• Abigail Hall

Norman Music Fest: Q&A with headliner Skating Polly

Updated: May 13, 2019

Originally published at OU Daily April 10, 2019

Self-described “ugly pop” indie group Skating Polly will return home to Oklahoma to headline at Norman Music Fest April 27.

The Oklahoma City-founded group started in 2009 with step-sisters Peyton Bighorse on the drums and Kelli Mayo on her two-stringed basitar. In 2017, brother Kurtis Mayo joined the duo to form the tri-sibling group.

After working with Excene Cervenka of band X on their second album “Fuzz Steilacoom” in 2014, they began to attract national attention, opening for bands like Band of Horses, Kate Nash and Babes in Toyland.

The band is currently recording two new songs and a cover that they plan to play in their Norman Music Fest Show, Kelli Mayo said.

The Daily spoke with Kelli ahead of the show about what it feels like to return as a headliner at Norman Music Fest, sexism on the road, her favorite Oklahoma thrift store and more.  

Q: Who is Polly and why is she skating?

A: Peyton and me came up with (the name) when we were really little because we wanted to have stage names and I was gonna be Kate and she was gonna be Polly, and instead of just being called Kate and Polly we did the skating polly thing – and then we never ever used stage names because we thought it was really dorky and embarrassing and lame, and then we kept the name because it wasn’t that embarrassing and dorky and lame of a name.

Q: You’ve described your sound as “ugly pop” – what does that mean to you?

A: I think everybody has a different idea of pop. (Ugly pop) is like embracing imperfection and ugliness and roughness and noisiness and weirdness. But also, being in-tune with the lighter side of things and the prettier side of things, and not being scared of that... Not being scared of writing a love song, or being really gentle, or singing really high and pretty and putting piano below it.

But keeping the real things in it – like keep it grounded. I think that’s why people are scared of that word because it can get so mathematical, and they can start stripping away every element that makes it real – all the ugly elements. Once you take all that away it feels too calculated, and it’s not warm and it’s not as exciting.

Q: How did you start making music? What it’s been like to grow up as siblings and evolve as musicians together?

A: We’ve always just had a really close, intimate relationship, especially the three of us. So I think we’re closer than a lot of siblings – we really are each other’s best friends, and one of the things that’s brought us together the most (is) music. I mean, we had instruments in my house, and me and Peyton always kind of day-dreamed – we said, "well of course we’re gonna be in a band," and then we started our band, and things started happening naturally... And that’s been really great. We get to travel the world together.

It’s messy too, but I think bands are always messy. I guess the messy element is that we all live together and that, you know, when you’re a family you’re always together like that.

I have a hard time knowing when we’re off the clock, or when we should be working or when we should just be like chill, and because they’re in the house with me I’ll be like at midnight:

“I have an idea for this – what do you think of this?” So I think that’s one element that’s different about being siblings.

Q: You got into music at such a young age – was it just part of your family or how did you pick it up?

A: I think (Peyton and I) just grew up loving singing and (were) kind of raised on the school of music, and then our families met and became really good friends, and then we started bonding over music together. And yeah, it’s funny, like we were self taught, really. Peyton, she just started playing guitar because we just had the instruments in the house and stuff.

But yeah my parents definitely had a big part of my love for music because every road trip we’d have a cool new mix cd burnt. And I loved singing when I was a little toddler, and Kurtis and I would just spend all day just watching music videos. Also (our parents) showed us cool, weird, outsiders music, like Beat Happening and Kimya Dawson – things that were like imperfect and ugly, like Bikini Kill, so it felt tangible – like you didn’t have to be Led Zeppelin to write a good song.

I would just play with a lot of instruments because we were just figuring it out as we went – (it started as) two chorus songs, two note songs, and then with every song trying to push ourselves a little bit more and pick up something from the bands we liked or whatever.

Q: “Skating Polly” started out as just you and Peyton – so how did the band and sound change when Kurtis joined?

A: It made everything bigger and beefier, just having another part racking up. Also I mean he knows so much about music... He has just a great catalogue of everything, so he just brought even more influences for us, really.

And Kurtis on this last record wrote lyrics with us and song structure too – so we just have another brain, another person’s taste kind of changing things and pulling in different directions. I think it made everything like poppier and louder and punker because it’s just bigger.

Q: You’ve spoken about experiencing sexist encounters and mansplaining on the road, is this still something you deal with?

A: I think it’s something that we’ll probably always struggle with. I think any woman in a band is gonna be unfortunately constantly reminded of that and have to face that.

You get it from sound guys, you get it from promoters – there’s a lot of little pockets of that unfortunately. There’s always gonna be someone, I mean we’ve had businessmen try (to) put on the “I’m a record business guy and I know my stuff” like talking in this fake voice and call ya’ baby or something and be like an '80s AR bad guy thing and try to scare you.

It’s weird how people will treat you like not a human – like you’re this hard thing to deal with just because you’re a girl or something, and you can be completely handled differently, and you can’t raise any counterpoints, because when you do that means you "just don’t understand them." But really it’s like, no they don’t understand you – they’re not listening to you.

Q: You’ve spoken about becoming peers with bands you grew up listening to like Babes in Toyland. Have you ever felt star-struck?

A: Honestly so many – like I’ve had that feeling a bunch of times which is great. I mean Excene Cervenka, that’s how I feel, I still get butterflies in my stomach every time i’m around (her) even though she’s like family at this point. When we worked with Veruca Salt it was that same thing... And Babes in Toyland – I mean I remember crying whenever I met them all for the first time, crying right before we went on stage, crying after we played, because like we just had this amazing show.

And I never stop being starstruck by someone, no matter how close I get to them, I feel like I never stop thinking that they’re the coolest motherf—ker in the world. I’ve been also very fortunate that everyone I’ve gotten to meet is actually really cool, and cooler than I could have ever hoped – and not the opposite. People are like don’t meet your heroes, and I’m like heroes are pretty chill if you got the right heroes.

Q: How does it feel to come back to play at Norman Music Fest as headliners?

A: I mean I love that festival, even before we were in a band I used to go with my family and it’s just great, free music all over the city, and yeah it’s just great. No, we would love to come back, we’re super duper looking forward to it.

Q: What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get back to Oklahoma?

A: I can’t wait to see my mom and my little brothers... I mean honestly like family and friends, that’s always the coolest thing.

But then also – I miss the thrift stores there.

Every time I go to Oklahoma I get something cool from Bad Granny’s or Dig It, or both.

Q: What should we expect from your Norman Music Fest show?

A: We’ll probably do a blend of our poppier songs and our slower songs and our rowdier songs – but try to go back to the rowdy songs frequently to keep the show not too much of a bummer and exciting and fun. Just happy, love and good times.

Skating Polly will perform at Norman Music Fest at 6 p.m. April 27 on Fowler Automotive Main Stage.

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