Skating Polly with Mike Watt + The Missing Men and Feel Spectres
8 p.m. Wednesday
8911 N. Western
The duo recently signed a manager and found a booking agent, and a record deal looks to be inked in the very near future. It’s been opening for increasingly bigger bands, most recently a two-night stand in Tulsa and Houston with beloved indie act Band of Horses.
But when Skating Polly stepped onstage each of those nights, the crowd reacted a little differently than it would to any other opener.
Skating Polly is just as practiced and professional as any other band that could have filled that slot, with more than a few impossibly catchy tunes in their repertoire.
But when Cain’s Ballroom and the House of Blues cleared out, it was the opener on everyone’s minds. That’s simply what happens when a duo whose members are just 12 and 17 years old rock just as hard as the headliner.
X marks the spot
Metro crowds have held a soft spot in their hearts for Kelli Mayo, 12, and Peyton Bighorse, 17, since they first started performing in late 2009.
Those earliest shows were filled with precocious energy, raw talent and charming covers of artists as unexpected as M.I.A. and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. There were hiccups, missed chords, awkward silences and restarted songs, but they were markedly better each time you heard them — the sort of learning curve you enjoy when you aren’t even legally allowed to drive.With tons of shows and hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of practice, the two have grown from an adorable punk-rock duo to a formidable one capable of stealing the show from an act as accomplished as Band of Horses; punk icon Mike Watt, for whom they open tonight at The Conservatory; and noise darlings Deerhoof, with whom they play Saturday in Dallas.
“Shows are so much more different now. We had mess-ups here and there, because we were so little. We’ve always taken it seriously, but now it’s more intense,” Mayo said. “The pressure is on. We’ve got our act together.”
They’ve found their latest mentor in Exene Cervenka, whose seminal punk band, X, was formed more than two decades before Mayo was even born.
Big-time fans of X, Mayo and Bighorse introduced themselves after Cervenka performed at The Conservatory, telling her that they were in a band and handing off a CD to her — a simple act that left a big impression.
“She told us we brightened her day,” Suitor said.
Soon after, Cervenka offered to produce their sophomore release, Lost Wonderfuls; of course, they accepted, recording the album with her last Christmas at Harris’ Hook Echo Sound studio in Norman.
“For that album, we were really inspired by X, of course, and working with Exene was a dream come true,” Mayo said. “She’s a real artist. She’s legendary … a god. Every memory she had, we wanted it. We held her down and asked her questions between song takes. I think she got a kick out of that.”
Bighorse, “She really inspired us to get into the music and be true to
ourselves. It’s all about the music, not about money or fame. It’s been
really great meeting people who tell you it’s not about anything but the
Not greasy kids’ stuff
Skating Polly encountered its first bit of label trouble when a deal with the imprint initially enlisted to release Lost Wonderfuls fell through (although it appears another is picking the album up with a release date somewhere in the vicinity of South by Southwest), but instead of locking themselves in their bedrooms and crying like the average teen girl, the two worked instead, writing and recording a third album, as-yet-untitled and full of piano ballads inspired by Fiona Apple and the like.
Even with just a short amount of time between each record, the differences are immense.“It’s weird to listen to [2010’s debut, Taking Over the World]. It’s like, ‘Is that really us?’ We sound so young,” Bighorse said. “I still like it, but it’s a lot different from what we do now. Our songs are so much more advanced and complex than those are.”
Said Mayo of the progression, “I like hearing that we’ve improved. You can clearly hear it. There’s always things you want to change, but we liked it at the time. If we thought it was good enough to put on an album, then it must be.”
From punk rock to piano pop, finding a musical identity is difficult, especially when you are in the process of doing the same for yourself.
“It’s hard to choose what to play,” Mayo said. “We like so many different types, and at our age and experience, we just kind of want to experiment with it all.”
The girls have plenty of time to do just that … a lifetime, it would seem.
“I love school, but this is our dream and a real goal,” Mayo said. “This isn’t just a lemonade stand. This is something we are going to be doing forever.”
The pair hopes people are seeing that commitment and quality will translate to being not a good gimmick, but instead, just a good band.
“I’ve never wanted to be a novelty, and I hope that wears off. I know we get attention because we are young, but we want to do this until we die,” Mayo said. “We’re not fake. We write serious songs.”
They demand to be taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean Mayo and Bighorse aren’t enjoying themselves. You’d be hard-pressed to catch them not smiling, onstage or off. They relish every moment and every chance encounter. When they hear their songs on The Spy’s airwaves, they smile as big and wide as they did the first time.
And nothing points to that attitude going away.
You see, lots of teenagers dream of being rock stars; Skating Polly is living it.
“We have fun. We’re not depressed little kids; we’re happy,” Mayo said. “And we are really happy getting to do this.”
Photos by Doug Schwarz