Who is the real Skating Polly? Hannah Golightly catches up with the band on their UK tour supporting Babes In Toyland to find out…
6pm 26 May 2015
I arrive at the venue and find the stage door. I’m greeted by Babes In Toyland’s PR woman who goes to inform the band of my arrival. I tell her she has the coolest job in the world. Moments later Peyton opens the door, resplendent and tatty-beautiful in a long white lace dress and tiny spectacles with ornamental chains attached. She hugs me quickly, points upstairs and tells me to wait in the dressing room on the second floor. She runs off to soundcheck. I pass Kat Bjelland on the stairs and before I know it’s her, I do my best to get out of the way so she can get past. I smile at her and later kick myself for not saying hello. It happened so fast. But least I didn’t scream… I get to Skating Polly’s dressing room and chat to Kelli’s brother* about his band and to Peyton’s mum* about gender politics and Native Americans while we wait for the energetic duo to enter the room. Meeting Kelli and Peyton is like meeting old friends. They are so warm and welcoming. They tell me they love my hair (which is messy and unkempt), I tell them I love theirs and we swap stories about how long it’s been since we brushed it. Peyton hasn’t brushed hers since before they got to the UK. Kelli’s has started to dread at the back. They both like my dress. We all sit down and I pass my camera to Henry Mortensen and we start the interview:
HG: “Hi I’m Hannah Golightly and I’m here with Peyton and Kelli from Skating Polly who is my new favourite band, in London at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, just before their gig tonight.” [Turns to Peyton and Kelli.] “How are you doing?” Kelli Mayo: “Good, yeah. A little bit hoarse but…” Peyton Bighorse: “Good.” HG: “You’re on tour with Babes in Toyland right now, how did that come about?” K: “Um, a couple of years ago we invited Lori to one of our shows and she came…” HG: “She came!” K: “…and she kept coming to our shows and then, yeah, and she told Kat about us and a couple of months ago I got a call and it was from Kat Bjelland and she was like ‘What are you doing this summer?’ and I was like: ‘Anything with you!” [Laughs] ‘I love you!’ and yeah, she was like ‘Can you get a passport?’ and I was like ‘Of course! Of course!’” HG: “Amazing! So, they asked you! That’s a huge compliment.” [P and K nod] K: “Yeah.” HG: “I’m not surprised, because you’re my new favourite band, so…” K: “Well they’re my favourite band, so…” HG: “Um, I was just gonna say that bands like Babes In Toyland, Hole, L7 and the Breeders are the reason that I started making the music I make. Er, do you think it’s important for women like us to see other women making rock music?” K: “Yeah, I think it can be… I think it can be really powerful. To go see people. Yeah, yeah. Just other women making music and stuff… and even if it’s not like y’know, feminist music like writing about girl power, it’s still just great to like… and that’s even cooler in some ways, whenever they’re just making normal music but they happen to be girls, it’s like ‘anyone can do this’ and it’s really cool and yeah, there’s a lot of diversity in the sound and stuff because it’s like y’know ‘Girl bands. Girl bands.’ Y’know. It’s such a…” HG: “It’s not even a genre is it.” K: “Yeah, it’s not a genre. It’s not a sound.” [Laughs] HG: “I’m really excited to see obviously, Babes In Toyland tonight as well as yourselves, but also L7- I’m gonna go see them as well in June. It seems like a lot of…” [Interview is momentarily interrupted by Kelli’s brother who needs to get into the room and the camera man is blocking the door.] Kelli’s brother: “Sorry to interrupt the interview.” HG [jokingly points to the door and says]: “Photobombing the interview! Get out!” [Laughs] HG: “Yeah, lots of these amazing nineties bands are sort of touring at the moment and doing reunions.” P & K: “Yeah.” HG: “Are you going to hopefully see any of the others?” P: “I’d love to see L7” K: “Well, yeah, I’d love to see L7, um… we’re actually friends with Donita, coz her friend…” HG: “Oh wow!” K: “A little bit, a little bit. Henry introduced us to her and she came to our show last year and it was the same thing and [something] starstruck and stuff.” HG: “That’s amazing!” K: “So yeah, I’d love to see L7 live and um…” HG: “So like, who are your influences would you say?” K: “Peyton you can go first.” HG: “Do you have different influences?” P & K: “Yeah!” K: “But yeah, it’s like we all like each other’s influences but it’s like…” P: “I have like my biggest influences and I’m still influenced by her biggest influences and she’s totally influenced by my biggest influences. But they’re not the same biggest influences.” HG: “Yeah, a slightly different emphasis.” P: “My biggest influence is Neutral Milk Hotel and Elliott Smith, Perfume Genius, bands like that that are like y’know just quieter.” HG to Peyton: “Is it you who wrote the recent song ‘Nothing More Than A Body’ about Jeff from Neutral Milk Hotel?” P: “Yeah.” [Laughs.] HG: “Ah, that makes sense now.” P: “Yeah, I did… um, I cried when I met him [laughs] …for like, ever and I cried days after.” HG: “How did he react to you crying?” P: “Er… he was just like ‘Aw, it’s ok… thank you’ and then he gave me a hug. He was really nice.” HG: “That’s nice. It’s nice when your idols are nice isn’t it.” P & K: “Yeah.” HG to Kelli: “How about you?” K: “Uh yeah, well, Babes In Toyland and like Nirvana… I really like, I actually like all kinds of stuff like Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple and St Vincent – one of my big favourites and X and L7 and Sleater Kinney. [Laughs] All of those I like on a very similar level.” P: “I also like Echo Lake” K: “Did you say Perfume Genius?” [Holds out her t-shirt which is a Perfume Genius one to show us.] P: “Yes I said Perfume Genius.” HG: “Are they current? Are they happening now?” P & K: “Yes.” K: “Oh yes. They’re very cool. They’re on this label Turnstile.” P: “They’re great. Oh my God. Their first record, the first time I heard it I just like… it just kinda…” P & K: “It blew my mind!” [They both laugh and point to each other] P to Kelli: “Jinx!” HG: “It blew their minds.” [Laughs] P [Pointing to Kelli] to HG: “She’s jinxed.” [Laughs] HG: “Does that mean one of you has to thump the other?” P [Amused]: “If she talks. I mean…” HG: “Kelli…I have a question for you!” [Everyone laughs.] K: “Thank you! I’m so scared of being jinxed on this foot and she keeps doing that to me!” [Kelli play-thumps Peyton, laughing.] “Yeah, it’s funny, when she met Jeff, she cried and when I met Kat and all of them together – when they all walked through the doors and I start balling and I just remember being super nervous for the first show and like actually meeting them was like actually happening I was like ‘ok, I could make it really cool or I could fail and all this…” P: “We both always cry when we meet people.” K: “Yeah.” HG: “I have been known to scream like, I met Black Francis from the Pixies and I was very very uncool and I just went ‘Aaaaaaarrrrrggghhh’ like that. And you know… that was it. And also, I sort of technically met Courtney Love, when she er, pulled me onto the main stage at Glastonbury in ’99…” K: “She pulled you on the stage?” HG: “Yeah, and I was distracted at the time. I turned round and she reached out her hand and I screamed again and just like ‘Aaarrrgghhh!’ and she pulled me on the stage, so… um, I’m not usually able to keep my cool. But I don’t cry.” P: “I don’t know what it is about us but we just cry. All the time.” HG: “Happy tears though, right?” P & K: “Yeah.” [Laugh]
HG: “So like, you said earlier you wrote the song about Jeff?” P: “Yeah.” HG: “…and um, do you write all your songs about real life experiences or…?” P: “Um… It’s getting more like that now, like more, like more and more like that, but a lot of times it’s just, just more, not like about an experience, but just like, the feeling I guess.” HG: “Yes?” P: “And there’s one I wrote recently called Point Of View and that is about a real experience also but I think those are maybe the only two that are actually about experiences and not something I was feeling because of an experience.” HG: “Yeah. Cool. And do you have a different process to each other ’cause you… I take it that when you sing, those are your songs, ’cause you alternate don’t you. Do you have a different process?” K: “Um, no, it’s pretty similar. Like I just… if I do write about something that’s a true event and I know exactly what I’m writing about, thenI do try to make it more abstract so people can’t like get into my life.”[Laughs] HG: “I break up with someone, I announce it on Facebook, I write a song and everyone’s like ‘yeah we know who that one’s about’. I’m not like, cryptic enough. Um… what was I gonna ask you? Oh yeah: I have a theory that there are two kinds of musicians- there’s the ones who love to get on stage and they love to perform, so they write music in order to do that. And then there’s the others, who like just love creating songs and writing and they love being in the studio and they kinda force themselves to go and play live so that they can keep y’know, creating music. Which kind are you?” P: “I think I’m both.” HG: “You’re both! Jackpot.” [Laughs] P: “I love performing. I don’t like the spaces between the songs, I get really nervous.” HG: “You get nervous between the songs?” P: “Between the songs during the set, that’s… if it’s too long then I start thinking that that person hates us or that person hates us. Yeah, but when we’re playing I’m just totally into it. I also just love creating music and being in the studio. I LOVE the studio. I just love everything about making music.” HG: “Yeah, I am a big fan of making music too.” K: “I probably prefer performing. That’s such a tongue twister! Prefer performing. But I do like writing songs a lot. But in the studio is way more emotional because it’s so final.” HG: “Yeah?” K: “It’s like, this is actually the end of my song. This is the actual lyric I’m using and it’s like…” HG: “So is it like when you’re playing live, you vary the delivery of the song a little bit?” K: “Yeah, yeah. Sometimes. Sometimes when we’re playing, I’ll like, mess something up and try to save it by changing it.” [Laughs] HG: “Yeah, nerves do something strange to my memory so I sometimes sing something that’s not the definitive version.” P: “One time when I was playing ‘Nothing More Than A Body’ I forgot the lyrics completely, except for one verse…” HG: “Is it ’cause it’s a new song?” P: “I just freaked out. I don’t know what happened. I played these guitar songs and then kinda got up there and then Kelli got up there and then I flipped out because like… and restarted it and I was like ‘I don’t know the lyrics’ and started singing the third verse but I didn’t realise until it happened and then I freaked out more and couldn’t remember the second verse so I sang the third verse again. I was gonna do the first verse for the third verse but I couldn’t remember it, so I just did the third verse again.” [Kelli laughs] HG: “People do like repetition in songs. You probably got away with that quite well. Um… I actually have been known to write the lyrics of the first line of the verse on my wrist so that when I’m playing guitar I can casually look at that so… Um, oh yeah, I’m gonna tell you about my favourite Skating Polly song now which is ‘Ugly’ at the moment. But then it changes all the time. So I really love the energy of it, I love the sort of scuzziness of it – is it the bass you play that one on?” K: “Yeah.” HG: “But I love the shoutiness of it as well… but um… I also love your sweeter side like when you play that song ‘A Little Late’… I didn’t take to that at first, I’m gonna be honest. [Kelli laughs] I was like ‘No! Skating Polly, they kick ass and they’re heavy and they’re girls and I love it, it’s amazing. And then… I heard that one and I was like ‘Oh… Whatever.’ [Kelli laughs] Sorry! And then, something happened and I was like, ADDICTED to that song and I was playing it when I was in the kitchen cooking, I was playing it everywhere around my house, walking down the street and it was just stuck in my head and… Anyway, you’ve got a new album coming out… is that right?” P & K: “Yeah.” K: “I don’t know when. And I don’t know how many songs will be on it, but I’m pretty positive it’s gonna be called Nothing More Than A Body. We’ve already said it in an interview, so…” HG: “This news is round the world already.” K: “Let’s just go with it it’s Nothing More Than A Body.” HG: “Are you going to, sort of express both those sides of Skating Polly on that record? Or is going to be a new sound, or…?” K: “It’s weird, um… We have like, two albums recorded, like worth of songs. And one of them is more quiet, like piano-y and acoustic songs.” HG: “When you say you’ve got two albums worth recorded, do you mean like demos?” P & K: “No.” K: “Like studio recorded.” HG: “Do you mean like Fuzz Steillacoom? Fuzz Steillacoom? [Kelli pronounces it correctly.] I have NO idea how to pronounce that. Go again?” P: “Fuzz Steillacoom. We have two albums that aren’t released yet. We just recorded them.” HG: “Oh right! I see.” P: “We’re now working on mixing one of them.” HG: “So are you gonna release two albums or one at a time?” P & K: “I don’t know yet.” K: “I don’t know like what we’re gonna do.” HG: “Double album? I would love that!” K: “We did like… we did like a set with quieter songs, like acoustic and like piano and stuff, like prettier and then we did like more like Fuzz Steillacoom and Lost Wonderfuls a little bit, y’know louder. And there’ll still be songs like that, but then… we rerecorded a few of the songs that we had like already mixed and like recorded quieter stuff and then… I don’t know… and then I just said ‘let’s just do one of them and let’s trash all the soft stuff.’” HG: “Can I spoil the surprise of the show tonight and ask ‘have you got a piano on stage to play that song’ [‘A Little Late’.]” P & K [shake their heads.] K: “It’s really hard to lug a piano around.” P: “There’s no space in the van. And it’s just one song.” K: “It’s always just one song in the set that we wanna make on piano, ’cause it’s like, no one wants to just hear like a bunch of piano songs. Sometimes, I can get away with two, but if I try to do three it’s always pushing it. And they’re like [shouts] ‘Whut? Sucks! Shit girl band.’ But yeah, at a lot of our shows, we don’t really bring a keyboard, but if they were longer and we had longer. If we can make it work, we will.” HG: “Interesting. So that might happen in the future then?” K: [Nods] HG: “I discovered your band by looking at what my YouTube subscribers were listening to (I actually have my own channel of music) and thought, ‘well if they like what I make, then potentially I might like what they’re into and then I discovered Skating Polly, I was like ‘oh my God, this is like the best band ever!’ and then… So how do you discover new music? Do you go to the usual websites? Or do you go to collapseboard.com? Or…?” P: “People tell us about music and then, maybe Spotify… Honestly, I’ve been really bad about it lately and just listened to the same albums.” HG: “I think a lot of people do that.” P: “But also I’ll just hear about an album. People will just talk about it online… If it’s good. If it’s supposed to be good, then I’ll check it out. Yeah, a lot of it just comes from people at shows saying ‘hey check out this band’ or ‘check out my band’.” HG: “Yeah that must be handy actually, ’cause you’ve got a whole lot of people into what you do to tell you…” P: “Yeah [they say] I think you’ll like this band if you like this band or whatever.” K: “My whole… OUR whole family is like really really into music so my brother and dad…” HG: “Yeah, your brother and your mum are both musicians.” K: “And of course, my satan-father.” HG: “Your what?!” K: “My satan-father. It’s like a Godfather but evil.” HG: “Do you get on with this guy?” K: “Yes, he’s friendly. [Laughs] HG: “So you’re not expressing hate here.” Henry [documentary filmmaker]: “He’s generally described as a rock n roll Godfather, he’s evil in that way.” K: “He’s awesome.” [Laughs] HG: “This might seem like a daft question, but where did the name Skating Polly come from? And is there a real person called Polly?” K: “No.” P [Nudges Kelli]: “Yes there is.” HG: “Is there?!” P: “We met a girl last night. She came… She said ‘my name’s Polly…’” HG [interrupts]: “You can’t name the band after someone you met last night!” P: “…It’s not named after her, I’m just saying there’s a girl named Polly. She’s a skater. She said ‘My name’s Polly and I skate…” HG: “She should get your name tattooed on her then.” K: “Um, yeah, it’s kinda weird actually ’cause we were just, when we started our band we came up with code names. We came up with Skating Polly ’cause like I was gonna be Kate and she was gonna be Polly, but then also skate as in skatan. But then Henry also said if you like switch… it’s kind of a strange… like state, skatan sounds like Peyton and Polly is kinda like Kelli…” HG: “ Can I ask you a question?… Does Henry smoke pot?” K: “Henry?” HG: “Yeah, maybe you don’t want to answer that on camera. Basically, that sounds like the kind of link that your typical pothead would make.” Henry: “ When they described to me these alternate names for them that’s where I got it. If you take their first names and switch it it becomes Kayton and Pelli, which is almost Skating Polly.” K: “But also…” HG: “By the way, the cameraman is actually Henry, who we are talking about like he’s not even here. Sorry.” K: “Lots of people have come up to me and been like yeah it’s after the Nirvana song [‘Polly’] and I just think that yeah those are all subconscious things and like yeah- it’s just something we just thought of. And said ‘that’s good.’”
HG: “Oh yeah, finally, is it surreal hanging out with Babes In Toyland? K: “So surreal.” P: “Yes. So crazy.” K: “I just think I wanna be around them, every second possible. And they’re so friendly. But then at the same time, I don’t wanna seem scary, because I’m so in love with them and I don’t wanna freak them out or like annoy them. But usually at the last show we had to share our rooms and it’s like an easy excuse to go in and be like ‘Hey Kat. Hey Lori.’ But now it’s like, we’re upstairs and they’re downstairs and we’re like obviously there to like talk to them [laughs] So I’m like oh! But they like… they’re like family.” [Laughs] HG: “That’s amazing.” K: “…But like family that I’m really nervous around because I love them so much. [Laughs] HG: “Cool. Well er… best of luck with the show tonight. I’m really looking forward to seeing you live for the first time.” K: “Me too. Yeah, it’s gonna be good.” P: “Did you just say you’re excited to see yourself live for the first time?” [Laughs] K: “Yeah… Well I guess I’m just excited for the show and like Babes In Toyland.” HG: “Alright, thank you very much. K: “Thanks” HG: “Let’s just shake hands… and hug. We’re in England.” [Knock at the door] K: “Who is it?” [Photographer James Perou enters to do a session with the band.]
Skating Polly were on tour with Babes In Toyland in the UK at the time of this interview in 2015. Single ‘Nothing More Than A Body’ is available to buy from Amazon.
*Kelli’s brother is also Peyton’s stepbrother and Peyton’s mother is also Kelli’s stepmother, since Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse are stepsisters.
Hannah Golightly is a riot grrrl musician, singer, guitarist and drummer from the UK. She has been a music critic and rock writer for six years and has previously written for collapseboard.com, godisinthetvzine.co.uk, mother's pride zine and vulturehound.com. She has a passion for guitars and amps and owns a lot of them! She is passionate about promoting and helping grrrls and women play guitar and form bands. She loves female rock musicians's music and he favourite band is Skating Polly.