Not Just Another Girl Band: The Pony Up Interview
Four friends formed the band Pony Up! on New Year’s Eve, 2002, with a secret band handshake: Lisa J. Smith (bass), Sarah Moundroukas (guitar, vocals), Lindsay Wills (drums), and Lindsay’s little sister, Laura Elizabeth Wills (keyboards, vocals). After years on the road perfecting their craft, they released an EP in 2005, and in May 2006 followed with their first full-length album, “Make Love To The Judges With Your Eyes”. Michael Mercadante caught up with the band on a cold October night at the Starlight Ballroom in Philadelphia, PA.
CRACKERHAMMER: Do you notice any difference playing shows in the US, versus playing shows at home in Canada?
LINDSAY: We seem to play more all ages shows here in the states, and I think that makes a difference. It seems like, in Canada, we don’t really play all ages shows that much, and they really work out well for us. We’re really popular with the teen market.
CRACKERHAMMER: Where’s the next leg on this tour?
LAURA: We’re going to go all the way down to Miami. We’ll be in Florida for a while, then we’re going to Texas. And then we make our way back up.
CRACKERHAMMER: Lucky you.
LAURA: Yeah, it’ll be warm. Get some beach time in there.
CRACKERHAMMER: Do you play shows in your home town too?
LAURA: If we have to.
LINDSAY: We try to play our home town about once a month.
CRACKERHAMMER: How does the home town treat you?
LAURA: It’s getting better. We finally have a decent draw in Montreal. For some reason, we’re very big with the Francophone kids in Montreal.
CRACKERHAMMER: The what?
LAURA: The Francophone kids?
LINDSAY: The French.
CRACKERHAMMER: Okay. Why?
LAURA: I don’t know. I think it’s because they’re more open. The Anglos, the English scene, is really tight-knit, so a lot of bands will build a solid base there, and that will eventually push them out of town, but we made our career out of town straight off the bat. So, I think the English scene is a little more fussy about that kind of thing, and the Franco kids are more open.
LINDSAY: But I think also that the Franco kids are more impressed by bands that go away and come back, maybe.
LISA: Also, I think it might be because there’s a French college radio station in Montreal that’s really big, and they really love us, they pushed our album like crazy. And most of the people who listen to it are Francophones, so maybe that’s part of it.
CRACKERHAMMER: How much are you playing off the EP?
LAURA: We’ve been playing “Shut Up and Kiss Me” every once in a while. It seems like the song everyone knows. People will request it, and if we’re feeling like pleasing people, we’ll play it.
CRACKERHAMMER: How much material are you experimenting with on the road, toward a new album?
LAURA: Well, we have quite a few, maybe half an album, that we play live. But in a situation where we’re opening, we don’t really have that much time, so we won’t play many of them.
LINDSAY: Yeah, especially since most people don’t really know this album yet. So, it’s good to get them hooked onto it, so they can purchase it.
LAURA: Yeah, so when they buy it, they’re like, “Oh, this song’s on here!”.
CRACKERHAMMER: How do you deal with this label of “girl group”? Is it a curse or a blessing?
LINDSAY: We definitely get a negative reaction from some people. More at home than away.
LAURA: It’s definitely an issue, it’s always an issue, whether it’s positive or negative.
LINDSAY: Some people respond really well to it. I get a lot of girls coming up to me after shows saying, “Wow, it’s really nice to see a bunch of girls in a band.” It’s rare, and they like it. But it’s a double-edged sword. The reason why we get a lot of attention is because people say, “Oh, all girls, that’s different.” And also it’s people saying, “Oh, all girls, they must not know what they’re doing.”
LAURA: Or, “all-girl” means we fit into a subgenre, which we don’t necessarily. In a musical sense at least. We get comparisons to other girl bands that we probably don’t sound much like. But those comparisons seem to be pretty much inevitable.
CRACKERHAMMER: When you were just starting to think about music, who were your rock icons? Who was the first person you were exposed to that made you think, “That’s rock and roll”?
LAURA: My first impression of rock and roll came from our parents, who were hippies. So there was a lot of classic rock around.
LISA: Well, and your parents were in a band.
LAURA: Yeah, watching my mom on stage. But I don’t crimp my hair.
LISA: But it was funny, because even when I’d come over to your house to hang out, and then they’d be like, “See you, girls. We’re going out to play a gig.” And she’d be all dressed up in her gig clothes.
CRACKERHAMMER: What band were your parents in?
LAURA: They were in a cover band. They’d play on the weekends in local bars, and they used to take us to their shows when we were really little. We’d sit out in the van watching this little TV on battery power while they played their show. So, yeah, I remember running around venues a lot when I was a little kid.
LINDSAY: It’s funny, I remember watching sound checks and thinking, “Man, this is sweet!”
LAURA: Our brother used to curl up in the bass drum and fall asleep.
CRACKERHAMMER: What about you guys?
SARAH: I think when I was a teenager, I was really into bands like L7 and Hole, you know? Really into “women who rock”, even though it’s such a cliché. And I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was thinking that I wanted to be like them. Even though I would have been way too shy back then to even seriously consider it.
CRACKERHAMMER: How did you overcome your shyness? What was that first live show like?
SARAH: I played at the back of the stage. Back then I wasn’t singing all that much, I had maybe two songs, and I was really hesitant to play either of them.
LAURA: But through our love and support, we kind of forced you in a way. You’d say, “I don’t want to play this song”, and we’d say, “No, play it. It’s a really great song”.
LISA: And also, you’d have your guitar down so quiet that we couldn’t hear you. You’d say, “If I play really quietly, they can’t hear my mistakes.”
LAURA: And we’d say, “Yeah, but they can’t hear the parts you’re playing right, either.”
SARAH: Yeah, I think after five years, that every year I just learned a little bit better how to open up and be comfortable and confident. And, at first we were five, right? And so there were two other vocalists, Laura and the other girl. So, when that changed, it kind of opened the door for me to take up a bit more space. At that point, I think I was ready for it. I wanted it. I had wanted it since I was a teenager, so it was just a matter of waiting for the right moment.
CRACKERHAMMER: Back to you.
LISA: Well, when I got my first bass, I was sixteen. Instead of taking lessons, since I didn’t have any money, I just listened to the easiest records I could play along with, which were Bikini Kill records. And I just loved how they didn’t know what they were doing musically, they sucked, but they were so good. They wrote such powerful, awesome, catchy songs that I loved, and I could play them, right off the bat. I could figure them out, my first try on bass. I thought, “I can play this fucking song! If they could be in a band, I could be in a band!”
LINDSAY: I remember that was kind of the idea, initially. Like, we haven’t really mastered these instruments yet, so we’re going to have to get really good at songwriting, because that’s mental, and we can do that.
LAURA: We’re clever.
LINDSAY: Yeah, if you can conceptualize a song that you’re capable of playing, and it’s good enough, then it will rock.
LISA: Yeah, and if these other people can make records and play shows, go on tour, it just seemed like watching and admiring bands like that made it seem really possible to do. It wasn’t the training and the background, it was the spirit and the desire that seemed to matter.
CRACKERHAMMER: How’s your relationship with [label] Dim Mak going?
LAURA: It’s good. They’re far away. And they don’t generally have a lot of bands like us, so it’s not like it’s a little community or anything. They’re our label, they’re good people.
LISA: It’s fun that they’re in L.A., because they bring us out there.
CRACKERHAMMER: What’s the most interesting place you’ve played so far?
LAURA: Swananoah’s up there. It’s a college town in North Carolina, in the mountains just outside Asheville. The place we played was a community college, where kids would go and work in exchange for their education. Like plant crops. A co-op college. It was so cool, and those kids were totally up for a party when we got there. From the first beat of the first song, they were just freaking out, and having their own little party around us. We were actually scared. We were on the floor, there was no stage, and I remember thinking, “Wow, somebody’s gonna get hurt here, I hope it’s not me.” But after we played, they took us to this crazy party in a field, with a bonfire, called “The Bubba”. They made us walk in the dark with flashlights through fields, and we got there, and it was wild. It was a great experience.
CRACKERHAMMER: And what was the worst show? You ever play a show, and it goes so badly, for whatever reason, that you just start to think, “Maybe it’s not so bad having a day job”?
LAURA: Yeah, there was one show where I wanted to walk off the stage. I was at South By Southwest, and it was really hot. It was the middle of the day, and there was bad sound and a half-hearted audience. And I thought, “I don’t know if I want to be here. Make it stop!” But that was the only one where I felt, while I was playing, that I really just wanted to walk off stage.
LISA: Yeah, usually it’s the show itself that makes the day. The day might be really shitty, we’ll get lost, we have no money, terrible things happen. And then we play the show, and think, “Okay, it’s alright now. This makes it all better.”
LINDSAY: Like, the other day, we were in Boston, and there were only about eight people there. But they were there to see us, and they were excited. When I first got on stage, I thought, “Man, this is gonna suck, there’s nobody here.” But they were so excited and responsive that I thought, “Well, we’ve gotta play a good show for them.”
LAURA: I remember there was a conversation at the beginning, that was like, “What would have to happen for you to stop playing?” We discussed peeing your pants onstage, would that make you stop playing? And I remember talking about something else.
LISA: Someone throwing a tomato, and it hits you in the face.
CRACKERHAMMER: But none of those things have happened.
LAURA: No, there haven’t been any throwing-your-guitar-down-and-stomping-out days. I know I sound wistful, but I don’t actually wish that would happen.
CRACKERHAMMER: Are you wearing purple lipstick, or are you cold?
LINDSAY: You look cold.
LISA: No, because I noticed that with Sarah. I think it’s just the light.
CRACKERHAMMER: Yeah, your lips look cold too.
SARAH: I am a little bit cold, though.
CRACKERHAMMER: What advice would you give someone who wanted to start a new band?
LAURA: I would say that it’s good to not set your sights too far ahead of yourself. Just enjoy what you’re doing, day to day, and don’t get too caught up in other bands, and where they’re heading or what they’re doing, or how far along in your career you want to get. I would also say, don’t do anything half-assed. If you have an idea, don’t do it half-assed. If you do anything half-assed, everyone’s gonna know. It’s better to do something stupid full-assed.
SARAH: It’s true, because commitment is appealing to watch. If someone really gives their all, it’s good to see.
LINDSAY: Oh, it’s also good to remember to treat performing in front of people as a privilege, and not a right. Just remember that you get to do something really awesome, and you’re getting to connect to people. Even if it’s only for five people.
CRACKERHAMMER: What does the future hold for Pony Up?
LAURA: Touring, more touring.
LISA: Lots and lots of touring.
LAURA: And then work on a new album.
CRACKERHAMMER: What’s your grand vision?
LAURA: Our vision never gets that grand.
LINDSAY: Yeah, it’s just like Laura said. We take Laura’s advice.
LAURA: Yeah, we want to get home and write, and then we want to get back out on the road, and then we want to record, and then we want to put out a really awesome album, and then we want to get on the road again.
LINDSAY: We just want to keep doing what we’re doing. Writing songs, recording songs, and playing songs. And we hope that the audiences keep getting bigger. It’s more fun to play for large audiences, but also it’s the hope that we can quit our day jobs, because that’s hard. That’s the thing that makes me want to quit sometimes. It’s a lot of work to have to do both, and, obviously, playing in a band is way better than pretty much any other job. That’s our most tangible goal, I think, is to support ourselves.
CRACKERHAMMER: Do you get the chance to write while you’re on tour?
LAURA: No. We travel around in a mini-van, so there’s not a lot of space. You can’t really pull out a guitar and start a sing-a-long or anything. The only people I know that can write anything on tour are on tour buses, and basically they’re just writing melodies in their bunks.
LISA: We used to do some vocal jams and stuff, but the car air is so dry, it really fucks with your voice, and we fucked our voices up, made ourselves sick. So, we don’t do that anymore.
CRACKERHAMMER: What do you like listening to in the car while you’re on the road?
LAURA: We listen to a lot of CD’s we pick up on the road, like other bands will give us their CD’s, and we’ll try them out.
LISA: Yeah, and there are certain albums we savor as a group, like Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” and Liz Phair’s “Exile From Guyville”. We put those on, we get pretty happy.
LAURA: Yeah, the ones where you can’t help singing along.
LISA: Yeah, bad for your voice, be damned.
Listen to “Shut Up And Kiss Me”.
|This entry was posted by Michael Mercadante on November 24, 2009 at 4:50 PM, and is filed under Interviews, Music. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|
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