Interview: Skating Polly

Having supported the legendary Babes In Toyland last year, wowed crowds in the UK earlier this year, released four albums, and now touring the US with Deerhoof, stepsister duo Skating Polly deliver intense, raucous offerings filled with raw, honest emotion and riotous energy.

With latest album The Big Fit being met with success, Skating Polly are one of the most exciting bands I’ve come across in a long time – going against the grain, standing out from the crowd and simply delivering great music.

I caught up with the duo to find out more about how they’ve developed their sound over the years, their love of Neutral Milk Hotel and the term ‘Ugly Pop’…

Hey Peyton and Kelli, where are you and what are you up to today?
Peyton: We are on tour with Deerhoof right now, but it’s a day off so we are at a friends house in Eugene, OR just hanging out! 

As I’m sure is always pointed out (though I know Everett True “doesn’t give a shit” about your age!), you’re still very young to already have four albums under your belt! How did you first start writing songs?
P: Kelli had written melodies all her life and I had really bad poems I thought were songs in the third or fourth grade, but we started writing actual songs pretty much as soon as we started Skating Polly. We had so many instruments around the house, so when we had nothing to do we would fumble around on those and come up with what turned out to be our first album! 

After quite a few years of writing and making music, how would you say your latest album  The Big Fit differs from earlier material?
P: It’s a lot more complex, and I think it’s even noticeable from our last album, Fuzz Steilacoom to this one. Every time we start working on a new song we try to think of something we haven’t done before to change it up a little bit and make it more interesting for ourselves. And one huge difference is the drums. Kliph Scurlock, who is anamazing drummer, produced The Big Fit and he pushed us beyond our drum limits. He helped us become more confident musicians and showed things we never even thought of up to that point, things we didn’t think we were capable of doing. 

Being stepsisters, how do you think spending so much time working together affects your relationship?
P: We spend nearly 100% of our time together and when we are apart for too long we get something that’s almost like separation anxiety. And we love working together!

Last year you supported the legendary Babes In Toyland on their European Tour. Besides that ‘Dave Grohl Incident’ (Kelli Mayo dislocated her knee), how was it playing with such a legendary band?
Kelli: Touring with Babes in Toyland was the absolute best experience. We already loved them as much as we thought possible, but after touring with them, and getting to know them, and seeing them play every night, we were proven wrong. They are one of the most amazing live bands, and some of the nicest people. 

You’ve described your track ‘Oddie Moore’ as being like “Throwing my journals out for anyone to read”, and I love its raw emotion and honesty. Does most of what you write come from such a deep, personal place?
P: Nearly every song is extremely personal, but most of the time, it’s personal in a way we won’t understand at the time of writing it, which is where I’m at with Oddie Moore, at the moment. I think any time you create something, and work hard on it, and put all you’ve got into it, it’s going to be really personal. That’s just sort of how it turns out because making art is just expressing yourself, so if you are extremely honest with it, I don’t see how it cannot be personal.

Aside from personal experiences, what/or who are you main influences?
P: My two biggest influences are Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel. The first Elliott song I heard was ‘Waltz #2’ and the first NMH song I heard was ‘King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1’, and with both songs I first had to hear them on repeat hundreds of times, then I had to hear every other song they’d ever written. And then I probably had to cry for a bit. I also fell in love with Perfume Genius after I first listened to the album Learning. It’s one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard. I really think he’s one of the few new artists that will still be relevant 50 years from now. 
K: Bands: Breeders, Fiona Apple, Babes in Toyland, Nina Nastasia, the first three Liz Phair records, X. Albums: Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson, Star by Belly, Limbo by Throwing Muses, Brace The Wave by Lou Barlow, The Who Sell Out by The Who, Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, The Greatest Gift by Scratch Acid, Experimental Jet Set by Sonic Youth, Elephant by The White Stripes, Stoner Witch by The Melvins, After The Gold Rush by Neil Young, Dummy by Portishead, Dig Me Out by Sleater Kinney, Cyrk II by Cate Le Bon, Remember That I Love You by Kimya Dawson, Tomorrow in Progress by Tyson Meade, and a new influence but definitely a strong one: The Magic by Deerhoof.

Being two young women in band, and delivering such empowering sentiment through your songs, how do you feel about often being pigeon-holed into the somewhat reinvented ‘Riot Grrrl’ category?
P: We definitely don’t think of ourselves as Riot Grrl, and being pigeon-holed into that or grunge or punk is what prompted us to come up with our own term, ‘Ugly Pop’.
K: What bugs me a lot more than that is being put in the girl band genre and having our “related artists” on streaming services have no resemblance to us other than being female vocalists. I think we sound more like a lot of the guy bands that are around right now, but we don’t really get thought of in the same vain.

It’s hard to pick my favourite tracks of yours, as they’re all so awesome, but I think mine would have to be ‘Ugly’ and ‘For The View’. Do you have a particular favourite that is especially special or that you enjoy playing the most?
P: My favorite changes all the time, but I think I’d have to say ‘Stop Digging’. I think it’s such a strong song, but it’s also really beautiful underneath the loudness. Kelli always seems to be able to write really kickass songs with melodies that are totally heartbreaking if you take away everything else, and ‘Stop Digging’, in my opinion, is the best example of her ability to do that. 

I recently saw you play at the Lock Tavern in London (you completely blew me away – it was one of the most exciting gigs I’ve been to in a long time! Here’s my review), where Kate Nash was in the crowd moshing away, which was great to see. How do you know Kate?
K: We went on tour with her across America in 2013 and we got really close to her. She’s one of our best friends now and no matter how long we go without seeing each other, when we are in the same room we can just fall right back into it. 

If you could support any bands or artists, past or present, who would you choose and why?
P: We’ve gotten super lucky to actually support lots of bands that we’ve dreamt of playing with, such as Babes in Toyland, L7, we opened for Fred and Toody Cole a few years ago, and now we are supporting Deerhoof, another one of the greatest live bands to exist. I would obviously love to support Neutral Milk Hotel if they end up playing anymore shows. We’d love to tour with Veruca Salt, too. We love their music and we love them as people. We’ve been working with them in the studio a bit this year, and we love hanging out with them. It would be wonderful to see them every night. 
K: I think a lot of the punk bands around now like FIDLAR, Screaming Females, SWMRS, Pissed Jeans and The Orwells would be a really great match and make for a really fun high energy tour, that’s kind of been my tour fantasy lately. The Breeders is one of the first bands that came to mind for me, I’m so obsessed with their record Title TK. But out of any band ever though… I don’t know, Nirvana probably. 

You’ve described yourselves as “Ugly pop – pop music that has been dragged on the back of a horse through dirt and shit and everything disgusting.” If you could sum up your sound in three words, what would they be?
K: ‘Ugly Pop’ is the term we came up with to define our music! It’s only two words, so the third can be ‘uncontained’. We love all sorts of music, and because of that we write all sorts of music, and that’s where ‘Ugly Pop’ came from. It doesn’t have to be just loud, or just pretty, it can be both or neither or anything we want it to be. And when we are playing, I feel like there is always this sense of ‘everything is about to fall apart’. 

And finally, what are your plans for the summer? Are you playing lots of festivals, or taking a bit of a break?
P: We are touring with Deerhoof right now and when we get done we are going to be spending some time in the studio with Veruca Salt. We are writing some songs together and then headed to the studio to record with Brad Wood! It is going to be so much fun! Then we are back out on the road with our great friends, and awesome band, Peg! And that’s pretty much our whole summer! 

Thanks so much for answering our questions, hope to catch you back in the UK very soon!

The Big Fit, the latest album from Skating Polly, is out now.

Artwork: Paul Dawes

Mari Lane

Mari Lane

Editor, London. Likes: Kathleen Hanna, 6Music, live music in the sunshine. Dislikes: Sexism, pineapples, the misuse of apostrophes.