Hannah Golightly caught up with Skating Polly to geek out about guitars: Peyton, when we played together in Cardiff, I noticed you were playing a Hamer and it looked like one from my own collection. I’d not seen anyone else playing one. What guitar was it?
I picked mine for the narrow neck and sound. Why do you like that guitar?
Peyton Bighorse: It is a Hamer. I found it at a guitar center and was initially drawn to it because I really like blue guitars. I got pretty lucky because I ended up loving how it sounds and feels to play, so I snatched it right up and took it home with me.
Kelli, I spoke to your dad at our Cardiff show and he said (I think) that he made you a ‘bassitar.’ Is that right? Can you tell us what a bassitar is please? And how you came to play one?
Kelli Mayo: Generally a “bassitar” is a guitar body with two bass strings tuned to C# and G#. Mine started that way but I eventually moved it to a miniature Ibanez bass body and added an E string on top for low notes. My dad made one for me because I would always complain about guitar hurting my fingers and would say I wanted to play bass instead. Of course my arms weren’t long enough when I was nine to play a full-scale bass so my dad made me a happy medium. I could play chords super easily and the lack of strings kept it from intimidating me. Also no one really played a bassitar. There weren’t “bassitar teachers” so I taught myself and felt like there were no rules I had to follow. I since then have come to the conclusion that no instrument really has rules and you can always play what sounds good to you.
HG: Usually Skating Polly are an electric band, playing with distortion, but there’s a softer side to your music too like on Picker Of His Words. Peyton- What guitar are you playing in the video? Is it a Luna?
What do you like about that guitar?
Peyton: We bought the Luna because one of our acoustic guitars had a broken tuning peg and the other had an insanely high action. I know both problems could have been fixed for cheaper than a new guitar, but neither of the guitars were really ours anyway, so we thought it was a good time to buy our first acoustic. We’ve had some problems with the Luna but we really like it. It has a nice enough sound and it’s easy to play.
HG: I’ve always like the way Luna guitars look but so far haven’t owned one. Do you recommend them? If so, why?
Kelli: The one we have is fun to play and write on but I can’t promise it would be great for shows or recordings. We played an acoustic show with Blag Dahlia (Dwarves) and Nick Oliveri (Queens of The Stone Age) and they broke string on their guitar so they borrowed ours but they didn’t mic it like we did. They plugged it in to an amp and it kept cutting out pretty bad. I’m sure there are more expensive Lunas that sound a lot better. We bought ours because it was pretty cheap and light. We played a different acoustic that the studio had on the recording of Picker of His Words.
HG: Do you have specific guitars you write on and others you prefer for playing live and recording?
Peyton: We write and record on the same guitars. We don’t own a bunch of guitars, so it’s not like we have a lot of options, but we end up recording with those because at that point it’s part of the song. Sometimes in the studio there will be a nicer version of the guitar we have with the same tone so we use that instead.
HG: This year you released your fourth album The Big Fit. What guitars did you play on that record?
Peyton: I mostly played my Hamer, but also brought my Jaguar for a few songs.
HG: Who are your influences and what inspired you to pick up guitars and form a band?
Peyton: When I was learning, I was heavily influenced by The Ramones. The reason I decided to teach myself to play guitar was actually so I could write a song referencing something I read about Joey Ramone in his brother’s book. I read this one part, set the book down and taught myself some chords. I learned D and A then wrote a song about Joey.
Kelli: There wasn’t really one specific band that made me start playing. I think for me it was being around my family who could all play instruments and I would plug in a mic and sing over their instrumental parts. Writing vocal melodies is what pushed me to learn to play, that way I could write songs by myself. Bands like Beat Happening, Bikini Kill, Dead Moon, The Vaselines, and Sonic Youth all had this weird off-kilter simplicity that allowed me to be comfortable writing songs on instruments I still didn’t really know how to play.
HG: Do you think sexism is still an issue for female guitarists or do you think we’re beyond that now?
Kelli: Definitely. I mean sexism is just a very real issue for all female musicians and all females in general. I think it gets more and more evident the older we get too. We’ve been to several venues and dealt with sound guys who try to tell us we’re going about our set up the wrong way or try to quiz us on our gear to start some pissing contest. It sucks when you feel like you can’t ask someone at a music store a question without them patronizing you and acting like you’re not a real musician if you don’t know the answer. Just recently when we were looking for an amp we dealt with a salesman who said we “don’t know what we want”, would ask me questions and talk over my answers, and would actually laugh at me when I tried to explain our set up. The last couple shows we’ve played I’ve had a guy pour beer on me from a balcony to get my attention so he could blow me a kiss and someone accuse me of not only disliking the blues but not knowing what it was because I told him we’re not interested in playing “white blues” or trying out for The Voice. I’m always nice to our fans because there’s no one I appreciate more, but since there is so much sexist, creepy bullshit out there it’s really hard to know when to draw the line. I usually end up letting myself get walked all over and then find myself still fuming over it weeks later.
HG: As mentioned before, Skating Polly has a lot of distortion in your sound. What pedals do you both use?
Peyton: I use a Swollen Pickle, a Boss DS-1, and a delay pedal on The Big Fit, but I’ve been using a Fuzzhead and a Boss Chorus pedal a lot recently.
Kelli: I have a BOSS Hyper Fuzz and an OCD pedal. Sometimes I use my Jam Man loop pedal for Pretective Boy but I hate having to play to a loop live so we generally don’t.
HG: What amps do you use for live and for recording?
Peyton: I’ve used a Blackstar amp up to this point, but we just bought a 1959 Fender Bassman Reissue and I am so so SO excited to use it at our shows and on the next record. My blackstar was a small amp so I’d have to run my guitar through that and Kelli’s AMPEG bass amp to get any low end. The Bassman is loud enough to stand on it’s own and has a lot of bass power (who would’ve guessed that a Bassman is kind of bassy?)
Kelli: A lot of times we use the studio’s amps on our albums. We’ve used so many different amps and sometimes I can’t even tell which amp I’m playing out of when we’re recording because I’ll be in a different room and we keep plugging into different things. I usually trust the engineers and producers taste though. They know which mics will sound good with what amps in what rooms then we sit together and dial in the sounds we like. Live I use a big AMPEG, I think it has four ten-inch speakers or something, I don’t really care I just care that it’s noisy and gets the job done.
HG: What’s next for Skating Polly?
Kelli: We are going to be releasing our collaboration with Veruca Salt this Spring. It’s three songs produced by Brad Wood who produced several of our favorites including the first three Liz Phair records, American Thighs by Veruca Salt, and a bunch of albums by a band called Red Red Meat that we’ve recently become obsessed with. We are making plans to play a legit European tour (meaning not only the UK) and we have upcoming shows with the phenomenal, game-changing, universe-exploding punk band X!! Oh, and our pal Henry Mortensen is getting closer and closer to being finished with his documentary he’s making about us, so keep your eyes peeled!
HG: Can’t wait!
Skating Polly’s 2016 album the Big Fit is out now and available at amazon.
Hannah 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.