ADD Surf Rock? Jazzercise Punk? Joy-Thrash? Baltimore's Ponytail creates music that is hard to define but pure fun to experience. The foursome constructs beautiful, churning waves of melody that simultaneously evoke the technical proficiency and experimental vocals of jazz, and the aggressive and independent spirit of punk.
(Clockwise from top: Jeremy, Molly, Dustin, Ken)
Their new album, Ice Cream Spiritual, sees the band adding to its high-energy approach with new sounds and multiple-movement song structures. The four members passed the phone as I spoke to them while they travelled to New York for a concert. An excerpt of that discussion after the jump.
-Dave, host of WYEP Afterhours: Monday
WYEP: You all met at the Maryland Institute - was music at all part of your education or was it a hobby in addition to what you were studying?
Dustin (guitar): Well the class we took together - we knew that it was going to be a band thing - we were going to get formed into a band. But we didn't know who was going to be in which band. Of course, we love music. We all listen to music and we're all big fans of music.
WYEP: So Ponytail actually came out of a class you signed up for?
WYEP: Wow. What was the syllabus like?
Dustin: The syllabus? I can't really remember it from the top of my head, but it was you form a band and you work on one art project. That's pretty much what the whole class was. Every week the professor would show a film. He showed Gimme Shelter, The Piano Teacher.
[Asking the others] What were some of the...what were some of the -
Unidentified Ponytail Member: -Nashville
Dustin: -Nashville was another one. Just like stuff that really kind of...you get a vibe of what music is about.
WYEP: That sounds like a really interesting experience.
Dustin: Yeah it was really great.
WYEP: How many kids were in the class?
Dustin: There were probably thirty-five kids.
WYEP: Were you randomly assigned or did you play pieces and audition and then the professor put you together?
Dustin: Oh no no, there was no audition. It was just the professor pointing at each...he'd be like 'You're a hot girl, and you're a hot girl...'
Dustin: 'You're a band!'
WYEP: It was a first day, just pairing people up and sending them on their way?
Dustin: Well the first week he didn't form the bands, he Just kind of explained what the class was about and he let us out early. And then the second week - it's really funny actually - we were all sitting in a circle. It was a large classroom and each student was kind of in the circle and the professor was direct in the middle, [turning] 360s and observing the students. And then he would pick people out.
WYEP: So I guess it was in part based on your social interaction and what he saw happening.
Dustin: Yeah. He would kind of feel out each person's vibe and then put them together.
WYEP: That's a really cool idea.
Dustin: I think it's just fun to be in his spot, you know? I'd love to do that.
WYEP: Did you start playing shows right out of that class or was it a long time before you got to that point?
Dustin: No no, we practiced once a week until the end of the semester which was where all the bands would come together. We had a big party - it was called Parapalooza - and all the bands would play the songs they'd written in the course of the semester. It's just a good time, and we were just practicing up to that point and it was really fun. We wanted to continue.
WYEP: What was the initial reaction for Ponytail in Baltimore? Was it intimidating coming through [art crew/performance space] Wham City?
Dustin: I was really nervous when we played our first shows, but there wasn't any sort of pressure, I don't think. Everybody was really supportive and we love being supported.
WYEP: Were there certain bands that were really helpful as far as when you were starting out and playing your first shows?
Dustin: Yeah, yeah. Double Dagger, whose a band from Baltimore invited us to play a show. Dan Deacon has been super helpful. It's great.
WYEP: How was it starting out in Baltimore?
Molly (vocals): Everybody is extremely supportive of each other and really wanted something to happen. And it did.
WYEP: How has your family reacted to Ponytail so far?
Molly: My family's really into it actually. My family is so so supportive. My sister actually is super into it. She made me a scrap book of all our early reviews.
WYEP: That's awesome.
Molly: It's really sweet. Even my grandparents came to our show in Phoenix. My grandpa's ninety now.
Molly: Yeah! [laughs]
WYEP: That's effort.
Molly: Yeah - it's pretty amazing. So I'm really lucky.
WYEP: Your vocals are not usually word sounds, and you have song titles that are sometimes made up of punctuation. Do you think there's a benefit to be a little harder to understand?
Molly: I think we're interested in that - in not being able to fully understand. I don't know if we fully understand, really. [laughs]
WYEP: Do your songs change much show to show because of that?
Molly: The feeling of doing it, from show to show, changes a lot. The songs themselves have been pretty stagnant, staying the same. But of course they change slightly - I guess I improv some every time.
WYEP: Do you consider your music rebellious compared to what else is out there and what you grew up listening to?
Molly; There's an element of rebellion, I think. We're reacting to what we're surrounded by and what we grew up with. We're all a little rebellious. Also, at this point, we just really want to make something we're interested in more than just something different. It's not all rebellion, but it is an element.
WYEP: How aware of you of Pop culture? Is what's happening in the rest of the world ever a direct source of inspiration for song writing?
Molly: Definitely. I think we've been referencing elements of Pop culture since we began. With the Beatles drum line at the beginning of the song - [asking others] which song is it again? It's -
Unidentified Ponytail Member: - "Dear God" [Ponytail song "Dear God Plz Make My 2Eyes N2 One"]
Molly: "Dear God." Beginning of...no no no, beginning of which Beatles song?
Unidentified Ponytail Member: Oh, oh. "The End." [The Abbey Road song]
Molly: Yeah! "The End." The beginning of "The End." That was the beginning of the end! [laughs] I think we're definitely interested in referencing Pop culture. We've always been aware of what we might sound like or what we might be taking from and we're sort of excited about that. You can only go so far with it, but we're excited about that.
WYEP: Ken, you were recently part of a Stereogum feature called Quit Your Day Job. You talked about how you're currently a security guard at the Maryland Institute. Have there been moments where you had to commit to the band, where you realized 'This is definitely what I want to do, I'm going to turn down this other job' or 'I'm going to turn down this grad school opportunity'?
Ken (guitar): This week I worked my last shift, I think, as a security guard for that job because we're going to be away for so long.
Ken: Oh thanks. It's the easiest Job. Ever. It was great for - it was easy to pick up shifts and stuff but it just didn't pay very well. It was good to have that kind of Job, but I don't know if I want to do it during the school year. As far as turning down opportunities, I think you fantasize about stuff - going places and doing things. But the reality of the situation is that we've gotten so many opportunities by doing the band that it's been more like seizing opportunities than missing out on opportunities. Getting to travel and meet lots of people and play great shows - just being humbled by opportunities like recording. People listening to our records is an awesome opportunity in itself.
WYEP: You guys definitely do play great shows. It's a really interactive show - I don't think I've seen too many shows where the audience moves as much, if not more, than the band. Are there things that you guys try to create live that make that kind of connection?
Ken: The air around a show is always different, and it's unpredictable, but there's always an opportunity for it to get really fun. When it's fun, we feel like we're channeling something, to be honest. I don't know how that sounds, but when I'm playing I just close my eyes and stick my tongue out and play. [laughs] It seems like in some places, kids have definitely been bringing the mosh and kicking up some dust. It's cool. I feel like it comes with the territory of what we play and we're excited so it's a compliment when the audience is excited to.
WYEP: It's really rare to have songs that are as high energy and as complex as your songs are, so I don't know if people even know how to react to that.
Ken: [laughs] Thanks! We stayed at a house last night. Our friend, his dad [owner of the house], is an audiophile and has a really good sound system. We were like 'Let's listen to one of our songs on it' and we listened to it and afterwards I was like 'That was intense!' So I know how you feel.
WYEP: When you recorded Ice Cream Spiritual, was there a lot of overdubbing or was it mostly live, all four in a room?
Ken: Mostly live. There were overdubs; they were mainly to add flavors in with panning. There's a few things we probably could have done live, but we wanted to make some spaces and panning and stuff. I don't know if I want to say almost all of it, but every song was recorded live and there were overdubs added on. We met with J. [Robbins, producer] before we recorded and talked a lot, setting up the room in a way that we could really do it live. I think it sounds pretty live.
WYEP: It definitely does. Speaking of J., how were you approached to do the Callum benefit?
Ken: We got an email about it recently. It was unanimous that we wanted to do it. We love J. and working with him was incredible. It was the least we could do.
WYEP: It's been really cool to see people react in such a direct way. Even people who aren't associated with the concerts, who aren't playing on the bills are still linking to the website and still saying 'This is really important, this kid deserves a chance and if you can do anything, try to help out.'
Ken: After meeting J...he's Just one of the humblest and hardest working people I've ever met. I think just the person that he is - we all owe J. Robbins. If you ever met him, he's a great guy.
WYEP: What do you think makes a live show good? When do you know it's been a good concert?
Jeremy (drums): I love it when the crowd is having a really good time - it definitely reflects and bounces back to us. But usually, we can kind of create our own space on stage, or if we're on the floor, on the floor. If the connection is good between us, it's usually a good show for me.
WYEP: Between the four of you?
Jeremy: Yeah, between the four of us. I always feel really good, even if there's three people a show and they don't like us - which luckily hasn't happened - if we all feel good about the way we played.
WYEP: When do you know when a song is done, as far as song writing goes?
Jeremy: Usually what happens is it takes a while just in practice to flesh out all the ideas and get a basic structure together. And then, once it feels pretty good, we'll kind of play it, try it out live. That's usually a really good indicator if it's working. Actually last night, we tried out something during sound-check that Just felt wayyy off, but felt really good when we were writing it.
WYEP: This is probably my last question, and definitely my most important. You guys have had really great spots as far as an opening band for Hella, and Battles, and Don Caballero and High Places. Would you rather open for GWAR or Fleetwood Mac?
Jeremy: GWAR or Fleetwood Mac? Oh Fleetwood Mac, for sure!
WYEP: What do the other three think?
Jeremy: [Poses the question to the other three] Fleetwood Mac. Unanimous.
WYEP: Completely unanimous?
Jeremy: Yeah. We're huge Fleetwood Mac fans.
The Dodo's are a band that is getting alot of critical praise this year for their release "Visiter". It's totally deserved. They're a duo from the San Francisco bay area, made up of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, who seem to enjoy harmonies, percussion, and rock n' roll with their folk music. That's at least what I keep reading, and it's all true. I would just add that like most good music, it holds elements of a lot more than that. I'm not going to join the superlative bandwagon on this one. I'll just say I find it highly enjoyable.
Long is apparently rather interested in the West African style of percussion know as Ewe drumming. It's very rhythmic, and you can hear this throughout their music. Pounding drums mixed in with Longs finger picking, that reminds you almost of bluegrass at times, makes for a rather unique sound.
I had a chance to see them this past spring at the Garfield Artworks, and their just as good live. They were playing as a trio that night, with the third member adding more percussion to the mix (xylophone, trash cans, toy pianos, etc.). It created a sound in the small venue that pounded against your chest, while the great melodies stuck in your head.
If I had to pick the best album of 2008 right now, so far, this would be it. You can hear them on my show from time to time. Tuesday evenings from 8pm-12am.
-Andy, Tuesday Evening Mix
As the sun was setting over Burgettstown, John Mayer and his seven-piece band (including sax and trumpet) entered the dark pavilion stage to perform a two-hour show.
The fans at the John Mayer concerts seem to be getting younger. Or, maybe, I’m just getting older. The young ladies in the crowd were screaming loudly how much they loved John - I’m sure I will regain my hearing soon. We have family in town from CT, and my 17-year-old nephew (who will be seeing John in his home state of CT) seemed impressed that I not only knew who John Mayer was, but that I was attending my 3rd John Mayer concert. Maybe old Aunt Barb is more hip than he originally thought.
The fans seemed to know every word of every song that John sang. I just hope they are getting the message too. John’s lyrics are quite sophisticated for someone who will be turning 31 in October. In the 2 years since I’ve last seen John live, he has matured as a performer, but there’s still some polishing left to do. The pregnant pauses in between songs could be a bit shorter. Yes I realize they’re changing guitars and setting up for the next song, but it breaks up the “Continuum” of the show. In 2007, John was named one of the “New Guitar Gods” and nicknamed “Slowhand, Jr.”, and he showed why he deserved that honor during his 16-song set. Nice additions to the band were sax and trumpet players. The lighting on stage was also very effective.
One of the songs I was hoping to hear was “Free Fallin”, which John sang and gave credit to Mr. Tom Petty (do the young fans even know who Tom Petty is?). I was also thrilled to hear the new release “Say”, which really comes to life live. Another highlight was “Stitched Up”. It was a very nice touch for John to sign someone's program before leaving the stage, prior to the encore.
During the show, John did not talk to the audience much, but he made up for it during the encore. The Grammy Award winner shared insights about the final three songs. On John’s website, the fans are invited to “pick the encore” song they would like John to sing. The top vote getter for Burgettstown was “Man On the Side” (for the record, I voted for “Stop This Train”). At first, it seemed that John didn’t remember how the song went (noting it was the 2nd song he wrote) and then proceeded to tell a story about meeting a girl in the Berklee College of Music cafeteria in Boston and how she stood him up.
Check out the set list here. http://www.johnmayer.com/tour/show/454
Perfect August weather, made it an even more perfect night for the music of John Mayer live.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
There's a free download of The Duhks "Mighty Storm" available on their label's website. Their new CD, "Fast Paced World", is being released on August 19th.
The Duhks will be in town in September!
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
For all you Steve Winwood fans, here's a link to a free download of his latest single "I'm Not Drowning" from his new cd Nine Lives.
Hopefully we'll be able to provide more of these in the future.
Sometimes you discover a song in the most unlikeliest of places – a figure skating exhibition.
Such was the case for me when I heard “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. It was a #1 hit in the UK for Baz Luhrmann in 1999. Yes, you could cast a vote for it as one of WYEP’s Top 100 Songs of the 90s.
This lyric has quite a history. The Sunscreen Speech goes back to a 1997 column in a Chicago newspaper. A commencement address that never took place, but perhaps should have. The essay actually called "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" was written by Mary Schmich and was popularized in music by Baz Luhrmann. Mr. Luhrmann added the opening words to the song: "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '99".
The song just recently re-entered the UK Singles Chart.
Lines like this continue to hold true today:
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
I would urge that when thinking of the best songs of the 90's for our current poll that you give a nod to the tragically under-appreciated songwriting talents of Brad Nowell and his group Sublime.
I'm not going to vote on this poll because I would simply be copying the tracklist of 40 oz. To Freedom, or that of Sublime.
I realize that for a thousand artists the 90's were a prolific period. You had your Smashing Pumpkins, your Pearl Jams, your Rage Against the Machines, your Faith No Mores, your REMs, your DMBs, your Black Crowes, your Nirvanas, your Ugly Kid Joes (haha no..... okay, maybe I loved them ), your Flaming Lips, your Portisheads, your Bob Dylans (Time out of Mind), your Eric Claptons ("Tears in Heaven" - hate on that song and we're no longer friends), your Princes (link not entirely related), your White Stripes, and so on all cranking out gems, but looking back, nothing is more "Nineties" to me than Sublime.
I'm sure it has something to do with turning fourteen and all of a sudden hearing a song about a hooker on the radio, but something about their self-titled disc jumped out and grabbed me. I didn't get into Sublime until after Brad Nowell (lead-singer/songwriter/guitarist) passed away from a heroin overdose. Their fame, in fact, skyrocketed with the posthumous release of Sublime just two months after the incident. Hearing "Wrong Way" and "What I Got" naturally led to their back-catalog, two albums that did not disappoint. Instead they opened up a world of other music to me. I grew up on classic rock - the Rolling Stones, Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. That's all I ever really wanted out of life: some girls, the hammer of the gods, and to not go batcrap crazy but still have my pudding.
From Sublime you get to the Grateful Dead, you get to Bad Brains, you get to Bob Marley. I cannot stress enough how mind-blowing that synthesis of influences was for me. That's like traveling in three different directions at once. And all of it couched in stories of the streets written with a keener eye and quicker rhyme than any of Nowell's contemporaries could offer. Brad Nowell was a musical genius. He infused his music with an all-pervading sprituality and generosity of insight. It's unfortunate that because of his band's skate-punk tendencies they don't get any respect. You have to look past the fact that he was, at times, a dirtball and a junkie to see that Bradley was a journalist and poet and Southern Californian prophet. A definite inspiration.
I would recommend that you give a listen to the following tracks before our poll ends:
Don't Push - 40 oz. to Freedom
Badfish - 40 oz. to Freedom
40 oz. to Freedom - 40 oz. to Freedom
Pool Shark - Robbin' Da Hood
Greatest Hits - Robbin' Da Hood
STP - Robbin' Da Hood
Boss D.J. - Robbin' Da Hood
What I Got - Sublime
April 29th, 1992 - Sublime
Under My Voodoo - Sublime
Santeria - Sublime
Pawnshop - Sublime
You will be glad that you did. You can't leave Sublime out of the 90's equation.
PS - I made a great Sublime mix cd if you're interested in going a little deeper into the band's catalog.
Surgeon General's Warning: There is some explicit language on all of Sublime's records.
Pavement had received alot of critical praise for their release "Slanted and Enchanted" in 1992. It's still a great release, but Pavement would become more focused and sharper with the sophomore release, "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain".
Once again, growing up in the 90's, I remember hearing it first when I saw the video. It was on MTV's "120 Minutes". The video featured the band going into a barber shop and one by one getting their haricut. Crazy things happen as each member steps up. One seems to turn into a gorilla as he sits down, while another starts drinking the blue liquid that the combs are stored in. Someone else sneezes out a kitten, and Stephen Malkmus, the leader of the band, has a crown put on him. It was goofy and fit the band perfectly. The song just makes me feel great every time I hear it to this day. It's just one of those songs that makes you smile.
Pavement put out three more full lengths, and Stephen Malkmus has had a successful solo and fantasy baseball career. It all started for me, though, with this song.
-Andy , Tuesday Evening Mix
The High Places button on my iPod is starting to fail from regular use. High Places are an electronic boy-girl duo from Brooklyn - I know that's fairly well-worn territory, but don't let that set you off. Mary Pearson and Rob Barber experiment with offbeat production techniques, blending layers of tape-saturated tribal glyphs into blankets of sparse, danceable sound. The lyrics are usually fairly innocuous -- apologies to endangered species, love letters to Martians, stories of how cars existed before humans found them.
Where can you hear more? I play High Places regularly on my show (every other Wednesday night / Thursday morning from midnight to 4 a.m.); Thrill Jockey just released a collection of their singles, called 03/07 - 09/07; and they're coming to town -- September 16 at Brillobox. Their full-length album is due out September 23.
Overnight Mix Host
I love the summer edition of the Olympic Games. Granted, it’s lost some of the luster of the Cold War days when you would root for the U.S. team to bury the Commies and curse those evil East German judges for bringing down the scores. Now, the only thing to root against is any event that includes the word “synchronized,” which apparently translates universally to “beer run.” We are indeed one world.
But here we are in Beijing, and the Cold War/Bamboo Curtain days are gone in the Olympics, particularly as it relates to the music blaring during the events. Watching the men’s beach volleyball competition I was struck by the snippets of music that played in the venues after each point. Very Western, to say the least. There was “Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet; “Song No. 2” by Blur; “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones. It felt very American, almost like being at a Steelers game minus the annoying “Here We Go.”
It also got me to thinking (and to the alleged point of this post) of how much power the person choosing the music could have on the psyche of the competitors. Imagine the heckling possibilities of Elvis Costello’s “The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes,” if after a spiker drills one in the net, he hears “I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.” Or Beck’s “Loser.” Picture Madness’ Suggs shouting “One Step Beyond” to rattle a gymnast who doesn’t stick the dismount.
Music could also help with the healing process. Billy Bragg could sing, “We’re both going to have to accept that this might be as good as it gets” (from “Rule Nor Reason”). It could implore, thanks to Joe Jackson and “Look Sharp!” And it could remind sprinters of how hard they’ve trained to get to this competition, thanks to the Clash’s “Police on My Back” and its chorus of “been running Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” And imagine the power of surf music or the soundtrack to those classic NFL Films videos (combined with the voice of John Facenda). World records would fall faster than ice melting on a hot Beijing sidewalk.
Even the more genteel events like the gymnastic floor exercises could get a boost with songs like James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” or Paul Weller’s “You Do Something to Me.” One thing is for certain, though. There isn’t a song on earth that could save any of the synchronized events…although Fear’s “More Beer” might be appropriate.
--Chris Fletcher, Friday Evening Mix Host