Chicago quartet The Ponys are the purveyors of a brand of rock ‘n’ roll that is both instantly engaging yet difficult to pin down using traditional pigeonhole-centric categorisation.
Since releasing their debut album, Laced With Romance, in 2004, the band – that’s Jered Gummere (vocals/guitar), Melissa Elias (bass), Nathan Jerde (drums) and Brian Case (guitar) – have been steadily building a sizeable stack of positive press; their second LP, Celebration Castle, earned enough critical praise to attract the attentions of famous indie label Matador, who signed the band up for their third album, the soon-to-be-released Turn The Lights Out.
A heavier record than its preceding pair, both of which were released via the excellent In The Red records, Turn The Lights Out combines a degree of production glossiness with a rawness that can’t be pinned down using conventional critical methods – it’s a record that bubbles and fizzes with melody, but it also crackles and hums like only the finest punk-rock records around. It’s a toughie: The Ponys are a punk band one minute, and an indie outfit the next. They’re not sporting baggy pants and neat side-partings, and nor do they have a DJ breakdown come the middle-eight. They’re, put simply, a great rock band without a bracket to put around them. Although, that’s a good thing, right?
Certainly the band think so as DiS sits with them in a quiet hotel on Gloucester Road, London; it’s the afternoon before the band’s first gig of three in the capital – they’ll return to the UK in May for a tour proper, but this flying visit allows people like DiS to check out the new material in the ideal setting: live. Click here for their upcoming dates, or check at the article’s end.
And before you head out to shake it some, DiScover The Ponys…
A fair few UK listeners will hear Turn The Lights Out as a debut, what with this being the first time you’ve had this sort of highlighting. Do you hope that people that get into the band through this LP will check out the older material?
Melissa: I dunno. I hope so, ‘cause it’d be nice if more people could listen to those records, too… for many reasons!
Jered: And then we’d pick up the royalty cheques!
Brian: Those records are cool, and they show the trajectory of the band, too…
There’s a slightly meatier sound on Turn The Lights Out than on Celebration Castle…
Brian: Yeah, that record was a bit thinner. We got to spend a lot more time recording this time.
Melissa: There’s much better production this time. Steve Albini (Celebration Castle producer) really captures the raw sound of people, but…
Jered: … But he’s quite set in his ways.
And do you think this record captures the rawness of the live experience?
Melissa: I do. I really love the production on this record.
Jered: Me too. It sounds kinda live, but it’s also a little polished. There’s a little polish on it that we couldn’t achieve live.
Nathan: We recorded this record all together, in the same room, so there’s that live feel. I’ve played in a separate room on Celebration Castle.
Jered: Yeah, for Celebration Castle he was in this other room, so we could only see him through a plate-glass door. It’s kinda strange, ‘cause we write all together and then he’s on the other side of this door.
Melissa: I thought it was weird. I had to listen a lot more carefully, and you don’t feel it as much.
How did the band move to Matador?
Jered: I think it started when our booking agent was at a baseball game, and he mentioned that we were looking for a label and it started from there.
So were you able to leave In The Red completely amicably?
Melissa: We had a verbal agreement with them, to do the second album with them, but then we felt we had to move on. We were doing everything ourselves – we were self-managed – and we felt we needed a little more support.
Was it weird letting go of some of the responsibility?
Jered: It’s strange when someone calls and tells me something’s been done now! There’s no more, ‘What’s going on with this?’
And do you feel like you’ve made a significant step upwards?
Brian: We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t moved to Matador. We wouldn’t be doing this. Things are taken care of now, the little things that can make a difference.
Melissa: I feel like there’s more control now, yeah… And it was really exciting to be approached by Matador.
Jered: We completed the other talks, but our minds were pretty much made up.
Metro this morning referred to you as “thunderous garage rock”, while the press release that accompanies the new LP calls you “sexy and exuberant”… what are your thoughts on those descriptions?
Melissa: (they’re all laughing) I’ll take the last one!
Are things like this a by-product of the fact that it’s hard to really pigeonhole the band’s sound? It does seem so timeless, and stripped of any standout stylistic factors, beyond the guitars of course…
Brian: I think it’s good. I don’t know anyone who just listens to one kind of music. We all have different touchstones, and we’re all bringing these different influences to the band.
Jered: We’re nearing 30-years-old, and we’ve been listening to music all our lives. So if our music sounded the same as a lot of other stuff I’d feel pretty dumb.
And you’ve said already that the albums exhibit a certain trajectory – are you already thinking about album number four?
Jered: Not really. These songs are still fresh because we took a lot of time off after the recording. We haven’t toured the record yet, so I’m still excited. After I’ve played the songs 150 times, then I might be bored! These three dates are just the beginning, as we’ve got lots of shows lined up.
So are you coming back here to play cities that aren’t London?
Jered: We’ll be back in May, and we’re playing in June too.
So everything’s mapped out for you across the next few months?
Brian: It’s getting there. We’re booked up ‘til June now, so by the time we come back we’ll be probably sorted through ‘til the fall.
Jered: We’ll have a few weeks to pay the rent… on gloried storage spaces that we never see.
Brian: But it’s nice to know this is all upcoming, as this is how we support ourselves. I dunno, we’ll see how it goes…
Catch The Ponys in London this week at the following shows:
20 London Barfly
22 London Legion (Sonic Cathedral plus Headlights and Troubles)
23 London Boston Arms