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Escape Velocity

Baltimore Tykes Ponytail Get Juvenile
Alex Denney , April 9th, 2009 07:54

Al Denney talks to the hyper foursome about pop, T.I's babes and babies

Bursting with pre-teen intensity into British venues from their homes in Baltimore, MA, the fabulous Ponytail caused a kerfuffle beyond expectation with their live shows promoting sophomore disc Ice Cream Spiritual last year. Formed in 2005 after an art school teacher threw them together to form a band, the four-piece – five at the time of conception – transcended potentially awkward origins to arrive at a hyperkinetic mix of chair-smashing punk and ecstatic pop naivety that kicks the ‘self-‘ from expression puts the joy back in creation.

Recently back in the UK for yet more uplifting carnage, watching them perform is the closest you’ll get to feeling like a kid again; evoking in their music what fellow B’morite Dan Deacon can only approximate through use of iridescent stage props and grating, hipster crowd participation schemes.

But let’s leave the carping to the grown-ups for now – here’s what happened when The Quietus caught up with them before a show in London last month. The band is Molly Siegel (non-verbalised vocals), Ken Seeno (guitar), Dustin Wong (guitar) and Jeremy Hyman (drums).

You started out with the professed aim to make ‘pop’ music – or so I’m told. Have you got the hang of that yet?

Ken: I think it’s pop. Well I mean if you compare it to something that’s more palatable then maybe not but…

Molly: We didn’t set out to make pop music, I think I’ve only recently started to think it might be that way.

Dustin: But I mean even listening to Black Dice or Growing you can hear there are pop elements.

Jeremy: I think pop comes from folk. Folk melodies are such a basic thing to the human ear, and pop music really grew up around people trying to sell that music. But I can’t imagine our music ever being the result of, like, a focus group meeting or anything.

What would a focus group meeting about Ponytail sound like?

Dustin: I think they’d have to have invented us from an incubator.

Molly: I think it would be like that old T.I. video where it pans to the factory where his records are being pressed by all these babes in short shorts.

What went into the creative process when you were forming the band under unusual circumstances?

Molly: Well we had like a meeting to discuss what we were all into musically, and it turned out we all liked really different stuff. I was really into IDM and Le Tigre, Dustin liked surf rock and -

Dustin: - but that was really exciting. With us it’s never felt like work, it’s always been this escape.

Ken: It’s a really exciting and nerve-racking project.

People have commented on the childlike aspects of your music and the band’s Myspace page claims your influences to be, among other things, “art and the ABCs”. Are you much inspired by artists who can strike that balance between childish ways of looking at the world and an ‘adult’ sense of craft?

Jeremy: That’s something I’m really drawn to, that kind of attitude. You usually find out more about yourself when you’re less self-conscious.

Ken: You’re more of an angry baby though.

Molly: The Pixies have a lot of juvenile stuff mixed in there which I enjoy.

Jeremy: I was thinking about babies just the other day actually. I’m not really interested in that unknowingness babies have; they’re kind of boring most of the time. But every once in a while they might do something amazing and that’s great, they have that ability to really surprise you. But I wouldn’t want to push the link too far, I mean, our music is very much ­thought out.

Molly: One of the cool things about young people is they’re not always trying to impress you with their competency. There are different forms of knowledge. I really like people like Brian Eno and John Cage for their ability to get into this state of total absurdity.

Have you been working on much new material since the release of Ice Cream Spiritual­?

Ken: We’ve been working on some new stuff but it’s hard to tell what direction we’re heading in. Like we’ve written stuff that we think sounds like the Grateful Dead or The Specials but once it leaves our brains it never really sounds that way.

Molly: The new songs are called ‘Honey Touches’ and ‘Music Tones’. Dustin put on a show about [US composer and electronic innovator] Raymond Scott’s music for babies and that got us to thinking, well what if we actually wrote something for children? We hadn’t written anything new at that point and it felt we needed that impetus to do something completely different. We all want to do something more mellow, but so far it hasn’t exactly turned out that way.

What do you think actual, live children would make of the music of Ponytail?

Molly: Well my sister’s old babysitter has this kid and we actually bonded over Ponytail at a wedding. He’s literally like four years old and he’s adorable… but he’s also kind of monstrous. And he loves our music.

Ken: I think we’d have an easier time getting kids to like our music than adults.

Jeremy: I don’t know, when I was little I liked Alanis Morissette and Melissa Etheridge.