A lot of laughter, peanut-butter pretzels, and discussions about Big Black went into their collaborative EP, New Trick.
By Louise Post | May 5, 2017
About a year ago, my friend Brian Liesegang texted me out of the blue about this band he was working with called Skating Polly. He’d just had a conversation with Skating Polly’s then-15-year-old member Kelli Mayo about guitar pedals and feedback, which made him think of me. He was impressed by Skating Polly’s songwriting and their integrity, especially at their respective ages (Kelli is now 17, and her stepsister and bandmate Peyton Bighorse is 21). He said they were crazy talented, and that I had to listen to them.
I’m always interested when Brian gets excited about something. He produced Resolver, Veruca Salt’s third record. While making it, we dissected and delighted in our favorite songs by Led Zeppelin, Sparklehorse, Brian Eno, U2, Soundgarden, and hundreds of others, and Brian challenged me to go deep and emotionally heavy in the recording—to be as authentically myself as possible. Musically, he knows me better than anybody.
So I listened. I went straight to Skating Polly’s video for “Ugly.” It was fantastic, like a lost Nirvana song—an outtake from Bleach with a teenage female Kurt with braces fronting the band and Meg White on drums. Discovering the songs “Blue Obvious,” “A Little Late,” and “Kick” showed me Skating Polly’s songwriting was dynamic and sincere. They seemed to be drawing from Veruca Salt’s own musical influences—the Pixies, the Breeders, Velvet Underground, Throwing Muses, and Belly (…and possibly even from us ourselves).
Listening to Skating Polly’s 2016 LP The Big Fit, I instantly wished I had written “Nothing More than a Body.” I loved how the two members switched instruments and lead vocals, and that they were both killer behind the kit. They had charisma to burn, and my respect for them was deepening. On the lyrically beautiful, lilting, and bombastic “Across the Caves,” I heard the passion in Peyton’s voice emerging, and I could feel them growing as songwriters and people. They seemed mature beyond their years. They were a force to be reckoned with.
Last February, our record label guy, Matt, asked my bandmate Nina [Gordon] and me if we would be interested in writing with Kelli and Peyton, who were coming down to L.A. from Seattle. We said yes. I don’t know whose idea it was in the first place, but after meeting Peyton and Kelli for dinner at the Beachwood Cafe in Hollywood, we jumped into the studio together and started writing a song. Nina and I liked Peyton and Kelli right away. They were kind, deferential, and humble, while self-possessed and confident. We were set up with an engineer who recorded us as we wrote, to get ideas down as we came up with them. This felt a little premature, as we didn’t yet know who we were together. But we plugged in our instruments and pressed record, and a few days later walked out of the Hobby Shop in Highland Park with a half-baked demo of “Hail Mary,” blossoming friendships, and the desire to get back together and do it for real.
Soon after that first meeting with the girls, I dreamed a song for them. I literally woke up, rolled over, and sang the bass line and melody into my phone. (It’s so great when you dream a song and can record it before it slips away and is gone forever.) My first thought was, This is a Skating Polly song, and I imagined Kelli singing the melody. It felt destined to be a collaboration between us.
Last July, Kelli and Peyton came back to L.A., and we devoted a week to writing and recording the EP that became New Trick. We met in Nina’s living room, lounging on couches with acoustic guitars and throwing around ideas. Peyton pulled out this gorgeous acoustic verse of “Charlie,” which got everyone excited to work on the chorus, and Nina quickly came up with a Pixies-esque chord progression that made us all smile. I left early that day, and by the next morning, they had written this charmer of a chorus, which included the lyrics “louder in outer space,” the eventual name of the song. And when I played the raw demo of the song I’d dreamed for the girls, they loved it and agreed to work on it—that became “Black Sky.”
Nina and I got to know Skating Polly better over a lot of laughter, peanut-butter pretzels, discussions about Big Black, Throwing Muses and Thin Lizzy, and geek-outs over favorite bands: the Muffs, Red Red Meat, Liz Phair, Slint, and Young Marble Giants. Peyton is often deep in a book, but she’s always got one ear peeled, and Kelli likes to sit in the captain’s chair…and pace. They are sweet, savvy and, frankly, delightful. And Brian was right—they are the real deal. They know their shit. Both are multi-instrumentalists, skilled musicians, and discerning songwriters. They’re students and prolific artists, ever-open and ready to work, whether it’s on their latest song or painting, or designing and making art for the new basement bedroom they share.
What struck me was how much Kelli and Peyton felt like peers, straight out of the gate. They were gracious and diplomatic when it came to exchanging ideas—all were equal and up for discussion. Nina and I didn’t have to tread lightly or edit our feelings; nor did they. They have ready access to their raw emotions and write strictly and solely from that place, but no one held on too tightly to any one thought, as precious as it may have felt to them. We all listened and made creative decisions democratically. If it got hairy, we voted.
Even though we were still finishing the songs when we went into the studio, the process of recording New Trick was very fluid and easy, yet efficient. I knew that with Brad Wood at the helm, it would get done right. He produced Veruca Salt’s first album, American Thighs, back when we lived in Chicago, and our latest album, Ghost Notes, right here in the Valley—he’s family to us. I trusted him to make the guitars and drums as heavy and tasteful and as huge as they needed to be, and I wanted Kelli and Peyton to be able to experience working with such a kick-ass producer. (I didn’t have to twist any arms; they were amped.) Kelli and Peyton weren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and get dirty in the studio—or to drive across town in L.A. traffic twice a day to record. Many nights, they were up at all hours honing lyrics. They are tenacious—they will see the thing through, whatever it is, as they did this EP.
Nina and I found kindred spirits in Skating Polly. We respect them immensely as songwriters and also feel somewhat protective of them, as we would younger sisters. (So don’t fuck with them, or we’ll have to kill you.) I loved our honest, clunky process, and I love the final recordings. New Trick is a combination of four individual artistic expressions and the melding thereof. It is also a combination of two generations of songwriters and of women, who, despite our age difference, manage to have so much in common.