecturing me on how a pedal works and acting like I have never had a sound check before. The guys in opening bands saying really condescending things to me and thinking that it’s okay I guess because they’re cooler than me because I need their blessing.
This is a sad one, but some fans also trying to push their boundaries all the time. I used to be when we started, and I think I still probably am, very open and friendly and just thankful and excited about every single fan. I gave them all this room and view and space in my life and the actual personal Kelli. I didn’t have any walls, and people felt like they could like kind of walk all over me. They creep on you and they just act like you’re not going to stand up for yourself. It’s weird, and it’s scary being a young girl in a band. I’m scared to put up walls with fans because I don’t want them to dislike me because I really appreciate them, but then I was like I’m just giving them too much space. I’m letting them say mean things to me after my shows and just kind of swallowing the little criticisms. So, recently I decided I have to put up walls because some people push the boundaries with women especially.
You’re about to embark on a US headline tour of the West Coast. What are your favorite cities to play in the U.S.?
Obviously, all the big cities are exciting. L.A. is amazing; New York is amazing; Chicago is the coolest. As far as big cities go, Chicago is my favorite place to play, I think, for the fans. They just go really wild. They don’t care about looking cool; they move around and jump around. It’s awesome. As far as smaller cities, I love Minneapolis as that’s where Babes in Toyland originated, and I get to hang with them whenever we play there. Of course, I love Seattle, and I love Phoenix, too.
And I would just like to add that we’re really stoked to be bringing the support band on tour with us again – they’re called Potty Mouth. They write really good, poppy rock songs, and they’re just catchy and sugary and heavy and I love it and I can’t wait for their new record! They sent me the secret SoundCloud link to it, and we are so excited to tour with them again, they are good friends also.
Catch Skating Polly on their West Coast tour at the following cities:
11/30/18: The Shakedown, Bellingham, WA
12/01/18: Lanalou’s, Vancouver, BC
12/02/18: McMenamin’s Mission Theatre, Portland, OR
12/06/18: The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz, CA
12/07/18: Moroccan Lounge, Los Angeles, CA
12/08/18: Garden Grove Ampitheater, Garden Grove, CA
12/09/18: Space, San Diego, CA
12/12/18: The Rebel Lounge, Phoenix, AZ
12/16/18: Sunset Tavern, Seattle, WA
Photos from Bumbershoot 2018 by Kirk Stauffer