At the age of 14, most of us were just sitting around and picking our noses while watching Boy Meets World and listening to our N*SYNC albums. Adolescence is usually when most of us do our slacking off, but Kelli Mayo, one-half of the Oklahoma-based sister duo Skating Polly, was honing her music snob chops listening to Elliott Smith, the Ramones and Bikini Kill. When older sister and band mate Peyton Bighorse moved in with Mayo's family, they quickly introduced her to the good stuff.
"Before Peyton moved in with us, she was really only listening to stuff on the radio or the music her friends were listening to," says Mayo. "My dad and brother were always into music, and they got me into Babes In Toyland and Bikini Kill and Neutral Milk Hotel when I was about seven or eight." The two sisters quickly bonded over music, and soon came Skating Polly, a band that was inspired by a username on the art-sharing site DeviantArt.
Neither of the sisters in Skating Polly were particularly well versed in playing music, so Mayo's dad invented an instrument that was specifically for her. At 14, her arms weren't quite long enough to bang on a bass, and the strings on a guitar hurt her fingers. By putting two bass strings on the body of a kid's guitar, Mayo's dad had invented her very own "bassitar," similar to the one used by the Presidents of the United States of America's Chris Ballew.
Bighorse took a few drum lessons, and picked up a book of chords to pluck out a self-described "horrible song" about Joey Ramone after watching a documentary. "We don't really play any instruments well," admits Mayo. "We can play lots of instruments to some degree, but we're not Led Zeppelin or anything."
Even though neither are going to be known for being great at guitar or drums, both Bighorse and Mayo feel like they're in a really good place with Skating Polly's sound. From their first album to the third, it's almost like listening to both grow up as musicians. As the band continues to grow, so will their sound.
"Skating Polly is always going to have the vibe that it does." says Mayo. "We might do different things with harmonies or add tweaks, but I would almost say that we've always been doing our own thing for every album. We've changed what our sound is with every album. And I think every album has been our best album."
The indie music community seems to agree. In their relatively short time as a band, Skating Polly counts some of music's heaviest hitters amongst their fans. Babes In Toyland drummer Lori Barbero stumbled onto the band at a South By Southwest showcase, then attended a show that the duo played afterward in Los Angeles. Their sophomore effort, Lost Wonderfuls, was produced by Exene Cervenka of X, and mixed by the Flaming Lips' Kliph Skurlock. The pair's third album, Fuzz Steliacoom, was tracked by indie figurehead and Beat Happening frontman Calvin Johnson.
But that doesn't keep either of the girls from being starstruck by some of the musicians that they meet. When Mayo met Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, she could only get the words, "You're my favorite person in the universe" out of her mouth. "He said we were awesome," she says. Bighorse manages to play it a little more cool. "I don't realize how cool a musician we're working with is until after," Bighorse says with a laugh. "Maybe a year or two years later, I'll go through this insane kick where all I want to listen to is that band or artist. It makes me feel like a poser: I always become more obsessed with a musician after I meet them."
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In reality, it's likely that we'll soon see Skating Polly ranked among those that they consider influences. After struggling to find a genre that made sense for their music, they just kind of created their own. Neither felt comfortable calling themselves punk because of the band's other influences, but Green Day-style pop-punk didn't fit, and they certainly didn't sound like the Miley Cyruses and Ke$has that dominate Top-40 pop radio. "Our music is sort of rough around the edges. It's ugly. It's ugly pop," says Bighorse.
And from the most unexpected of places, a genre is born. Somewhat surprisingly, the term "uglypop" has its roots in an obscure Courtney Love quote. "I weirdly got inspired by this thing Courtney Love said about how ugly people have to actually try hard in life, and I just started writing this song about why being called ugly just doesn't matter."
From there, Mayo wrote "ugly" on her forehead in lipstick, and started to embrace the term. "Ugly is such a bullshit insult. Why would you care about the opinion of someone that would be such an asshole to you?"