No Tricks, Just Treats in Skating Polly's Goodie Bag

Skating Polly
Skating Polly Photo by Nick Sayers, courtesy of Stunt Company

Skating Polly, whose self-dubbed “ugly pop” blend of indie pop and riot grrrl punk has attracted some heavy hitters in those genres, began its musical quest as the house band for a Halloween party. Its co-front women and step-sisters Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo were 14 and nine years-old, respectively, at the time.

“It was our own Halloween party that we were throwing. Me and Peyton, I mean, we’d played the instruments at our house and stuff before, but we kind of just spontaneously played these songs for a bunch of people who were at the party, just friends and other people who were going to school with us,” said Mayo. “It was kind of on that night that we were like, ‘Hey, we could really do this, why aren’t we in a real band, why don’t we play real shows?  Let’s do it.’”

And so, they did. Starting young gave the sisters time to develop their sound. They share duties on several instruments, often alternating between them mid-set. They added their brother, Kurtis, on drums to flesh out the songs. When they headline Rudyard’s this Thursday, they’ll showcase songs from The Make It All Show, last year’s LP, which earned kudos from NPR and Noisey, among others. The album, Skating Polly’s fifth studio album, has gotten major airplay from indie and college radio and drawn more fans to its dynamic live sets.

So, yes, a lot has happened since that Halloween party, including a move to Tacoma, Washington from Oklahoma City, where the band formed. It’s understandable that Mayo can’t recall if she and Bighorse were costumed like their favorite band at that long-ago Halloween party.

“Oh shit, no, I doubt we dressed up like a band. I think we were probably just in Halloween costumes. Me and Peyton love Halloween and dressing up and God, I don’t remember what we were, though. Maybe something scary? I remember the playlist that night better. We had all this Babes in Toyland and Jesus Lizard on the playlist," she said.

Mayo's fellow grade schoolers may have been disappointed to not hear Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga covers that night, but the awaiting music world certainly benefited from the sisters’ interest in early punk and alternative music, an interest that was stoked by their parents’ diverse music collection. They were introduced to acts like Neutral Milk Hotel, Kimya Dawson and all manner of 1970s punk. They found their own favorites, which influenced their own brand, which in turn attracted key fans from bands they loved for a full 360, people like X’s Exene Cervenka and Nina Gordon and Louise Post from Veruca Salt. Those artists all wound up working with Skating Polly.

The band’s interest in growing its sound doesn’t stop with working with icons who came before them, though. Mayo said they’re eager to team with their contemporaries, too

“I mean, there’s a lot of people I’d wanna work with. We’re always finding new bands that we become pretty obsessed with and lately we’ve been lucky enough that when we find a cool band, if they’re smaller and stuff, they’ll wanna open for us or we’ll just get in contact with each other and we keep up with each other. It’s been really cool. We’ve been really fortunate like that.

“We got to open for Charly Bliss not that long after finding their music and falling in love with it,” she said. “We really like this band Monsterwatch, we really do love them, they’re our opening band for this tour. There’s this band in England called She Makes War that I became really obsessed with and I began talking to them.”

“It’s been cool having a bunch of legends and people being really supportive and bringing us up, it gives us some credentials going into things, but it also makes some truly great bonds and makes us want to seek out bands ourselves and try to give them more exposure if we can from whatever platform we have.”

Although the band is based from the Pacific Northwest now, it might be more accurate to call the road home. It has been known to pencil in hundreds of shows a year, from smaller venues to appearances at major music festivals like Riot Fest and Bumbershoot. In July, they’ll play California’s Warped Tour Anniversary show. We wonder how a trio of siblings is able to maintain such a grueling pace without turning on one another? Mayo admits Skating Polly has fits and frustrations like any other band, but those moments are rare.

click to enlarge L-R: Kurtis and Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse - PHOTO BY MICHAEL HAIGHT, COURTESY OF STUNT COMPANY
L-R: Kurtis and Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse
Photo by Michael Haight, courtesy of Stunt Company

“I wish there was some magic secret for it, I think a big part of it is just we are all really close friends. People are always telling me, ‘How are you in a band with your siblings? How are you so close to your siblings?’ I’m beginning to realize how unique it is to be as close as we are as siblings. Not to toot our own horn, but I’ve met a lot of people who aren’t best friends with their siblings and I’ve grown up with my older sister, who’s five years older than me. That’s a big age gap and she’s always been my best friend since like the first time that I met her.

“We all have tiffs and stuff like that, but there’s a lot of respect there," she said, a respect built in part by making and consuming art. “So much of our friendship is built on kind of showing each other cool, exciting things.”

As they trek toward Houston, and knowing their Oklahoma roots, we ask Mayo if there’s anything particularly punk about these neighboring states. After all, she's now rubbed elbows with some of the genre's greats and lives on the west coast, where the music maintains a high profile.

“I think there are some things that are inherently punk about being part of the Midwestern south, you know, like the way we curse, I think it’s very unique. I think the twang is actually kind of punk rock in its own way. And I think kind of the rebellion against a lot of the red state and Bible Belt stuff, it can be pretty aggressive down there.”

“I think we have really dope thrift stores. I think that’s pretty fucking punk rock because all the big cities overcharge everything at the thrift stores because they know the college kids are just coming and finding the good stuff,” she surmised. “We have really good Tex-Mex, which I think is very punk rock. And we were just talking about this but nowhere else, I think maybe in Texas, too but they definitely do it in Oklahoma, they give you free queso with your food at a Mexican restaurant. You would never see that in California, it’s way too punk rock.”

Skating Polly, Thursday, April, 25 2019 at Rudyard’s, 2010 Waugh. With Monsterwatch and Quinn The Brain. Doors at 7 p.m., 21+, $10.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.