eatside events presents:

Skating Polly


  • Date: Tue 15 Oct 2024
  • Venue: Cluny 2
  • Advance tickets: £14
  • Doors: 7:30pm

Over the past decade, few artists have embodied the unbridled freedom of punk like Skating Polly. Formed when stepsisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse were just nine and 13, the Oklahoma-bred band have channeled their chameleonic musicality into a sound they call “ugly-pop,” unruly and subversive and wildly melodic. With Kelli’s brother Kurtis Mayo joining on drums in 2017, they’ve also built a close-knit community of fans while earning the admiration of their musical forebears, a feat that’s found them collaborating with icons like X’s Exene Cervenka and Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson, touring with Babes In Toyland, and starring as the subject of a feature-length documentary. On their double album Chaos County Line, Skating Polly reach a whole new level of self-possession, ultimately sharing their most expansive and emotionally powerful work to date.

The follow-up to 2018’s The Make It All Show, Chaos County Line finds Skating Polly working again with Brad Wood, the acclaimed producer behind indie-rock classics like Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. As their songs journey from art-punk to noise-rock to piano-driven power-pop, the band matches that musical complexity with a sharply honed narrative voice that manifests in countless forms (ultravivid poetry, diary-like confession, fearlessly detailed storytelling, etc.). Not only the outcome of their constant growth as songwriters, Chaos County Line’s scope and depth has much to do with Skating Polly’s newly heightened clarity of vision. “All these songs are the most special to me of anything I’ve ever written, and I think Kelli feels the same,” says Peyton. “In the past I didn’t always write with a clear purpose, but this time I knew exactly what I wanted to say. We both ended up writing about the most difficult emotional experiences we’ve ever been through, and instead of being terrified of saying exactly what I was feeling it just all came out so naturally.”

Whether they’re opening up about matters internal (identity, disassociation, unhealthy coping mechanisms) or external (obsession, deception, gaslighting), Skating Polly imbue that outpouring with an unfettered emotional truth, often inhabiting a whirlwind of moods in one single track. On songs like Chaos County Line’s frenetic lead single “Hickey King,” Kelli and Peyton trade off vocals as they share their distinct perspectives on closely related experiences—in this case, the minefield of power dynamics in sex and relationships. Beginning on a stripped-back and heavy-hearted verse written by Peyton on the two-hour drive home from a massively disappointing date, “Hickey King” soon bursts into a sublime frenzy as Kelli immediately flips the script (“I want to commend you/This red bruise ain’t going away/My hickey king of little league/Tiny trophy with your fake name”). “In Peyton’s verse she’s talking about never knowing how far to go or how much of yourself to give to someone, and when my part comes crashing in it’s about guys being possessive and always trying to leave their mark on you,” Kelli says. “To me it’s the most Skating Polly song on the record, because it’s all these different energies happening at once.”

One of Chaos County Line’s most emotionally raw yet extravagantly composed tracks, “Tiger At The Drugstore” unfolds in a lavish arrangement of bright piano lines, lush organ melodies, and Beatles-esque horns. “It’s about putting all this pressure on yourself to act grown-up and pretend like everything is okay in your life,” says Peyton. “Writing it was so therapeutic for me, and we ended up using Kelli’s poetry and journal entries to finish it—including this one line that hit me so hard: ‘Cruising with the pirates/Booze and fighting/Til they cut me in half/And my mad-scientist-psychiatrist is sewing me back.’ It felt like she’d crawled inside my head and expressed everything I was feeling, which made the song that much more special.” Meanwhile, on “I’m Sorry For Always Apologizing,” Skating Polly deliver a bouncy piece of bubblegum-punk in which Kelli calls herself out on certain messy behavior. “I was madly in love with someone and broke his heart repeatedly and kept apologizing for it, but then did the same thing all over again,” she says. “The song is like another layer of apology, and it’s got one of my favorite lyrics on the record: ‘I’m sorry for noticing your innocence and using it to boost my self-esteem/I’m sorry that your kindhearted nature had a lousy forest fire take its trees.’” And on “Double Decker,” Peyton examines her own possibly self- sabotaging patterns, magnifying the song’s mood of confusion with a dizzying guitar solo and breakneck vocal performance. “It’s about how sometimes when I’m talking to someone and they show that they like me, I’ll start pulling away even though they’ve done nothing wrong,” she says. “It’s really annoying and I’ve definitely regretted it, but I think a lot of people can relate.”

Opening on the off-kilter whimsy of “Baby On My Birthday,” Chaos County Line also offers up moments of unabashed fun on tracks like “Rabbit Food”: a pure rush of punk delirium spotlighting Kelli’s gift for infusing so much psychodrama into her vocal work. “We originally wrote that for a superhero movie that didn’t get made, and in the breakdown they’d said how the song should have attitude—which just made me want to make fun of the idea of earnestly trying to be a bad-ass,” says Kelli. “At first I thought I’d rewrite it but then I realized it’s perfectly ugly-pop to sing these lyrics that aren’t all that emotionally dense, as long as the performance is unhinged enough.” With its tracklist ranging from the aching piano balladry of “Someone Like A Friend” to the fantastically deranged horror-pop of “Man Out There” (featuring guest vocals from David Yow of The Jesus Lizard), Chaos County Line closes out with the heart-melting sing-along of “Party House.” “I recorded that song at home with our parents, our grandma, our little cousin, and Kurt’s girlfriend all singing backup,” explains Kelli, who wrote “Party House” when she was 11. “It’s such a heavy album and Brad had the idea of adding a song with some campfire levity to it, and I love how it ends the record on this wholesome family moment. There’s a lot of power in having a kick-ass family and really owning it—they’re the ones who got me through everything I was writing about.”

Over the course of its 18 kaleidoscopic tracks, Chaos County Line embraces the kind of combustible emotionality that comes from fully uncompromised self-expression. “I think on this record Kelli and Peyton were really confident in being more honest and more experimental at the same time, whereas in the past they might’ve made the lyrics more poetic in order to cloak that honesty a bit,” Kurtis points out. And as their songs shift from devastating to exhilarating to gloriously cathartic, Skating Polly hope to provide the same sense of solace and release they found in creating the album. “I love all kinds of art, but music always goes deeper; it hits you right in the gut and lets you know you’re not alone in whatever you’re feeling,” says Peyton. “I’ve had people tell me we’ve helped them get through a breakup or an abusive relationship or the death of someone they loved, and all these other heavy obstacles everyone goes through,” Kelli adds. “I feel like I’m not necessarily the best person to draw a map on how to live the happiest life, but I like the idea that our songs can make other people’s lives better in some way. I want our music to be like armor.”

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